Today we will discuss ceremonies and all kinds of rituals, yet not the formal kind, such as weddings or graduations, but those little rituals and ceremonies that people create for themselves.
What could be the purpose of those rituals and ceremonies? I am trying to think about ceremonies I know. Some are there to create an identity or an affiliation with a community. Religious ceremonies form group identity but are also there for people to get into a certain state of mind. In our everyday life we create certain routines which are not just the act itself but also signify to us something else. Usually when those rituals are interrupted, we feel uncomfortable. When people warm up before running, they do it for physical reasons but also for getting into the spirit of working out. We also hear about it from various artists: a wonderful example is Yoshi Oida who was an actor in Peter Brook's company. Yoshi Oida comes from the Traditional Japanese theater. In his fantastic book "The Invisible Actor", he describes the ceremony of washing the floor before the actors start practicing: "…The damp cloth is spread on the flooring then the palms of both hands are placed on top. The knees are not on the floor, only the hands and feet, so the body looks like an upside-down 'V'. While doing this exercise", Oida continues, " you should only think about pushing your cloth… Don't rush, get distracted, or think about other things".
The quartet in Vikram Seth's book An Equal Music (a must novel for musicians), also starts rehearsals with the "regular scale".
I also have my little ceremonies. Before I sit down at my desk to write, I make some tea. I clean up all unnecessary objects from my desk and arrange the materials to be used for writing. If I work on the computer I shut off all alerts such as emails and messages. It works like a code.
Before I play, I put a little carpet on the floor, I shut off my phone, my computer and every other thing that might disturb. I take out my bow, tighten the hair, check if it needs rosin, then I go to the bass, tune it, play some open strings to hear what the bass sounds like today, put my music on the stand and ask it to please wait until I finish twenty to thirty minutes of exercises which are the ceremony that reminds me of my identity, of my goals, of my strengths and weaknesses and of the fact that I have been doing this ceremony for over thirty five years now.
The ceremony consists of a series of exercises that I have learnt from my mentor, Gary Karr. After over 30 years of teaching those exercises to my students, I must say they address more than ninety percent of the problems that we are about to encounter in any piece of music. As in every ritual or ceremony, the "text" of each exercise is rather simple and repetitive. This lets us focus on the more important things such as posture, sound, intonation, rhythm and in general, on doing things correctly. One of the most important assumption of these exercises is that we should focus on doing things correctly rather than on the outcome.
Another advantage of the simple text is that we can create an endless number of variations. Variations are fun and students like them as they combine old and new.
Lately we started a new youth orchestra in the south of Israel. Each rehearsal starts with orchestra games. Call them exercises, call them rituals, call it a ceremony. Those games are not just intended to get our fingers in motion, but to shape our group's identity in terms of sound, intonation, moving together and breathing together. Those games remind us that we are here to PLAY.
Here is a playlist with some exercises : https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA34135CFAC1A5B49
And here is a digital, interactive version of the book "Mr. Karr would You Teach Me How to Drive a Double Bass?". Where you can find detailed explanations of the exercises and videos incorporated into the respective chapters: