Friday 21st September, Church of St John the Divine, London SW9

Christina McMaster, piano

Lie down and Listen is a unique multi-sensory classical music experience created by pianist Christina McMaster and designed to bring the positive effects of classical music on body and mind to a wide audience in unusually relaxed settings. A pioneering combination of music, meditation, Virtual Reality technology and restorative yoga led by Will Wheeler create a deep sense of relaxation.

Neil Franks writes….

The event took place at the lovely St John the Divine Church in Kennington. It was the perfect venue as it has plenty of floor space to “lie down and listen”, with a magnificent Steinway Model D in the middle so that we could surround the piano on our yoga mats. The evening started with a gentle but very well-presented yoga session that even the novice could follow and with no pressure to manoeuvre feet behind ears or anything extreme. In fact the moves presented allowed the inexperienced to participate within their comfort levels. Of course there were plenty of very flexible friends there both to encourage and impress us, and create the atmosphere Christina was aiming for – the first success of the evening.

To the standard classical concert-goer, this appeared to be an ambitious programme and I might be as bold as to suggest that if this concert was planned in the standard format, the choice might limit its audience unless it were specifically targeted. On the other hand, this was a great success as it drew in a lot of young people (and other ages too!), largely because of the experimental interest, and there is no doubt everyone was pleasantly surprised as Christina’s programme was beautiful and absorbing – nowhere near as intimidating as many might fear, by the likes of Philip Glass, John Cage, Arvo Part etc. Taking my daughter Charlotte along was in itself an experiment for me, and we both enjoyed the evening. (She has grown up with me thumping away at the piano and having to sit through numerous piano recitals that she would rather not go to, but it was successful and enjoyable for her as it was with many other audience members who I’m sure will now seriously consider going to, and enjoying, a standard concert presentation of this sort of music.

In addition to the piano music, the programme featured two beautiful choral works, including The Fruits of Silence by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, a magnificent and absorbing finale from the choir with subtle accompaniment from Christina.

Of course I and any other old traditionalists went to hear Christina’s performance of Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, and, as expected, we were immensely satisfied, considering Christina’s talent and empathy with this music. But to add to the expected was the unexpected bonus of the special environment: Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata wouldn’t work in this format, but Debussy flourishes.

It may be that, as mentioned in the programme, this concept was conceived in and amongst the thinking rooms at New York’s National Addiction Centre and studies related to their subject and efforts to improve the well-being of people under their care, study and attention. I gather that early experiments used the minimalist music of Terry Riley, but I don’t think I could categorise Christina’s programme as “minimalist”. I suppose it might been drier had we all been wearing shirts and ties at the South Bank, and if some of these pieces were in presented in a more traditional programme/concert setting, but I have to believe this audience were instantly converted and I know they will go to more. They will go to the South Bank and listen to a Debussy recital now, something they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before.

The only traditional thing I had to do was to take the initiative of leading the applause as the audience didn’t quite know what to do at the end (the programme was presented so that there was no applause between pieces as that would have interfered with the atmosphere).

I wish Christina every success in this venture and in spreading the word in this way as it will draw much attention, and I very much hope that the good work in the thinking rooms I referred to will be hugely successful too.

 

The next Lie Down and Listen concert is on 16 November at St John the Divine church. Full details and tickets here

Meet the Artist interview with Christina McMaster


Neil Franks is Chairman of Petworth Festival, a regular concert-goer and a advanced amateur pianist.

The Keyboard Faculty at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire invites pianists to a series of Yoga and Mindfulness sessions taught by Professor Elena Riu especially designed to address Performance Related Anxiety, injury prevention and build resilience before the final assessment run.
The sessions will take place on Thursdays from 8.15-9.30 am on May 10th & 17th in Room G29 at Trinity-Laban.
Some of the well-documented benefits of yoga :
  • Increases resilience and stamina
  • Reduces anxiety and stress through increased Parasympathetic activation (relaxation)
  • Encourages brain integration and emotional regulation
  • Greater lung capacity and improved Heart Rate Variability
  • Improved circulation, digestion and mental functions
  • Promotes self awareness , self esteem and empathy
  • Prevents injury as it maintains lubrication in all the joints and restores full range of motion
  • Increases concentration and mental focus
The Yoga exercises and breathing we did on the course were easy and calming. Playing the piano afterwards is always different, the anxiety and other negative things get pushed to the back of the queue … I can concentrate much more on the type of sound I want to produce and the mood of the piece.  It was very noticeable when listening to others, the sound made could be incredibly different afterwards.
Jackdaws Music Course participant , May 2015
 

Elena Riu has been a concert pianist for many years and is a Professor of piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where she has recently led a Pilot Study about the benefits of yoga for musicians suffering from PRA and MSD’s. The pilot study was jointly funded by Better Practice: Musical Impacts, Teaching and Learning and the Keyboard Faculty. She also has a dance background.
Elena has taught kids classes at The Special Yoga Centre and at Yoga Home. Last summer and this summer she organized the Yoga for Kids and Families activities at Santosa Yoga Camp where she taught Yoga , Mindfulness and Yoga Nidra for children, workshops on how to incorporate Tich Nath Hanhn’s Pebble Meditation into a yoga class and Womb yoga.