Next in the Friday Review series is another great publication from Mountain Peak Music. Last Friday’s review discussed Flow Studies for Horn by Nancy Sullivan, and this week we’ll look at The Breathing Book by David Nesmith (cover image at left linked from MPM website). In many ways The Breathing Book makes a nice companion to Flow Studies; the concepts presented in the former can be tested and refined by playing the patterns found in the latter. In addition, there are also several annotated musical exercises found within The Breathing Book. David Nesmith teaches both horn and Alexander Technique at Denison University in Ohio, and has published articles in The Horn Call. The Breathing Book also has its own website, located here.
First I should point out that the title can be deceiving – this book is about much more than breathing! In addition to covering the basic mechanics of breathing – topics include “Where Does Air Go?”, “Ribs Are Not a Cage,” and “Truth About the Diaphragm” – Nesmith presents the concept of Body Mapping (and a very concise introduction to the Alexander Technique) through a process he calls “Constructive Rest.” He suggests at least one 20 minute session of Constructive Rest per day, during which we should focus on five “Intentions”: 1) Cultivate an Overall Integrated Body Awareness, 2) Encourage Muscular Freedom Now, 3) Facilitate Breathing Integrity, 4)Promote an Accurate, Adequate Body Map, and 5) Renew a Healthy Relationship with Space. After only one session around mid-morning, I felt much more relaxed, but also energized and ready for the rest of my day. I generally shy away from taking naps of any length because I usually feel very groggy afterwords, but it wasn’t an issue with Constructive Rest.
In addition to the well written text, Nesmith also includes lots of great musical exercises adapted from those used by Nicholas Perrini/Donald Reinhardt, William Caballero, Harry Shapiro, Richard Mackey, and Charles Kavalovski/Christopher Leuba. Combined with the book’s focus on increasing whole body awareness and reducing tension, the exercises can help you find the most efficient (and healthy) way to play the horn. Detailed anatomical drawings by Benjamin Conable and Kristine Aman provide visual references for the author’s discussion of the body and how it functions.
Though there are numerous books on the subject, The Breathing Book is notable for its combination of Alexander Technique principles and modern brass pedagogy. In my opinion it is a worthwhile addition to any horn player’s library.