There was a time in my twenties when each and every day started with a ten kilometre run. Yup, you guessed it, I was underemployed. But I was physically fit and happy as a fiddle. With that kind of start, nothing could wreck my day.
Well, those times are over.
And I couldn’t be more pleased!
I still run. But now running is the treat, le petit carré de chocolat at the end of a meal. Just like practising, come to think of it. You don’t need to be a philosopher to realize that at some point the hourglass flips, and what once was work is now reward.
Wind playing is a lot easier with a regular fitness routine. And actually, I would be willing to bump up, “a lot easier” to essential. With that in mind, here are a couple of old-but-new fitness ideas you might enjoy.
Two words. Reverse Pedestrianism.
Laughing Student: “What the? You have GOT to be kidding. That is not a thing.”
Pious Teacher: “Eh bien. Let’s try two different words: Walking Backward.”
Disturbed Student: “That’s just weird.”
Even I am willing to admit that it is a bit eccentric and you might feel like the village oddball out there on the streets. But the best performers are brave and fearless. Be brave! Be fearless!
In and amongst the various benefits—and there are many—I find it helps address two potential liabilities that arise from playing the saxophone: poor shoulder position and neck immobility.
A Hunchback of Notre-Dame look is a surprising reality for many saxophonists, and this includes some players in their twenties!
Oh, Oh, Oh, Say It Ain’t So!
Hours of supporting a saxophone while craning forward to read music often results in posture collapse. Shoulders roll forward, neck protrudes, the possibility for full lung expansion diminishes. Lots of other life activities, like sitting at a computer, also reinforce this poor posture. Although you could walk backward with terrible posture, it’s unlikely. To maintain balance, the body tends to adjust by maintaining an open and upright position.
There is another unusual benefit.
To stay on course, every so often you have to swivel your neck to look behind yourself. The potential obstacles are endless: cars, people, pets, your own shadow, if you are a Jungian, that is. Alternating neck twists helps maintain mobility and looseness in and around the musculature. This is great for saxophone playing but also for when you need to whip your neck around to check your blind spot when driving.
One word. Essentrics. All of Miranda Esmonde-White’s exercise programs (Classical Stretch, Aging Backwards and Forever Painless) offer a new and more balanced way to work out. Her expansive moves for loosening up connective tissue or fascia are particularly helpful for musicians. These exercises help us to release tight muscles, reduce stiffness, increase circulation and build a balanced physique. It’s about feeling great and healing your body. Every performer needs a way to release tension and stay strong and flexible.
I would be completely shocked if you tried some of her videos and didn’t feel like a million bucks. For me, Essentrics is Essential. Merci à Miranda de Montréal!
The physicality of making music cannot be underestimated.
There is nothing like the feeling of pushing air into the mouthpiece and then flexing your fingers over the keys to release a waterfall of notes.
But if you want to keep playing and playing well, it’s important to kick-it-old-school and heed the advice of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod:
“Keep fit and have fun.”
For an entire chapter on the benefits of exercise, check out my book, Saxophone Technique.