A Class with the Shaman

During my first year of college all of the first year music majors took two classes together, music theory and sight-singing. Music theory was fun, we had a group that worked well together and helped one another through the rougher stuff. We trusted one another, which made the sight-singing class slightly less terrifying.

Three times a week, we would pile into the classroom and the ever patient Professor Zoro would try to get us to sing. Most of us were instrumental musicians, solo singing in public was not something most of us did easily. Still, awkwardly, we did it.

About a month into the school year, Prof. Zoro came in and instructed all of us to the auditorium for a Master Class. I had been to Master classes before, usually some famous/semi-famous person would arrive on campus and give a lecture to everyone who had the good manners to play the same instrument as them. But this class was different, this was ALL of us. Horn players, singers, my God even the percussionists (oh, the humanity)?!? As instructed, each of us brought our instruments (horns, fiddles, sticks, fingers, voice boxes) and we sat in the audience.

A tiny, elf of a woman walked onto the stage. She must have been middle aged, but she emanated comfort, energy and joy. (Yes, this will get new-agey - more on that later). She spoke to us of facing our judges (inner and outer) of energy and visualization. She told stories about approaching music from a different direction ("Music is Movement"). How do you try things without thinking about how it is coming out? How a simple thing like "Play that sonata, without looking at the music but while balancing on one leg" can have miraculous results.

I was skeptical because I was trained to be. I was going through an evangelical phase at the time and I had been taught that all of these things we were learning were directly from SATAN. If I gave in a fraction, the best I could hope for was a demonic possession. Visualization was worse than Dungeons and Dragons. If I gave in, I was doomed.

Person after person went up and tried what this woman told us. People demonstrated their problems and then, miraculously, the problems seemed to vanish. Whatever magic this woman was using, worked.

Apparently, I was doomed.

My turn came. I was having trouble playing an awkward interval in a concerto I was working on (very low to very high). She thought for a moment and presented my issue for the room to solve. Instantly people came back with various visualizations for me to use and things to concentrate on other than my issue. I seem to remember two things - rockets attached to the legs of my chair and, during a separate time, trying to feel the wood of the floor through my shoes.

Both techniques worked. Beautifully.

Like I said - doomed.

A whole new way of thinking opened up to me. the lightbulb came on and I finally started to feel some joy in my music again. She spoke of getting to know our judges and finding our inner clowns.

I bought her book that day A Soprano on Her Head - Eloise Ristad and also picked up the other books she spoke of (The Inner Game of Tennis and The Centered Skier).

The teacher, Eloise Ristad, changed my life that day, just by showing me how to look at things differently and not to forget the joy that got us into the arts originally.

One of the results of that day was a truce between my then evangelicalness and my "new-ageyness" (those aren't words, I know). It was my first year away from home and that battle is where I think I finally started defining myself instead of letting others do it for me.

Oh, and apparently....yeah - still doomed.