September 30, 2016

The art of ‘effortless effort’

St. Louis Symphony Associate Concertmaster and violinist Heidi Harris said she knows what it is like to have a fear of performing. She said it is important for those more experienced to pass their knowledge to other students.

Harris is doing this at Webster University through her four-part workshop called The Art of Performing. The workshop, which takes place over four non-consecutive weeks, teaches music majors organization, confidence and resilience in performance through means such as yoga, consistent practice and journaling.

“It kind of goes from the gross to the subtle within four weeks,” Harris said.

Heidi Harris currently serves as Associate Concertmaster of the STL Symphony, where she plays violin. JARROD PHILLIPS / The Journal

Heidi Harris currently serves as Associate Concertmaster of the STL Symphony, where she plays violin. JARROD PHILLIPS / The Journal

The workshop is part of a series of instrumental master classes.  Master classes bring in guest experts within the music field to give students advice about the field and their playing ability.

This workshop in particular came as an idea between Harris and Paul Davis, Webster’s director of instrumental studies. Davis said he and Harris share similar ideas about the mental aspect of performance.

“We are always looking at ways to make the body in sync with the mind,” Davis said.

Davis said Harris is setting out to achieve this goal through yoga. In addition to being a musician, Harris is a certified yoga instructor.

Harris said she suffered from stage fright her whole life and yoga was a way to help her overcome that.

“I started doing things to help myself and now I’m teaching them to others,” Harris said.  “Stepping on a stage in front of an audience is hard.”

Harris said what people forget about performing is that they use their bodies a lot. She said being strong and limber in one’s own body helps build confidence onstage.

“Our body is also our instrument,” Harris said.

Senior Annette Moeller said Harris introduced her to the idea that practicing and performing should be as effortless as breathing.

“It’s a state of mind that I’m eager to achieve,” Moeller said.

STL Symphony Associate Concertmaster Heidi Harris teaches a class at Agape Yoga Studio. Harris is teaching a workshop for Webster music students about how to use yoga to help perform to the best of their ability. JARROD PHILLIPS / The Journal

STL Symphony Associate Concertmaster Heidi Harris teaches a class at Agape Yoga Studio. Harris is teaching a workshop for Webster music students about how to use yoga to help perform to the best of their ability. JARROD PHILLIPS / The Journal

Another aspect of the workshop is helping students maintain a consistent practice schedule. Using a practice calendar from a workbook Harris created, students make practice appointments a week in advance.

Harris said this helps to create a more organized schedule.

In the upcoming sessions, Harris and students will explore the Chinese philosophy of Wu Wei.  Harris said the philosophy deals with the notion of “effortless effort.”

“When we train ourselves and we learn meditation and we practice our instruments everyday and we refine our skills, we get to a point where we can perform somewhat effortlessly,” Harris said.

Davis said Harris’ insight into the art of yoga and music is insightful because she has found ways to put both arts together so that it benefits a student’s performance. Davis said his and Harris’ similar ideals make for a great professional relationship.

“There are just certain people you connect with,” Davis said. “The ideas germinate and they connect together. You just realize you think in the same ways as some other people and, consequently, you gravitate towards each other on a professional level.”

Moeller said Harris has a calm and positive demeanor that she said helps make students open to learning.

“I’ve never walked away from a master class with her without several new ideas to implement in my practicing,” Moeller said.

Harris’ next session will take place on March 23.

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