Today I rode my bike for the first time in several months. I actually made it to the third trimester with biking, but then it just became too tiring. Some people seem to get through pregnancy and birth smoothly, without much of a hitch. This was not the case with me. I managed to play until 3 weeks before birth, but it was a fight, both mentally and physically. I am happy that I begin to feel a little more normal, but it has not been easy.
Breathing was a real difficulty the entire time. Not so good for an individual who makes their living breathing in a controlled manner. However it forced me to think again about how I breathe, in part because I couldn't physically play the way that I had in the past. I have to say that in the past several years I became lazy about how I breathed while playing. I felt that I had figured things out mostly, and that it worked for me. Sure, one can always improve, but I felt like I had the basics down.
Boy was I wrong. Since I was having such a hard time with breathing, my baroque bassoon teacher and I had a long conversation on the subject, and I have to say she blew my former concept of breathing out of the water. My breathing had previously been something of an on off switch, either I was blowing air through the instrument at a certain speed, lower abdominals engaged, or I was not. Of course I varied the speed depending on which register I was playing, but the general concept throughout the bassoon's range was basically the same.
This concept of breathing seems to work pretty well with modern bassoon, but I was working too hard on the baroque bassoon. She showed me that one could have a big sound while keeping the abdominals relaxed. With the the modern airstream I ended up working against the instrument. I didn't need that much air. In fact, with less air it is easier to phrase appropriately. The difference is a little bit like the difference between a baroque and modern string bow, as far as I understand it. A modern bow one can keep the sound "stream" the same at all points ad nausium. With a baroque bow one cannot create huge phrases, but there is a flexibity within the phrase that is impossible to get on a modern instrument. This difference, big long phrases vs small phrases is one of the key
differences between baroque and modern playing. The more relaxed breathing allows for that
flexibility that is required for baroque music to be interesting.
This new concept helped me to not try to kill myself when playing, since I simply was not able to use as much air as before. Now that I have my lungs back, I am trying to incorporate this new concept perminantly into my baroque and classical instruments. I am also trying to see how I can incorporate some of the relaxed way of playing into my modern instrument. This is more difficult, as you do need a certain amount of pressure on the modern that you don't need on the baroque. I plan to play around with it on modern, and see what type of airstream I can discover. Breathing is oddly such a complicated subject, considering, or maybe because, we do it so easily without thinking most of our lives.