By Julie Legault
For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of teaching yoga at CAMMAC (Canadian Amateur Musicians, Musiciens amateurs du Canada). This is a music camp for amateur musicians located in Harrington, on the shores of beautiful Lake MacDonald. It has been in existence since 1953 and is the brainchild of two musician brothers, George and Carl Little, assisted by their wives Madeleine and France. Learn more about the history here.
For seven weeks every summer, musical activities are offered with themes: for example, Week 1 is dedicated to vocal music, choir and harmonies (wind instruments and percussion). There is also a week on jazz, world music and Broadway. Also, during the year, activities are offered during the winter break, Thanksgiving weekend in the fall and the May long weekend in spring. All workshops are carefully prepared and led by excellent professionals from the music community, in addition to other disciplines such as dance, visual arts and… yoga. It is a real privilege to benefit from their rich teachings and life experiences.
The activities offered are for children, teenagers and adults. Music unites people, young and old. CAMMAC is one big and beautiful family. In fact, we spend our days together, sharing meals, classes, music… I have met some wonderful and inspiring people!
The days are well filled and very well organized! It is possible to take many 50-minute classes every day, in addition to practice time. Also, it is located on an enchanting site, on the edge of a lake. You can take advantage of the surrounding nature by taking a walk in the woods or doing water sports.
And what about yoga in all this?
I offer two yoga classes during the day, every day: in the morning at 7 a.m. and in the afternoon at 5 p.m. I’ve been wondering about the reasons for offering yoga classes at this location. Guylaine Lemaire, CAMMAC’s Music Director, told me that these classes are important to CAMMAC because they offer a time for participants, teachers and staff to get back to their roots during the week. There are indeed a lot of “outside” solicitations, so these courses allow participants to focus, concentrate and relax in order to be more receptive to the shared teachings. Also, one participant told me that the founding members were doing yoga themselves and recognized all the benefits of this practice, wishing to share it with CAMMAC participants.
I made a lot of observations during my experiences and I made several observations between yoga and music. First, on a physical level, I noted the posture of musicians and singers during concerts. There is a lot of repetition in the gestures and movements and the postures are often difficult for the body, depending on the instruments. For example, the posture for holding the violin requires the head to be bent over the instrument and the arms to hold the instrument in a way that is out of balance with the midline of the body, causing long-term pain in the upper back and arms. I have tried the violin before and have seen these “effects” on posture. Every instrument has its challenges… and the body IS the instrument. Without it, there is no sound possible, that’s for sure!
Meals are precious moments for me during the week because many professional and amateur participants talk to me about their physical pains related to their practice. Others also share with me their level of stress related to performance and their social status (especially for professionals). Conducting many auditions without knowing the result is certainly stressful. They are also mostly freelance people, so jobs are uncertain, causing concern. They also talk to me about their professional training, which is beneficial for their theoretical learning of music, but there seems to be no question of the practical side of this career choice afterwards. How do they make a living from their music as performers? What posture to adopt depending on the instrument, or at the very least, exercises to balance the body? Even young musicians are already feeling the effects of practice on their bodies. What will it be like later on? I thought about this question and I found a doctoral thesis by Valérie Lamontagne written in 2016 that deals with the subject of physical pain and stress in orchestral musicians.
“Informed by her clinical experience in the field, Dr. Lederman puts forward the idea that the approach to pain in musicians requires a specificity that distinguishes it from the approach to pain in the general population (2003). This author suggests that in order to properly assess the patient musician, a health professional must have some knowledge of the artistic disciplines involved and their physical and mental demands (2003). First, musicians are distinguished by their determination and desire to perform to excessively high standards, which has a significant impact on their pain; unlike other workers who choose to take time off during their pain episode, musicians, driven by their performance goals, tend to continue practicing (Ledoux et al., 2008). Second, the musical path is characterized by an atypical rigour; learning begins at an early age and discipline is maintained throughout a musician’s career. The musculoskeletal system is particularly tested and the psychological investment, as well as the presence of significant psychosocial stressors, is undeniable (Lederman, 2003). These realities guide treatment options; in particular, total cessation of instrumental practice is not recommended, special attention must be paid to psychological factors and stressors, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort (Lederman, 2003). P. 21-22. For the complete study, click on this link.
Gathering all these precious testimonies and shares, I therefore propose exercises in my classes accordingly. I also make links with what we do during the day, with the teachings received. This is very rich for me. For example, in the vocal techniques workshop, breathing exercises are proposed, so I deepen the subject in my classes. Also, before the performances (at the end of the week, the groups put on a show/concert of the learnings received during the week) and for many of them, it is a scary moment. I will therefore propose more “calming” exercises using breathing, sound, stretching… depending on the inspiration. This also applies to me, because I “perform” with them! Many come to see me after class (or during meals!) to share their appreciation of the exercises or to ask me questions about certain postures. It’s a very enriching exchange and I feel that yoga gives them physical and psychological awareness that is beneficial for them. What is also beautiful is that I teach to teenagers and adults of all ages, beginners and advanced in the practice. I adapt the classes according to the group. Finally, I take advantage of the learning shared by the teachers and participants about music to discover more about this world. Joy! There are many exchanges of knowledge, it’s very enriching!
Finally, the beauty of CAMMAC is the opportunity to learn, discover, share, help each other, improve and have fun! Moreover, in this enchanting place, everything lends itself to it: the very welcoming staff, the site, the nature and especially the encounters. And the link between all this? The music. “The musical sound has a direct access to the soul. It finds an essentially immediate echo because man “has music in himself”.
I’m scheduled to be there during week 1, from June 28 to July 5, 2020. I hope with all my heart to return there. Welcome to all of you!
For all the details: cammac.ca
1] Wassily KANDISKY, Du spirituel dans l’art et dans la peinture en particulier, Folio Essais, Paris, 1954, p.113.