In our effort to understand ways to “play healthy,” we sat down with Baroque cellist and violist da gamba Craig Trompeter to discuss the Feldenkrais Method. In addition to being the founder and Artistic Director of Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company, Craig has trained extensively in this method of movement.
Craig described Feldenkrais as “a learning system that uses movement and directed attention to bring about greater ease and function. It can reduce pain and bring a higher level of skill by bringing in organic learning through movement. Your entire being is involved in the learning process.”
He first became interested in the method in an effort to deal with pain he experienced while playing the cello. During college, he managed the pain with weekly massages. After graduation, he joined a quartet but was unable to continue due to pain, and soon after enrolled in a Feldenkrais training program. “The first day of training, we rolled around on the floor. It was exhausting because we were recalibrating our nervous systems.” While lying on the floor, one takes a body scan to learn how one feels in the beginning, taking stock of how the body feels in its space. Then one starts with a single movement and returns to neutral, assessing what happened. As musicians, we often are required to function in unnatural positions. Because we spend so much time in them, those positions can start to feel normal. Craig cautions that it is very important to learn how to “undo” ourselves and return to a relaxed state.
Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) was an Israeli physicist who suffered a severe knee injury playing soccer. Surgery did not promise a full recovery (in fact, he had a good chance of ending up in a wheelchair) so he instead applied his scientific curiosity and studied how the brain and the body relate to each other in movement. The brain sends commands to the body, but the body also sends messages to the brain. Through awareness, patterns can be relearned by the brain, enabling “better function and more enjoyment, less pain,” says Craig. As babies, we learn how to move by being very curious and aware. As adults, the movement can become automatic. Craig observes, “we often use more force than is necessary.” By being mindful, our bodies can become more efficient.
Besides the joy of playing pain-free, Craig says the biggest change was his personality. “When things are easier, you have a better experience with your environment.” Does he still practice Feldenkrais? “Yes, in fact I am right now. I’m aware that my hands are tight and I am adjusting them to loosen them.” He works with a Feldenkrais instructor 2-3 times per month and still spends a lot of time on the floor. “When I practice (cello), I practice for a while, then I lie down on the floor” to scan, to take note of what he needs to “undo.”