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Examples of Effortless Performance

"Effortlessness, not virtuosity, is the hallmark of skill."


Pavarotti, the famous tenor, exemplifies this effortless quality in video recordings of his singing. Before he begins to sing, he makes no preparatory movement of any kind. All of a sudden, his jaw opens and a sound emerges, with little indication that he has had to make any physical effort or draw breath between phrases. If you view his performance with the volume turned down, it is virtually impossible to tell when he is singing and when he is pausing between vocal passages, except for the movement of his jaw. Singing requires tremendous athleticism; yet Pavarotti's mastery is such that, in order to sing, he appears to be doing nothing at all. He is able to bring his vocal mechanism into play without interfering with the natural reflexes on which singing is based.

Heifetz, the famous violinist, exemplifies the same quality of effortlessness. In documentary footage of his playing, he comes onto stage, standing almost immobile. When he is about to play, he raises his violin, places it under his chin, and then performs the piece, hardly moving any part of his body except for his fingers and bow arm. When he is finished, he drops his arm, having moved his body almost not at all during the entire process. It is a perfect demonstration of non-doing and economy of effort.

This natural process is a basic reflex activity which is usually operative in infants, but which, in many adults, is increasingly lost. The challenge for most singers is not so much to master complex vocal feats as to restore these reflex elements so that singing can take place naturally.

In even the most complex actions, it is the underlying reflex element that is paramount.

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