Saturday, February 12, 2011

Warming Up

The actor, no less than the soldier, must be subject to iron discipline.

Constantine Stanislavki
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During my acting career I had a small sign taped up on the wall in front of me when I was at my desk with the two words "IRON DISCIPLINE."

One day in New York I was talking with a young man who had just purchased a guitar. He also had a book on how to play it. "Learn How To Play A Guitar In 10 Easy Steps" or something like it. I saw the book. It showed how to finger some basic chords and how to play some songs. I asked the fellow if he did any warming up exercises since there were none in the book. He said that he couldn't be bothered by that stuff, he just wanted to play music.

Quite coincidentally, almost as a gift from the god of music, there was an interview a few days later, in the New York Daily News, with one of the current stars of the rock music world. A guitarist.

Among other things they discussed, the interviewer asked him to describe an average day in his life. And he told about having breakfast and then spending 2 or 3 hours warming up, with scales and finger exercises. He told of how important it was to help him with the music he would practice later.

I clipped out the article and sent it to my young friend. I don't know if he ever went on and mastered the guitar or not. But at least he knew what real musicians do.

I once had a part time job as an accompanist for a dance company. By the end of the morning session those dancers were flying across the studio. But they all began at the bar, bending and straightening, under the expert eye of the dance master and choreographer.

Singers vocalize every morning. I know artists who will begin the day making simple drawings before they approach the canvas. Somerset Maugham said that if you want to be a writer you have to write every day. One day at Marlboro I accidentally came upon a trombonist who was getting ready to play with the orchestra and he was rapidly playing up and down chromatic scales, not an easy thing to do on any instrument;

Actors don't have the benefit of a musical instrument, a dance studio or a typewriter to start the day. But we have our own tools and technicalities. We keep the body in shape to be able to express the most subtle meanings in the gestures we make with grace and articulation. Same with the voice. Memory is an all important tool for an actor. There was a famous actress who used to memorize a sonnet every day. We may have audition pieces that we work on to make better. But if there is a rehearsal or performance of the day we have the script and any serious actor will pick it up and work on it to gain a further understanding of it and gain more agility with the speeches.

With an actor, a musician, a dancer or a painter, just as with the writer, the mind works through the medium the artist has and it must be handled with the utmost discipline to be dependable. When you see a performing artist work you are seeing what floats on the top of the barrel, what flies across the room and not the iron sweat of discipline.

DB - Vagabond
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Weekend Puzzle

Let's play ball. I'll start.

base ball
foot "
------- "
---------
and so on.

Starting at the top how many balls can you add. The person with the most number wins the nifty prize.

Good luck
DB
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4 comments:

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Practice makes perfect :o)

Arlene (AJ) said...

Practice does indeed make it better, hopefully you're friend made good use of the article you sent and learned something from it.

Cathy said...

Interesting you bring up this topic - as a musician I can only speak to my personal "warm-ups" which are just my own doddlings, nothing disciplinary about it I suppose; I sit at that piano just letting my fingers flow over the keys - people will ask "Gee that's was nice, what was it?" I love the look I get when I admit I don't know "cause I haven't named it yet" things like that - the ego absolutely shines lol. I tried stage years ago, almost fainted with the sound of applause at the end and imagined I could really get into it someday. Now here's where your point is so fast and true: hard work to the point of exasperation, talk about discipline I had trouble picking up that script each rehearsal and "walked" through. Though I liked it, as I know you do, I have to say it seems acting takes more constitutional verve than musicianship - for me. One insists on memorizing then filtering a line through your character, then developing that character, then relating to the environment AS your character etc. Yikes. All my warming up consisted of was making up a melody, something slow and soft, then I could sight-read or play by ear for hours. I envy you the ability to school yourself that well in such a fine art,

Beth said...

I recently finished Keith Richards' book, and at one point, he mentioned how tough it is to be a singer. Of course, that's not his primary job in the Stones, but he does sing a few songs. He said he gives Mick Jagger a lot of credit for being able to sing for a couple of hours, and said that Mick usually spends an hour or so before any show doing vocal and breathing exercises. Obviously, being a rock singer is no comparison to being an opera singer, but they still have to have the stamina to breathe correctly and be able to belt it out for a couple of hours. He said he's seen people pass out from singing!

I would think that any artist or musician would need to focus on the fundamentals before progressing further.