How to let music flow through you

Jordi Wave, thank you for the kind and thoughtful comment:

“From inside, this is the secret
It is clear that the music flows in you.”

I wanted to respond because I feel like I am on to a little secret of how to connect with music in a way that will help listeners to respond emotionally.  I actually didn’t realize what I was doing until a recent experience in an acting class in which the topic was “Inner Imagery.”  Actors use this technique to help performances be honest and real by holding specific mental images.

So, here’s the secret: When I play these songs, I think about stories and moments in my life and others that I’ve heard or could imagine.

An Armenian Harvest Dance, for example, could inspire me with the image of a tribal woman from 100 years ago working to prepare grain just brought in from the field.  I imagine a pain in her back and the colors and smells of spices on her shelf. Or maybe I would think of a personal experience that goes with the feel of the song.  No one in the audience has to know what you’re thinking.  It creates a circle where the thoughts make the notes come out a bit differently, and the notes coming out in rhythm conjure new emotions or thoughts.

The most fun is to look out into the audience, and see a facial expression that reminds me of something I’ve felt before.  So then I focus on that experience. 

This way of responding to the audience personally feeds the moment and makes the performance feel fresh and different each time.  And helps immensely with nerves and stage fright.

I’ve played that Last of the Mohicans song literally thousands of times, and without this technique I’d probably have gone crazy. Do you guys do this when you play? Anyone care to share a song that brings up images for you?

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26 responses to “How to let music flow through you

  1. You have definitely hit on something here, Jenny. I remember when I was little, loving music because I believed I felt what they felt, and hoped that when I performed I had the same effect on people. My favorite artists were chosen by who could evoke the most emotion in me rather than who had the best technique. As a music student, I have found myself being far more analytical. Songs are being chosen based on complexity, and who follows “proper” songwriting structures. Truthfully, I haven’t been enjoying performing nearly as much since this phase started. Thank you for this reminder of what it is really all about, why we all fell in love with music in the first place. It’s nice to be brought back to the center of things. <3

    • Try to enjoy the analytical stuff too. It may not be what you are ultimately seeking as an artist, but it will prepare you and free you.

      • @Kendra: Exactly right. School cannot teach you to be an artist, that comes from within and is a manifestation of who you are, your experiences, and your emotions. What school does grant you are a set of tools and techniques with which you can bring forth that which is within. The more techniques and complexity that you master, the greater the range and nuance of how you can free your art. This is true whether you wield a pen, a brush, or a bow.

  2. I used to be a musician, some say of exquisite exemplary talent, though I hardly felt like it. I played the cello, the Violin, bass and guitar, and the piano in my repertoire. When ever I performed, it was more intimately involved as I only played for people I felt a very strong attachment from. I suppose the best way to answer your inquiry, is to illuminate a part of who I am as a person. I am, a quiet, shy man. Aged 23 years. But I feel much older from the life I have lived, and the decisions I’ve had to endure the repercussions of. From an early age my life has been one of violence.

    Terrible pugnaciousness that resided both emotionally and manifested physically through out my family. My father was a mean drunk, I could tell what kind of night it would be just by the smell of his breath. If it was beer or scotch, he was okay. If it was whiskey or vodka, I often ran and hid in the cupboards, the closets. Cause a bipolar mother and a drunk father, don’t naturally get along very easily. The abuse lasted 18 years. I only saw 11 of them. I was told at one point, that a fan was tossed just over over my crib.

    I watched my father beat my mother. Punch and slap her, kick and pull her around by the hair. Even one time strangle her until her breath was lost. All I can really vaguely remember was me screaming for him to stop, but whats a 6 year old going to do against a man 300lbs except scream and cry?

    I was bullied through out my life, made miserable by those who sought to exploit my generous heart. I am not a perfect man, but no man or woman is. I just try to be the best person I can be. A good friend or perhaps a devoted lover. A compassionate brother, son cousin and nephew.

    From 12 years old I was forced to leave all I had known, family, friends–and move 400 miles away to Detroit or a suburb there of. Little did I know, my toughest trials were on the road ahead of me in this life. My mother as later [mis]diagnosed with sciatica. She had an agonizing pain in her right leg. The doctors later re-confirmed it was a cancer they knew very little more than the name. She had Hotchkin’s Null Cell Lymphoma.

    For the next 3-4 years,I spent my life in ruins. The strongest woman I knew was withering. I watched her strength wane like the slow passing of the seasons yet she would always look at me with an exuberant smile and tell me she was going to win. Because, that was the the kind of woman she was. Headstrong, wise, and tough as nails old bird that she was.

    Here was a woman, that miles in snow in the cold with pneumonia in her lungs. A woman that worked desperately and her fingers to the quick to keep the lights and the heat on. We might not have eaten at times, my sister and I after she divorced my father. But we had running water and warm beds.

    I couldn’t stand it to be frank. I didn’t want to be around her. I didn’t want to come home from school even though I was failing as I always was. But before when I was failing, before, I could come home to her laughter, her smile. But then…I could only come to her sobbing, crying and groaning in pain. I got to the point she was so weak from the combined radiation and chemo–that I had to feed her at times like she were the child and I were the parent. I’d have to give her baths, change her clothes.

    Every so often she’d ask me “Do you think I’ll make it?” and I wouldn’t respond, I’d just look down like I were…ashamed of something. Maybe I was ashamed I lacked the faith that she carried with her about God. I had to escape some how. I couldn’t bear it. I was failing school there was no hope, I felt like a failure as a son and there too was no hope. I chose crime. I became an enforcer for a drug dealer.

    Beating the tar out of those who wouldn’t pay until they would. Eventually, I became the drug dealer. I wasn’t associated with any notorious gangs. Didn’t feel the need. Just as long as I didn’t have to sit in my room and listen to her cry, just as long as I didn’t have the urge to get up and close the door and hopefully I could ignore her pleas.

    My step father and I at first, we butted heads and came to blows on a few times. But my mother, she was mediator between me and him and eventually we became good friends.By the third year, I was making 40k a week. I was selling my soul for respite for a chance to ignore my mother. Got into fights, and then…it all went sour like it usually does. You’re having a good time until three of your friends get blown away right in front of you like ashes in the wind. Then my mother God bless her heart she fought so hard for her kids.

    By the time I told the doctor to let her off life support, she had her gall bladder removed and had pneumonia so bad the nurse had to clean out her lungs literally every five minutes. She died December 1st 2004. About 8 years ago. One of my best friends killed in a drive-by that was part of the crew I rolled with, his anniversary is the 8th of December and the second is December 11th and the third was December 22nd. I was pallbearer at all four funerals. Could hardly feel the chill of the cold rain then, but now its like a stark reminder. I can feel every drop.

    I’ve also had to bury my first daughter named after her grandmother on my side, my mother. The relationship I was in, wasn’t the best but I am a firm believer that an institution like loving relationship or even marriage, never really starts out pristine like that beautiful pond or lake front property. Its got rocks and hills and craggy situations that both parties must be willing to span the distance and meet somewhere in the middle. It fell apart though.

    In January 2008 I had a sub-arachnoid brain hemorrhage caused by a malformation in my brain. Odd I was home from the Army when it happened. But the stroke paralyzed my right side entirely at first. I’ve worked an uphill battle since. I got to where I was walk 15 miles a day just because I could. I became revitalized in my faith in Christianity. Recently I underwent a heel lengthening procedure and a tendon transfer. I’ll see how it goes once I get this dang cast off.

    Here’s the thing about your question to me. As a devoted author, and former passionate musician and martial-artist–These things equally require you to invoke emotional context from memories shared, given, or earned. I must think of how I want my readers to feel what the characters are feeling through my use of music to sway the differing chords of my passion to conjure these tales of heroes and villains. Just the same I must use controlled emotion to feel the the bending and flowing of my inner energy as a martial artist.

    I do believe, without a doubt that musicians of all kinds, entreat images of emotional content. How else would the deaf play so beautifully, or the blind paint portraits that speak volumes and across epochs of time without it? You paint a picture, you draw up a musical score or you write a book with no emotional attachment to conceive of an escape into that person’s core of who they really are.

    “Music is supposed to be an escape. It’s supposed to be somewhere you go, where you can be yourself, or be whatever you want to be.”
    Joel Madden

  3. Personally, I don’t know if it is the song or the music that brings images to me. Two songs I can think of right off the top of my head are “Faded Love” played properly (slowly and sadly) and a couple of songs by Mary Ann Habar, “The Old Gypsy” and “Abandonned” to be specific.

    “Faded Love” is an old Texas Swing standby and I do not believe you can play in Texas without this song ready to go. It goes well with a vocalist but I can stand on it’s own quite well as an instrumental song. Beautiful either way it goes.

    Mary Ann Habar is a lady I do not know a lot about, but I came accross a book of her’s from Mel Bay. The Old Gypsy is a sad song that tugs on emotion. “Abandonned” is an intersting song when you look at it notated because you realize there are no measures. Just lines of notes that form phrases so naturaly it is beautiful.

    What is my favorite “Jenny” song that brings images to me? Well, “The Kiss” is up there, and I enjoy the changes you are doing to “Kashmir” as well. Honestly the song that gets more repeats and play overs for me is “Esmeralda” though. The scale work that goes into it makes it seem simplistic, but the mood and emotion that goes into it belies a complexity I truly love.

    Keep up the great work.

    Jim

  4. The first time I enjoyed improvised african drumming was at a bush festival. Campfires, moonlight games of cricket, fire twirlers, a myriad instruments jamming, rappers improvising songs about how life is like vanilla yoghurt and you need the blueberries to make it tasty.

    Everytime I pull out my drum I close my eyes and transport myself back to the pleasant summer evening and the good vibe that everyone was sharing. This one dude who was showing me different techniques said the key was to feel the music and lose yourself in it like a trance.

    You have revealed a gem of a secret though. It is one thing to play music but to connect with the music gives that extra humanity to let the audience connect with you.

    When I get home this afternoon I’m getting my drum out. :D

  5. I am going to sound like a simpleton here, among such well versed musicians, but I’d like to make a comment on this topic from an audience members point of view.

    I had the pleasure of catching Circa Paleo for the first time yesterday at the PA Rennaisance Faire. Like so many people who have commented about you online, I first heard your playing from a distance and was drawn toward it. Once seated, I was captivated. Not by the music alone, which was certainly delightful, but by the performance as well.

    There is something transcendent in the way you physically translate your music to your audience. Whether you are making eye contact with us and smiling or just closing your eyes and swaying to rythm, there is a very attractive genuineness in your performance. Through you, for just a moment, I felt I was transported into the creative heart of the music; a place where mere mortal audience members seldom tread.

    I have heard it said, ‘great music makes you homesick for a place you’ve never been’. Yesterday, you took me to that place. I think you’ve hit it right on the head with this topic. From my perch on that rough hewn wooden bench, I felt your music flow through you and it was spellbinding. As audience members, we sit before you in anticipation of moments like these. Thank you for allowing us to join you on such a passionate, personal journey. It cannot always be easy to do what you do but I want you to know, you have the power to touch people. There is no greater gift. I pray you will continue to be blessed with this power for as long as you wish to play for us.

  6. That happens to me sometimes…I need to learn to harness it. But for instance. whenever I play Chopin, mostly the nocturnes, I imagine the pain of tragic love gone to soon. Of something lost that leaves a hole in you. Blowing leaves and wind on a hill. Very “Wuthering Heights” actually. But I really pull the emotion out that way and even sway all over the piano bench! I love it when that happens :)

  7. Wow guys. I’ve really enjoyed reading all of these responses.

  8. Jenny….I’ve seen your first video by the catchy title…the hot violinist…which without a doubt you are….
    But it’s your music that’s more soothing !! I can listen to this on and on….
    I hope you swift your way through the top…and that I would say being the world’s top violinist….
    There’s something about you that attracts a lot of attention…one you know very well…the other is the way you play music…the indulgence…it’s seems so deep and clearly voices itself out..
    I wish you the very best and keep up the good work….
    I’ll sound like an **s but jenny, I believe that you can promote yourself better, and be world renowned..but don’t forget on the journey to the top…that it’s music that’ll take you to new heights…hotness is your sidekick :)…..
    The few songs that are my all time favorite are, “My heart will go on”..brings on all the good moments I’ve had, where i felt much closer to anyone…”Frozen” by Madonna which was my fav at some point..”Show me the meaning of being lonely” is also my fav…”My Immortal” goes deep inside…but reminds me of the moments more where someone is leaving…And there’s this music by Yann Tiersen, an animation in which an old man is playing piano..which is just great…and also reminds me of nice moments…
    Oh and btw…if you make CDs of your songs…I’ll definitely put the 12 of them in my car….!! Would love it while driving…!!
    And yeah…if you’d want to come to Dubai to play…do let me know..I’ll definitely be happy to see you play.

  9. When are the new CD’s coming on iTunes/Amazon and such?

  10. Nice post and comments :) I like to play piano, and last year I got a “psychological push” going to Frederick Chopin museum in Żelazowa Wola, in Poland. He was born in that house, and I think you can still feel his soul there. Now, when I’m in front of my piano, I imagine myself at that house, placing myself at the beginning of the 19th century. And it works, notes flow through my fingers!

  11. Went to the PA Renaissance Faire this weekend and I was having a pretty good time with friends and enjoying the atmosphere. While I was leaning against a wall waiting for a friend during the late afternoon I was aware of the most enticing violin music I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. I followed the sounds until it led me to a small stage tucked away and I found an equally beautiful woman playing such memorizing violin music it pretty much captivated me to the point I ended up ditching my buddy for about an hour and a half while I waited for the next act to begin. I bought all their albums they had and got Jenny to sign one of them and talk with her very briefly. Her talent is unequaled and I think I’m going to have to pay another visit up to the PA Ren Faire to take part in their show. I guess my CD’s will have to suffice until I get back up there. Thanks Jenny!!! You made a good day GREAT !!!!

    Steve

  12. Beauty! Keep journeying. Geeve er!

  13. Violin tabulature.

    I play guitar but I do not read music. Where can i find the tabs for violin for the last of the mohicans, for that matter all the tunes you play. I would love to implement these songs with my live act.

    Thanks

  14. I’m not a musician at all – can play a few licks on a guitar but ultimately, have no ability to track rhythm so always get lost in the song chronologically – but I listen to and appreciate a wide variety of music and given that my dad was always playing some sort of bluegrass or Irish fiddle music around the house, your music brings images to me of home and river-running(dad was a professional guide and took the family for myriad private trips) and Saturday mornings waking up to the smell of waffles on the iron to a backdrop of Irish fiddle music, or perhaps Leo Kottke, or Ricky Skaggs…ANYWAY…I can see that imagery is a big part of listening to music, whether it is me making it or someone else. And I can see how you can renew yourself in it, how it can keep things fresh in your mind while you play what must seem like monotony. I can only relate in the sense that my commute to my boring office job is confined to two finite routes which only differ by about 40% and there is simply no other way to get there – the only thing that is different is the weather, and perhaps the mode of transportation(bike, motorcycle, car…etc.).

    If you look into psychology at all, you will find that the crossing of the senses – the association of one with the other, or the trigger of one with one or more of the other – is termed “synesthesia.” Interestingly, it’s frequently associated with people of great creativity but at the same time also with users of powerful hallucinogens and also people who claim to have had a religious epiphany or spiritual awakening without any chemicals at all. And in the same way, it enlightens them – although on a different time scale – to make htem feel renewed in a very similar way to what you have described.

    There is actually a LOT of study and writing on this sense that might expand your horizons of it…an example is this book:

    If you ever tour to Arizona, it will be fascinating ot hear your band play…looking forward to it.

  15. I play classical piano, and though I by no means consider myself an expert, I’ve reached the point where I don’t have to work quite as hard to figure out the technical bits of a song, and I can focus on the emotion instead. One of my most favorite pieces is the “sonata Quasi una fantasia” or moonlight sonata by Beethoven. I picture moments from my personal past like memories of a girl I once knew, or a love one who’s passed away. Never fails to move me! There is nothing quite like music to express emotion. I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t play an instrument! I can pour out my frustration, happiness, sadness, or any other emotion by simply sitting and playing.

    P.S. I don’t know if you enjoy piano music or not, but I recently learned a song called “Across the Burren” by Michele McLaughlin. It’s a beautiful piece that has a strong Celtic theme. Anyways, continue your journey, I look forward to seeing you perform again next year at the Texas Renaissance Faire!

  16. The L.A. Guitar Quartet has a CD, made in Spain of this really cool music that goes with Stephen King’s the Gunslinger book. I don’t why but I got out the CD when I first read that book and it’s perfect. I play guitar and violin and I’ve been thinking about doing something with art, music, and video. I think a video of my own art with my compositions in the background would be really cool.

  17. I’m not a musician, but music has always been a huge influence in my life. It’s amazing how a song can lift you up or change your state of mind. Sometimes a song can suck me in, almost like I’m creating a movie in my mind that goes with the song. I can listen to Paul Robeson’s rendition of Jerusalem and my eyes tear up, not out of sadness though. It’s guess it’s just a very powerful song to me. I just discovered your music this afternoon and am looking forward to hopefully getting it on Itunes!

  18. Been getting into spinning poi and other flow arts and came across this TED talk and where better to share than the Hot Violinists’ front porch discussion of flow.

    Also a hot tip: I live in an apartment and it is hard to practice without annoying the neighbors. Took my violin to work and go in an hour early each morning to practice before anyone else shows up. Leaves me feeling like I have already achieved something and happier before I start my day.

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