Stamina & “Strengthening”


Stamina & “Strengthening”

Amelia Chan


This video is a clip from a recital a few days ago. Our program was short, but both pieces on there were big ones. Both the Brahms D minor Sonata and the Scherzo require an almost continuous sense of mass and gravity from the tiny violin, even in moments of relative lightness. (And I don’t mean just loud.) The writing for the piano-already much bigger than the violin-is massive for even that instrument. Not to mention I partnered with an absolute powerhouse of a pianist, so…


I’ve been reflecting on where I lost stamina in places. What stamina really is has eluded me for years, but here’s my definition currently: THE ABILITY TO MAINTAIN A STRUCTURE OF SUPPORT FOR THE REQUIRED DURATION OF TIME WHILE HAVING A MULTITUDE OF RANGE IN ROTATIONS TO ALLOW FOR TOTAL FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT. I can see even more clearly now, that the way I generally lose stamina is when I tense up and lose rotational freedom, or, when I try to rotate without a good axis, i.e., when joints don’t align or rotate in angles that allow for efficient leverage.

Here’s where I feel like I’m beginning to conceptualize what it means to “strengthen” the body to play an instrument. People talk about needing to be strong to play, but what does that mean? There’s vague talk about going to the gym, working out, etc… And sometimes people talk about using the core, but how? And what is the core anyway? Commonly thought of as the abs, but the traditional “ab-strengthening exercises” have never resonated, nor have they worked for me. (I’d usually get pain before any result could occur.)

In this video below, I’m trying to rotate across the two sides of the body to create torque. I’m taking care to pay attention to all the local rotations (adjacent parts move in opposite directions) to create global rotation. And when the whole body is wringing itself like a towel, all of a sudden the idea of the core starts to materialize. I can viscerally sense in my own body what it is, and what it means to strengthen it. But it’s not an isolated thing. It’s not just this muscle or that muscle. It takes absolutely the whole body to work together for my mid-section to feel like it’s working in concert with the rest of the body-the arms, the legs, and of course, the feet.



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A post shared by Amelia Chan (@ameliachanviolin)


And where I’m wobbly in the transition in this movement, is where I think this “core strength” is about, and that is also where I lose sound and support when I play. It’s when I’m in that place of lack of support that I feel the need to force my sound. Again, to “strengthen” where it feels weak is not just about making my mid-section stronger. It is about coordinating all the rotations from my toes to my head, so the middle can work efficiently. When I feel a lack of engagement in the core, or a sense of weakness there if you will, more often than, adjusting another joint’s rotational direction would immediately make it feel stronger. Now I begin to understand why the “core” as a discrete entity never resonated with me.

I’ll be working on my stamina in this type of exercises. I truly believe that this will translate directly to playing stamina, especially if one plays with different directions of pulling the band (up and down bow), and different angles, and add speed. (More about speed and stamina in another post.)

And just for fun, thought I’d share my first big brick mishap. But here’s the thing: I think where I lose balance is at least partially an exaggeration, or extension, of the kind of inefficient rotational patterns that causes me to lose sound or control when I play! Because my body will move in familiar patterns whether I’m playing or not. And that’s the whole point. I am trying to correct where movement is inefficient, and make available to my body more options, so that I can both play and move better. (And that’s what I try to do for students as well.)



[ feature photo from kurt@kurtachio, @kurtachio, ]


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