Bridget Rennie Salonen & body mapping
Active in the Gabriel Duo, the Grahamstown Sextet, the Zomari Duo and the Fiesta award-winning ‘Trio with a Twist’, Bridget Rennie-Salonen, former solo principal flautist of the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, always has a diverse and musically exciting schedule. Curious about her “Breathe with Ease” workshop coming up on 18 May and all her research and work in the area of musicians’ health, classicsa.co.za caught up with her recently in Cape Town.
Where and when did your interest in music start?
BRS: I come from a musical family – it was just part of our lives. I can’t really imagine life without it. My maternal grandfather was a famous Russian violinist who studied in Moscow and worked with Oistrakh, Glazunov, the dancer Pavlova, and many other revered artists. His story is fabulous, but too long to tell now. My maternal grandmother was a violist, of German descent. They met in Johannesburg. My mom is a violist and respected violin teacher here in Cape Town. My dad is an architect, but also a talented bass-baritone - and he used to play the violin! My siblings are all musical too. My brother Mike has played rock and jazz violin (and sings and composes) all his life and now lives in the USA, teaching and playing. My Johannesburg-based sister Lizzie is a violist and violinist. She is a versatile performer who is equally at home on her viola playing in an orchestra or a classical chamber concert, as she is on her electric violin. She is also a brilliant film music composer and arranger too, along with her string teaching that she loves. My youngest sister Catherine still plays the cello beautifully, although she is a graphic designer by profession. My paternal grandparents were not professionally involved in music, but were very musical, and always had a music-filled household.
How did you end up choosing the flute as your instrument?
BRS: As a little girl I played the recorder from before I can remember – in fact, as a toddler I was often enthusiastically blowing the beautiful bugle we always had on the mantelpiece. I remember being given the choice between flute and clarinet at the age of about 9. I chose the flute – perhaps it was shinier and prettier. I think my parents just needed a wind player in the house, along with all the string players!
Please tell us more about your development as a professional musician.
BRS: I started working in the CAPAB orchestra as Co-principal Flute and Principal Piccolo in 1989. I really “learnt my trade” in those years. Operas, ballets, musicals, symphony concerts, community outreach – we did it all. The Principal Flute at the time, Rainer Strauss, became a great mentor and special friend. Also with continual visits of international conductors, directors, opera stars and soloists, as well as my many colleagues who were “at the top of their game”, it was so artistically inspiring and enriching. Love was in the air too… I met my violinist husband Petri! He was at that time the assistant Concert Master. I also started teaching then and have taught ever since. I later became Solo Principal Flute of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a fantastic experience in a full-sized orchestra and I so enjoyed it. I decided to change to a more varied freelance musical career when I resigned from the orchestra. This was a very difficult decision, yet one that was necessary in terms of lifestyle, financial security and family needs with our 3 small children – who are now 18, 16 and 11. One really has to treasure the unique and special relationships one has with one’s children.
What is your current job profile?
BRS: Jobs – plural! It’s a wonderful mix actually. It can get stressful when there is too little or suddenly everything happens at once, but I love the variety. My regular job is that I lecture in flute at the South African College of Music and teach the flute privately. I am also a freelance solo, chamber and orchestral flautist and I enjoy the diversity of freelance playing.
After training overseas, I became a licensed Andover Educator in 2010, qualified to teach Body Mapping for musicians. In that capacity I teach group and individual sessions on musicians’ wellness, Body Mapping, movement awareness, breathing, confident performance, and so on. This year I started my PhD. I am researching implementation and assessment of university course work in Musicians’ Occupational Health and Wellness in South Africa. I’m also a mom – a job not to be under-estimated! I must say that I am very thankful for my tolerant and supportive husband and children who put up with me when I am deeply immersed in my work.
What exactly is Musicians’ Wellness?
BRS: It can also be called Musicians’ Medicine. I suppose it’s really like sports science for musicians. Just like athletes have the field of sports science to enhance the physical and psychological aspects of performance, treat injuries, and teach injury prevention, we as musicians have Musicians’ Wellness. It falls within the broader field of Performing Arts Medicine which is almost non-existent in South Africa. It is recognized all over the world as an essential part of the performing arts. Musicians Wellness is then what is specific to musicians’ needs. It can also be called Musicians’ Occupational Health. It is all about injury prevention and management, body and movement awareness, posture, self care, lifestyle, performance confidence aspects, hearing damage prevention, - basically how to avoid professionally related illness or injury and how to improve performance.
And ‘body mapping’?
BRS: To answer this question I’d like to quote one of my colleagues form the USA, Connie Barrett, who says it so clearly: “Body Mapping is the study of how human anatomy applies to musical performance. The goal of Body Mapping is not to change what you do, but how you do it. Your technique is your technique. As a Body Mapping instructor, my goal is to help you learn to do what you want to do musically with more efficiency, more mindfulness, and with more ease.”
Your Body Map is your self-representation in your brain. In Body Mapping we identify how we perceive our bodies’ structure and movement and we correct misunderstandings. As we understand more and develop our sensory awareness skills and integrate it with our playing or singing we become so much freer – technically, physically and expressively! Basically – we learn how to play or sing with awareness and freedom!
So what hooked you on this method?
BRS: It is just so common-sense, practical and logical. It is also wonderful in terms of how easily it can be integrated into one’s teaching and playing. It also has a rich background in other somatic approaches such as the Alexander and Feldenkrais techniques, both of which I love in terms of developing one’s self-awareness through movement.
Tell us more about the workshop “Breathe with Ease” that you will be presenting this coming weekend.
BRS: It will be a great opportunity to learn how to let go of tension, enhance performance, unleash expression, and improve breath control! I will cover the movements and structures of breathing, freeing the breath, stress reduction and releasing tension with the breath, how tension release and balanced posture improve breathing dramatically, how characterization, expression and musical intention liberate breathing and vice versa, and how to use the breath as a tool for performance confidence. It’s not only for wind players or singers – in fact, all musicians need to breathe – especially in practice and performance!
So to end off, what is your main goal or focus?
I strive to be a musician in the richest sense of the word. It says it all in these well-known words from the film, The Shawshank Redemption: “I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I like to think they were singing about something so beautiful it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you; those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dared to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away. And for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
Bridget Rennie-Salonen will be presenting her workshop at the SA College of Music on Sat 18 May from 9h00 – 13h00. Booking is essential as places are limited. For more details, please consult the What’s On calendar.
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