In The Art of Grace, Sarah Kaufman describes the idea of sprezzatura from Castiglione’s sixteenth century The Book of the Courtier as “that specific nonchalance that makes difficult tasks look easy and through which grace is achieved.”

In the early years of my diagnosis, this was one of the many missing pieces for me – a skill I had lost. My left side responded with so much tension and gripping on my flute that I had lost the ability to make difficult passages (and even easy passages) look and feel effortless. I worked so hard to control the muscles of the left hand they were in a constant state of co-contraction.

Retraining required a physical model for sprezzatura, a “studied carelessness” I could imitate in movement. Since, at the time, my visualization process was also dystonic (see Proprioceptive Visualization) I couldn’t rely on it as a model. My former ability to play with ease seemed so far removed from my current reality that using it as a movement model was no longer an option either. Eventually I found a model that was easy to access in the present moment, my own opposite side. Playing on my opposite side refined my awareness of my own habits.

The flute angles to the right side of the body with the left hand in front of the instrument facing backward and the right hand behind facing forward. I spent months experimenting by only “air playing” with the flute angled to the left side (right hand in front facing back and left hand in back facing forward) but using only dowels and pool noodles, not a flute. I experimented with whole body gestures, not fingerings.

This process seemed to help even out my concept of my left and right sides. Playing on the left side was awkward, of course, but had no habitual places of holding. I eventually extended the air playing to include real pieces. I “practiced” rep on the left side with the flute-length dowels and pool noodles, taking breaths and working out phrasing as I would with my flute in my hands (by now using fingerings).

My goal was to teach my right side to act more like my left, and to make the process appear to be without effort (or, as Sarah Kaufman describes it, “masking the effort”). She quotes Cary Grant who spent his early years working at theatres, watching from backstage, “At each theater I carefully watched the celebrated headline artist from the wings and grew to respect the diligence and application and long experience it took to acquire such expert timing and unaffected confidence, the amount of effort that resulted in such effortlessness. I strove to make everything I did at least appear relaxed. Perhaps by relaxing outwardly I could eventually relax inwardly.” 


2 thoughts on “Sprezzatura

    • Beautiful reflections, Andrée. I am fascinated by your descriptions of bringing together body, mind, and spirit. Bravo! A pilgrimage to Urbino seems in order.


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