Trying a bow the Zen way


I am trying a new baroque bow by Craig Ryder the Zen way. As I draw this lovely snakewood instrument across the gut of the string like a limb, I find I am also following it's trajectory, observing it, responding. Every cell of my body is alive to its life, its needs. The nerve endings in my fingers are receptors for its information. Can I coast now? Do I need to change the contact point, angle, adjust the weight? Is it time for a new impulse? I am trying to listen in a way that is not attached. This is not MY sound. MY interpretation. MY instrument (well it certainly isn't my instrument till I fork out the 1400 euros I need to buy it!). This is what is, now, in this moment.

It's strange what a different intensity this kind of listening brings. As in meditation, of course, the ability to be in a state of micro-awareness comes and goes. Thoughts come and go. Physical sensations and a desire to react to them come and go. When I am in it, however, I notice that I have an overview - a sense of where I am coming from both melodically and harmonically, and where I am going - that I lose when I get involved. Nuances come as a spontaneous response to what I hear and are not Blue - Peter- style 'Here's one I made earlier', or like too much extra whipped cream. And of course they slip into the past before I can label or fix them. I am the pure slow descant line above all the business in a Bach cantata. I am the silent observer, the one bearing witness….

I am, that is, until a note is out of tune or doesn't speak and I fall into self judgement. Or I think 'Oh, that was nice! I must remember to give that phrase the same stress next time.'

A beautiful instrument is so alive, such a presence in itself, that playing with it reminds us to take these steps back, to give up control and observe in wonder what happens when bow hair meets string and flesh and blood over a good bit of Bach!