Mapping the Body
Jolene Harju was lying on her back, right hand on her upper torso, left hand on her abdomen, simply breathing. She was paying attention to what her lungs were doing, what her stomach was doing, picturing their movement in and out. She had learned that the ribs should move during breathing, so she wanted to feel the expansion, see it in her head. But she noticed, instead, that her ribs were barely moving. Somewhat perplexed, she adjusted her air intake to fully fill her torso. Her ribs expanded. She inhaled deeply—more deeply perhaps than she ever had. And with the fresh air, a new range of possibility opened up.
Harju is a flute player. Optimal breathing is central to performance. A senior music performance major from Carver, Massachusetts, Harju spent the summer researching Body Mapping, a technique that addresses not only breathing, but all manner of physical tension that can hamper the performance, practice, or health of a musician. Students learn the anatomy of a body in motion and then practice being aware of their bodies in order to prevent tension. With a grant from the UNH Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research and the guidance of UNH Music Professor Peggy Vagts, Harju researched the Body Mapping technique, took flute lessons in Durham and Boston, and attended a workshop in Michigan and a conference in New Jersey. It was during the first day of that conference, at Montclair State, that she found herself on the floor, breathing, during a lesson with flutist and Body Mapping trainer Amy Likar.
“I had been taught early on that a full breath should ‘push the stomach out,’ so I had started doing it habitually,” says Harju. “When I changed my breathing to consciously move my ribs instead of my abdomen, my flute tone improved, and I felt like I filled up with three times as much air.” Throughout the remainder of the conference, the importance of rib movement cropped up again and again, so Harju kept playing with the ribs in mind.
When she returned home, Harju practiced an excerpt from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” one that requires significant breath capacity and control. The last series of notes had always been impossible for her to play—the long stretch required single breath execution. For the first time, Harju was able to play the section through. She was ecstatic. “That’s when it all came together,” says Harju. “Conquering the breathing in that excerpt was really the one big test for me. I didn’t think it was possible to change my breathing so much in so little time. I was so excited, I played the excerpt 18 times in a row.”
Now Harju hopes to train other musicians in the benefits of Body Mapping. She is working on a self-guided Body Mapping manual for flutists and, starting this fall, will hold a series of presentations for fellow students with the goal of helping them to help themselves play better and avoid physical pain. She is so impressed with the technique, in fact, that she envisions becoming a certified Body Mapping trainer one day.
Harju also plans to videotape her recital this fall so she can compare her pre- and post-research performances. Before her research, Harju says, “I was completely unaware of my own body as I played, and I was making grand gestures and distracting movements in an effort to give the performance life and passion. This research has taught me how to internalize that and allow the emotion to come from the music, not the flutist.”