What Hanging Upside Down in a Split can Teach a Flutist about Musical Phrasing
I’ve noticed that whether I’m on the trapeze or playing my flute, the movement of my legs affects the movement of my spine, and vice versa. Fluid, organized movement of the legs and spine is what allows me on occasion, to be able play a beautiful phrase with clear direction. [If you don’t yet know about the movement of the spine in breathing, stop by one of our workshops and we’ll show you!] Try playing a musical phrase with tension in your legs. Then release the excess work from your legs and play the same musical phrase. What does excess work in the legs do to the breath? Map out the effect. How about the quality of the sound? And how about the effectiveness of the phrase you are trying to communicate?
This seemingly strange effect occurs because of a very direct, very intimate anatomical connection between the legs and our diaphragm. The muscle known as the psoas (part of a larger group of muscles known as the hip flexors) has fibers running continuous with the all important diaphragm. This muscles attaches segmentally to our lower vertebrae, and it eventually attaches to the upper leg bone (a.k.a. the femur). If you haven’t previously been convinced of the importance of standing or sitting tall and poised, perhaps you’ll be convinced now!
When working on phrasing, I often find it helpful to organize my intention around allowing my hip, knee and ankle joints to remain free and supple. What’s been interesting, is that when I go to the trapeze bar I often find it helpful to organize my intention around what’s happening at the other end of the psoas: my spinal movement. We do some pretty crazy poses these days on the static trapeze; poses that often require very ‘open hip joints’. What’s aiding me most in developing my Split Gazelle right now, is allowing my spine to lengthen, lengthen, lengthen! Gripping and shortening through ‘the core‘ inhibits a beautiful, long, open split as I hang upside down.
I continually find it amusing how the things I need to work on at trapeze, are the SAME THINGS I need to work on in my flute playing. I love how developing my skills on the trapeze bar strengthens my fluting skills as well!