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Lucy Hare is a double bass player, sitting in the world of classical world music. She played for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Concert Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Opera House Orchestra, the Tango Volcano, and the Oxford Concert Party.
She will share with us her group Flow experiences, how she connects with with her instrument and with the energy of the room and some of her tips that help her to get into this amazing state.
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Cameron: I'm just going to ask you initially just to explain one or two Flow experiences, it can be either in training or performance, where you felt that you've hit that zone, you've hit that bubble, and you found a bit of freedom in that Flow space. So we'd love to hear where it was, when it was, and some of the characteristics that happened during that Flow experience.
Lucy: Okay. The one that comes to mind, because I've done so many different things with my playing obviously over the years, but one really comes to mind, which is a kind of group Flow in a way, but for me it was personal as well. It was at one of the Prom concerts, the London Prom Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall, and we were playing Strauss Alpine Symphony which is a massive work, it has alpenhorns in it and cowbells and an orchestra of about 120 or something, it an incredible piece of music. It's a great piece, it's challenging but playable for us.
We were playing it with the most incredible conductor, which isn't always the case, but this was a really wonderful, amazing Russian conductor, and there was a moment where the orchestra kind of felt like we turned a corner, and there was this incredible moment of feeling as if the whole orchestra, so 120 people, were on the point of their toes. For me afterwards, it was just this fantastic point of being completely at-one with the orchestra, with the other people, but also completely at-one with my instrument and my technique and the room. Everything just came together in that spot, that moment, that sort of sweet spot in a way. So that was a very memorable case of Flow for me.
Cameron: Wow that sounds really fascinating! I talk a lot about jazz musicians finding Flow because of it being spontaneous and connecting with one another and feeding off one another, but it really interesting to hear that you found that collective, group experience where you were almost on a tipping point. Was that something that happened like a flip of a coin, or was that something that progressed and processed slowly? Did you feel like you were feeding off others, or was it a case of you were in your Flow and you found other people in a similar space?
Lucy: Yeah, really good questions. I'm not sure what other people were doing, but I think if I had to choose one thing it would depend on the leadership we were getting at that moment, so the conductor, he took the time to let us turn that corner together. But I think it's not as simple as that actually, I think it came from also the sort of micro details, where everybody being in control of their technique and their ability to manage that moment technically on whatever instrument they were playing, and all kind of taking that point of poise in a way.
(...) And with music things like your tuning of your instrument, so everybody probably was playing really well in tune, there a kind of resonance that happens when everyone plays together and well that you don't get often. Usually it can sound together but it doesn't have that resonance if people aren't really hitting that sweet spot in a way.
Cameron: It sounds like as everyone else is hitting their sweet spot and the notes are, dare I say, perfect. You feed off one another, you hear it and it helps you up your game, and you get to that base where performing in that higher state is easier. Is that correct?
Lucy: Yeah. I think There is something about your antennae. You have to obviously take care of your own technique, and that takes years and years and years of work, and hours every day, but then there also something about your awareness about the person sitting next to you. We play in sections in an orchestra, so the section of eight double basses, then there'll be the string section which is bigger again, so it kind of fans out, and then there's the whole orchestra. So you have all these different levels of awareness, and if they all come together, so both intonations the pitch, the tuning but also the timing. Timing is such a fine art I think, and there's no exact science to it, I bet there is [laughs], it appears a very mathematical thing, but I think it has something that much more magical than that actually. So I think all those things coming together. Yeah, so you have to kind of perfect what you're doing, but it's a greater thing that perfection I think.
Cameron: So practically speaking, when you're in Flow state, the moment you've just explained to me, there's a lot going on there: you've got the notes in front of you, you've got the conductor, you've got your instrument, you've got where your fingers are, you've got the audience around you, you've got colleagues. Where is your focus? What are you focused on and where is your awareness? Is it a case of you are hyperaware of everything and you're playing effortlessly? Or is it a case of you're actually highly focused on one thing, which is your notes?
Lucy: That a really good question. I would be really interested to hear the answer to your question from a sportsperson who plays in a team as well. I think my focus has to be everywhere actually. I don't know biologically if you can do that, but I think the micro stuff, so your own technique is your main focus, with your practice, then with the rehearsals in the orchestra. Maybe that is partly what creates the moment of Flow. It really feels like a moment of poise to me with the group thing, that you have that time of balance and you can go in any direction, and your concentration is wide as well as being very centred.
Cameron: Yeah. You're describing the many paradoxes of Flow, where we feel out of control but completely in control, and action and awareness kind of merge, where you're feeling intricately a part of every second that's going on, but at the same time it's almost as if someone else is doing the actions and performing for you. It is very much a paradoxical state, because biologically speaking the prefrontal cortex and the conscious mind is not really in charge of the functioning and the operation at that time, so they're kind of the logical and critique side of our brains that wants to analyse that experience and understand that what's going on isn't in the room. It's the subconscious that's working that experience. And then when we come back to experience it, we look at it from a conscious brain as we're talking now and it tries to make sense of these things that would normally happen through the subconscious brain. They feel and sound so paradoxical, but in the world of experiencing a moment and performing through the subconscious, it's a very normal experience to be looking at the minutiae but also taking in the bigger picture.
So, what can you relate to from the 9 dimensions to Flow? I know you've had a quick look at them. What are the ones that really resonate for you in terms of practically finding Flow?
Lucy: I had a look at your list, and one of the main things is about 'Level of Challenge' actually. Certainly with playing the bass, if there is a level of challenge that is strong but not overwhelming, that's key for me personally. If the challenge is overwhelming, I'm kind of in my head, saying, "You need to do this, you need to play it this way, play it this way, you've got to prepare, you've got to get your elbow in the right place, your fingers have got to be strong, you've got to play this faster, you didn't practice this enough!" The little voice in my head is going 100 miles an hour. So if the challenge level is strong but manageable and I've done the pre-work, then that is very likely to lead to a sense of Flow I think for me personally, not necessarily the group thing. So that's really important.
And also, the other thing is we do repeat performances quite a lot if we're doing a show or dance work or something, so you might do 30 or 50 performances of exactly the same show and they want it the same every night. The danger there is that you get very bored, so then you have to crank up the challenge and obviously technically you can't because it the same music. So I personally do that by imagining the situation to be more alarming or scary. That can sometimes give it a slightly different state of Flow, but it then frees me from the boredom of what's happening, and the repetition becomes almost like a sort of meditation, focusing in on each part but also then again being able to lift your mind away from it to other things and see the bigger picture.