Effort, Age and Survival  

by Jan 12, 2020

Summertime Practising

It is over a month since my last blog post and with the 6 weeks that have passed, we are well and truly in mid-summer here in Central Otago.

I have been systematically working through the 10 Beethoven violin sonatas, regularly inspired by the awesome landscapes outside my window, and accompanied by my trusty sidekick – Coco the cat.

Physical fatigue

It turns out one of the biggest current challenges is physical fatigue. Kate has mentioned the same, both of us recognizing that our not-so-youthful bodies simply can’t take what they used to…mine being past the half-century mark at 51 years old!!!

Seeing the bright side of this slippery slope, there is a definite opportunity – my body demanding, as a matter of necessity, that I discover and eliminate any unnecessary effort involved in my approach.

It is a matter of survival!

Discovering effort

At this stage in my preparation, pretty much without exception, with each and every phrase I play, upon scanning for ‘effort’ or ‘imbalance’, I always discover something that can be approached with greater ease, balance or release.

I relish these discoveries – each new awareness providing me with knowledge for a better and more rewarding physical approach. Repeating the phrase, peeling off the layers of effort, or feeling renewed balance where it wasn’t, there is always a significant improvement in my technical control and musical expression.

Considering how valuable this renewed ease is for my aging body and my stamina, these discoveries regularly feel miraculous.

A theme for each day

With each day, in my warmup or early stages of playing the first sonata of the day, I look to discover a part of my body that is appealing for attention. For example, as I warmed up today (having just come off a couple of hours of admin at my computer!) my bow arm felt shaky and unstable.

It was not a nice feeling!

So, first locating my centre, then relating how my bow arm was moving relative to my centre, I set out to observe unnecessary tension and/or effort in my whole bow arm.

Quite quickly discovering a feeling of effort, my next task was to locate the precise locations of this effort or tension.

Today’s theme

Turns out, there was locking and stiffness in my wrist.

Next, paying more attention to the specific feeling in my wrist, still relating my movements to my centre, I noticed inflexibility in the relationship between my wrist and the placement of my right elbow.

What followed was hugely valuable clarity that these two points in my arm – my wrist and my elbow – instead of being consistent and stuck in their relationship, benefit hugely from constant malleability. To achieve this malleability, my wrist requires effortless mobility.

This vital awareness become my ‘theme of the day’.

Throughout my practice of Sonatas 9 and 6 today, by applying this awareness, I kept catching the unnecessary tension in my wrist and subsequent inflexibility between my wrist and elbow.

Resetting through release into renewed malleability and ease, I was regularly able to achieve more physical ease and subsequent technical control of my bow. It was the revelation of the day!

In days to come, I will be vigilant to keep this observation alive, over time unravelling my habit of wrist tension and then reveling in the release and ease that follows.

I wonder what I will discover tomorrow?


  1. Philippa Chilvers

    Wow Justine! You inspire me! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog! Although it was years ago that I last held my viola for actually playing,! I was able to mentally walk through your description of wrist tension in relation to your bowing elbow!! And even more so, the 50+ year old body responses not being what they used to be!! Your photos of the surrounding landscape and your gorgeous supportive feline are gorgeous! No wonder you love living there! Your architectural masterpiece home is something else!! Love you Miss Pakora Palace!! Keep up the awe inspiring music Love Philippa xx

    • Justine

      Thanks Philippa – this means a lot 🙂

  2. Sasha Routh

    Thank you so much for sharing these beautifully written, insightful blogs. I’ve enjoyed reading about so many inspiring and helpful ideas and images to share with students of all ages!

    • Justine

      Thanks for your comment Sasha – it’s really great to hear that you have found them inspiring, and that it is feeding into your teaching – wonderful!! Let me know if you ever have any questions about it all.


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