Music throughout Maternity

Welcome back and Happy (belated) New Year! We recognize it has been a while since we built on our blog. Our ambition and resolution this coming year is to not only write more frequently about music, but also to be open about, and embrace, the joys and challenges we encounter in our lives. While there is so much to share, there is an obvious place to begin...

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the newest member of Duo-B?

Matthew Borter!

We welcomed Matthew into the world on December 7th. We've been delighted to notice how our older children, Jude (five years) and Joseph (two and half), are fascinated with the new member to our family. The expressions of love they offer Matthew are so simple and innocent, it is remarkable to witness these bonds forming so early.

As I reflect back on my pregnancy, I'm aware of so many positive experiences, both physical and musical. To understate the obvious, it is a truly special season in life, and I would like to share with you in this blog some of my unexpected observations.

People often say that each pregnancy is different. While this is, to a great extent, true, I have also experienced a common desire in each: a sudden and unrelenting impulse to create something new musically. In my first trimester particularly, I found great comfort and joy in composing and arranging new works for Duo-B (which we will certainly share in this coming year). What is fascinating for me is how this work, which seemed impossible to schedule prior to carrying Matthew, was drawn from me with little intention. There was effort to be sure, but it was almost as if I was creating a sort of musical "nest" in which to rest and nurture creativity throughout this process-- a comforting type of labor.

Of course life, and business, doesn't stop when you become pregnant, especially when you constitute one half of a performing ensemble! This summer we established a goal of learning a new program, including a double concerto by Saint-Saens, which we performed after the first week of the Fall semester at Luther College. The timing just so happened to work out that I would be 6 months pregnant (interestingly, we count it as the 7th month in Japan). From my own previous pregnancies, I have felt the second trimester to be the most stable and happy time. In the second trimester, the early concerns and frequent feelings of morning sickness have passed, and it is well before the practice contractions, physical strains from the growing baby, and overall stress of the last trimester. Naturally, there are always minor worries to negotiate (like dizziness, palpitations etc), but I have learned to deal with each problem as best I can.

There is also an amazing phenomenon that occurs during pregnancy, as the body becomes more sensitive, where I feel as though I can ''hear'' what my body is telling me with much more specificity than normal. For example, like all pregnant women, my uterus will suddenly tighten when I'm too active, like a warning sign screaming ''I'm over-working! It's too much for your pregnant body!'' I had to learn to listen when the message was sent, and try to get to a relaxing position and take a few deep breaths. Through our extended preparations for the concert, I have learned that it can frequently occur while I'm practicing or rehearsing as well. While the violin is a relatively light instrument, intense or prolonged practice sessions can be a workout, to play strongly requires great energy and there is certainly an element of athleticism.

I believe this increased sensitivity while pregnant has provided me with some profound and important insights into how I could improve as a violinist. Musicians constantly struggle with issues of body tension, particularly tension in places where it fails to contribute towards sound production. In a few practice sessions, I observed my belly becoming tense, despite the fact that I was playing slow, sustained notes... not the type of passage you would associate with requiring tension. I developed a suspicion, in fact I'm now convinced, that this feeling had always been there, but I lacked the sensitivity to listen to my body. After some careful observation I noticed that certain shifts in posture or stiffness in the arms/shoulders would generate this tightness lower in my torso. I believe I can safely assume this tension was present in my sound as well. Whereas before pregnancy I could play in a certain "unhealthy" way, my body was now telling me directly "no, this in not how you should be using me." For me, learning to play with a focus on relaxation became critical, directing tension where necessary and releasing weight whenever possible. Slowly I began to notice some remarkable changes, that if my body (or certain parts of my body) was relaxed while playing, there was an absence of strain in and around my belly. Furthermore, this sensation was possible not only in slower moments, but even in a virtuosic passage, which required fast and repetitive movements of the arm and fingers. It was a watershed moment for me, and because of that experience in pregnancy, I try daily to focus on relaxing body which is anyway beneficial to my performing.

Somewhat related to this, I have become much more aware of where the center of my body is and I have become able to feel the weight and gravity felt in this area. For quite a few years Philip has studied Iaido (a Japanese martial art form using a sword) where he learned how important it is to feel the center of your body, what we refer to in Japanese as ''tanden''. The tanden is located approximately 3 inches under your belly bottom, inside your body. In some Eastern philosophies, not only is it the physical center of gravity, it is also a source of spiritual energy. In Iaido, one learns to focus the energy and attempts to balance all actions, being mindful not to disturb your center. Of course, for a woman, that's where uterus is. When I play standing (which most of the time unless I'm in an orchestra section), it's very important to feel the center of gravity to produce a nice healthy, rich sound. When I'm expecting, not only I can feel the center of my body more acutely, but the added mass of the baby allows this to become much more of a focal point for my energy.

As an aside, it is no surprise that I cannot control any movement from the baby! In those moments during a performance when I suddenly feel a baby's kick, it takes a great deal of effort not to smile (even though I want to), especially when it's oddly quiet moment and it happens without any warning.

[Coming soon: a video clip of our performance when I was pregnant!]

Over all, it was an enjoyable time being pregnant. There were challenging times, particularly as it was getting more difficult to use my body near the end of the pregnancy, but what I learned (how to use my body more naturally and healthy) was very beneficial for my music making. There are countless musicians who become injured or have pain because of bad habits related to playing (even including me). Perhaps it's hard to listen to our body, to learn what is natural, especially if we are not careful enough. How unfortunate it is that we desire to play such beautiful music and, in the process, abuse our body to the point of serious injury. To me, this pregnancy has provided a sort of "reset button", it inspires in me awe.


Coming back to our family: now we have three boys in our lives. It will be a challenge to manage our duo work and home, more or less. But we would like to enjoy this precious time of life, and at the same time, create and share our music with you more!

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