My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations




My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations (2021) is a solo piece for accordion and voice by composer Philip Venables and writer/director Ted Huffman. Philip wrote the following programme note for the piece: 


My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations is based on interviews with Susanne Borregaard (mother of accordionist Andreas Borregaard) conducted during the summer lockdown of 2020. 


Andreas approached me about writing a piece involving extended performativity beyond simply playing the accordion. I was drawn to the idea of the accordionist as storyteller, almost in the troubadour sense. We met with writer Ted Huffman in Berlin to speak about Andreas’ own life and work, which in turn led to interviews with his mother over Skype. 


My work with Ted often uses verbatim text and this piece continues our exploration of queer histories. From this interview material, we formed twelve snapshots of a life over seven decades. 


The piece is dedicated to Susanne Borregaard with great appreciation for her contribution. 


During the approximately 23 minutes long piece I play the accordion and speak text simultaneously almost all the time. The piece opens with power and pace and a loud voice is necessary to be heard over the energetic, folkloristic accordion, but as the story unfolds, softer, more intimate moments are also introduced. Interspersed quotes reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s music gradually take up more space in the score until the piece ends with a complete quotation of the Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BWV 988). The spoken text is in first person, which may trick the audience into thinking that the story is about me, the performer on stage, but in movement no. 6, Second Child, I suddenly mention myself by name and continue to speak about Andreas in third personFor the rest of the piece it should be clear for the audience that I was speaking my mother’s words all along.


As a consequence of the covid-lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 all communication between Philip, Ted and myself for the entire development of the piece (except the initial conversation in Berlin) happened by e-mail and Zoom, and I could not travel to Norway for the scheduled world premiere at Borealis festival in Bergen on March 20 2021. Instead of the live premiere a video-version of the piece was premiered in the digital part of Borealis’ hybrid format. The video was made by the French videographer Pierre Martin with whom Philip and Ted had previously worked. Click below to watch the video. 

The accordion part in My favourite piece is relatively straight-forward and does not involve extraordinary techniques, so the development process with Philip concerning accordion related matters will not be described further. Instead, this reflection will focus on the pre-eminent challenge I faced in the piece: delivering the text. 



The first difficulty when beginning to learn My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations (My favourite piecein short) was that of multitasking: how to play the accordion and speak text at the same time. Or more specifically, how to play the accordion in particular tempi, rhythms and dynamics and speak text freely on top of it at the same time. Whereas the music is precisely notated with every note rhythmically positioned in conventional bars throughout the score, the distribution of words is more loosely indicated by placing the first words of sentences approximately on or slightly after certain beats. Ideally, the flow and timing of the voice should be completely detached from that of the accordion, which is different from the way voice and instrument often merge in the self-accompanied singing typical of other musical genres. 

Prior to My favourite piece I had only attempted playing and speaking when trying to verbally communicate with other musicians in chamber music rehearsals – something that never worked: either my voice would immediately sound unnatural, almost yelling, and synchronize with the rhythm of the music, or – if I deliberately focused on the act of speaking – my connection to the instrument and the music would crumble and my fingers would follow the timing of the words or simply stop playing all together. When I first tried to combine the separately learned accordion and text part in My favourite piece it resulted in the exact same awkward contradiction. 


The reason for this contradiction may be rooted in one of the credos of my approach to accordion playing: trying to always link instrumental sound-production to my singing voice. Learning music by singing it first allows me to sense (and experiment with) tempo, rhythm, timing, articulation, tension, release, flow, phrasing, energy and expression without having to worry about technical instrumental difficulties – and this sensation can then be recreated when the same body plays the same music on the accordion. The voice becomes a critical link between music, body and instrument in the process of making interpretational decisions in the rehearsal as well as in the moment of performance on stage. This link is necessary for bringing life and sincere expression into the music, but also for obtaining certainty and precision on an instrument which prevents visual contact with the fingers. Or as my former teacher, the renowned accordionist James Crabb, used to say: if you can’t sing it, you can’t play it. 


Although ‘singing through the instrument’ sounds like a cliché, it only means that the voice of the music merges with the body of the musician: when deliberately connecting my inner (silent but still bodily grounded) singing voice to the sound production of the accordion, a continuously active relationship is created between my diaphragm and the accordion’s bellows and airstream. Without this continuous connection, I often loose orientation on the keyboards, and I find that the sound the accordion’s metal reed becomes passive, detached and uninteresting. 


But if my voice is already connected to the accordion sound, how can it simultaneously speak a text disconnected from the accordion sound?


I tried to solve this puzzle the way I also learn complex polyrhythms or multilayered polyphony in instrumental accordion scores, that is by putting individual and apparently separate parts slowly and carefully together on top of their shared musical foundations, as for example the common pulse. After a while, intricate details between layers are automatically taken care of by muscle memory, when I focus on the pulse and other more holistic elements of the music such as phrasing or expression. 


Learning My favourite piece with this approach meant ignoring the idealized wish for a freely flowing music-detached text. Instead, many of the words are placed precisely in the grid of time and in relation to specific notes. Although this method seemed plausible, it took excessive amounts of practice before any automation and muscle memory was established: for a very long time, my fingers would still readily drop the rhythm of the music and synchronize with the rhythm of the spoken words instead.

(This is why music and text were recorded separately and edited together for Pierre’s video, that had to be produced a month before the planned physical premiere.)


Text and character

Prior to the planned Borealis-premiere time was limited and my multitasking progression was slow, so text and music were initially workshopped separately. 

As an instrumentalist who has spent decades cultivating a relation between my (singing) voice and the expression of the music to be as directly connected to this expression in the moment of performance, it was not surprising that a similar type of connection emerged as my default approach to text reading. By this I mean that when reading sentences like: 

‘Oh no!’ 

or ‘…we got married for love.’ 

or ‘…but…I was alone.’ 

I would spontaneously adopt a naturalistic inflection and voice colour to communicate the emotional content of the words. Ted, who is also an experienced stage director, promptly reacted to this coupling of words with their naturalistic expression. 

It sounded reasonable to me that the construction of the piece necessitated a distance between me as storyteller and the meaning of the text – that the delivery should be more performative than naturalistic – and Ted’s suggested exercise, adding ‘she said’ after each sentence, was very effective. But it confused me that I ‘should never enter a character’ and that ‘there’s nothing that’s happening to you other than playing the accordion’. With my performer-ethics of always aspiring to honestly unfold the score’s expressive potential and my voice-supported instrumental practice as described above, I would say that it is exactly by playing the accordion that everything is ‘happening to me’. 


I often use the word ‘character’ to describe essential qualities of music or musical elements – ‘the character of this melody/harmony/rhythm/texture/piece/ movement is bold/curious/proud/sentimental/exited/laid-back/like-ice-crystals-piercing-your-cheeks’ – and in order to make the music come alive, these qualities must be embodied in me. 

A reason why expressing musical characters does not feel like ‘entering a character’ is that the abstract nature of wordless music innately poses a distance between the performer and the performed material. The musicologist Fred Maus’ is cited in performance studies scholar Philip Auslander’s book In Concert: Performing Musical Persona (2021): ‘whereas a stage play normally involves a definite number of fictional characters . . . the agents in a Beethoven passage [the object of his sample analysis] are indeterminate’ (Auslander 2021, p. 12).  The distance to the performer is less defined – but even more relevant to contemplate – when the performed material is language rather than music. Even though ‘musical characters are necessarily indeterminate’ (Ibid. ), music is still performed.

Reflecting a bit more about performance, it seems Ted and I were essentially agreeing. Although I am ‘just me’ when expressing musical characters, the music must be sent out to meet the audience, which can be considered an act of storytelling.


A conventional music term for this subtle notion of storytelling could be ‘projection’: without sufficient projection the abstract musical characters – the musical meaning, as it were – will not be conveyed to the audience. Through the years I have learned to calibrate the degree of projection needed when performing music on stage, but I assume that the strong, immediate and immanent meaning of language in My favourite piece confused me into forgetting this crucial aspect of performance and leaving my text reading in a state of self-absorption (which can also occur when playing music alone in a practice room).

When Ted said that ‘there’s nothing that’s happening to you’ and asked me to never adopt a character, I was initially worried he was wanted complete emotional detachment from the text, but it turned out to be a question of finding the right type of character to adopt – namely the storyteller – and to acknowledge and negotiate my relationship with the new layers of meaning added by the introduction of spoken language. Although this general and partly conceptual knowledge clarified the understanding of my role as performer it did not eliminate the obstacles when turning knowledge into practice.


Musical text or natural text: closing the gaps

As can be seen in the score-excerpt, sentences are divided to span over longer stretches of music. With only a few exceptions this is the norm throughout the piece. The gaps stem from the verbatim nature of the text and should give the sense that a process of remembering lies behind the words – it is a story of what happened years ago. The gaps also add unpredictability and ambiguity by leaving space for the audience to fill between the text fragments. Finally, they are important for bringing out the humorous elements in the piece, though they only added to the difficulty of putting music and text together.


When learning the piece through the multitasking-method of placing (many but not all) words on specific notes in the music, the text started to take the shape of the music it was squeezed into. Since the gaps obstructed a sense of wholeness in the sentences, I tried to reestablish this sense by stretching the fragments a bit, that is to shorten the gaps. But since I had already fixed many of the words to the music, it was impossible to stretch fragments by speaking slower, and instead the length of some vowels became artificially altered, making the text sound more musical and less communicative.

Maybe it was because I had jumped into putting music and text together before working in depth on the text, or maybe it was because English is not my mother-tongue, but a recurrent issue in the process was that my inflection became too melodic. In the beginning I did not detect this singsongyness, but gradually I understood how subtle changes make a big difference both for keeping up the energy and direction of the text, and for leaving the meaning open for the audience to judge. 

Another recurrent difficulty was to keep the sentences’ unbroken line of thought across gaps – especially when the accordion playing filling these gaps also needed my attention. ‘Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Body!’ is common advice in self-help and meditation practice, when thoughts are out of control; similarly, focusing on something purely physical turned out to be helpful for me. In one of the workshops Ted asked me to give the speech more ‘diaphragmatic support’, and although I was not completely sure what this meant, the kind of increased tension in the stomach region I applied did have an effect: the speech inflection got less flickery and it was much easier to connect the text fragments. 


Monitoring myself more closely I realized that my previous habit even in the loud texts had been to drop the diaphragm support slightly at the very end of the last word of a fragment. Avoiding this gave a more open ending to the words (which I ought to have predicted, since it is the same when playing the accordion: notes can never end with a sense of open continuation if tension in the bellows is dropped), but I was impressed with how the diaphragmatic support also instantly helped to keep my thoughts in track with the text, even across the gaps. (Herein also lies the explanation why adding ‘she said’ as mentioned above was so helpful: the silently added extra words automatically continues the support past the end of the sentence.) 


Tell a story! Or confess.

Whereas the loud and rhythmical parts of My favourite piece cultivated artificial text rhythm and excessive deviation from natural text delivery, the soft and more freely spoken parts had the opposite tendency. Without the fortissimo accordion requiring me to speak out loud, I quickly lost the sense of performance/projection/support and collapsed into the naturalistic way of speaking in which I had very little distance from the text.

Diaphragmatic support ensures that the storyteller never disappears from the text even when the volume diminishes. But a storyteller should modulate more than the volume of the voice: a truly engaging storyteller is truly involved in the story and thus embodies its emotions – albeit from a distanced position. 

The (expression of the) imagined situation becomes a general bodily mood which results in minute, subconscious – but very important – physical changes that affect not only volume, timing, intensity, prosody, inflection, sound-color of the voice, but also facial expressions, eye movements, breathing, muscle tone and so on. The scientifically proven mechanisms behind the correlation between imagination, body and emotion is described in actor Rick Kemp’s book ‘Embodied Acting – what neuroscience tells us about performance’ (2012) and as mentioned in my text about Piece About Everything – when discussing ‘intentions’ with actor Jonas Kriegbaum – using imagined situations in this way is a familiar method used in my instrumental accordion practice. Piece About Everything did not have space for this approach, so it was exciting to explore its use in My favourite piece.

Deliberate intentions expanded the expressive palette of my voice, and with ceaseless diaphragmatic support I could avoid confessional naturalistic speech while keeping the storyteller alive. But another question adds to the complexity of the performer-text relationship: what is the storyteller’s relation to the story? Although any value judgement should be left for the audience – as Ted said at some point: ‘don’t slow down for the he would say we got married for love, just go! Because it’s strong the way it is’ – there are a couple of places in the piece where the ambiguity of the speaking voice is enhanced if the storyteller momentarily becomes a theatrical character: 

Perhaps this is a good place to also address my own relation to the text, or, with greater relevance, the significance of this relation for the performance. Although the text references my private life in a direct, non-ironic way that I have not experienced in other pieces, I generally do not feel exposed by it on stage. Countless repetitions in rehearsals have transformed what used to be ‘my mother’s words’ to depersonalized material in a piece – words I speak to the audience as storyteller. The mere act of directly speaking to the audience as part of a performance is what constitutes the general sense of exposure in the performance, not that the words relate to my private self.


This is true except in one place: movement no. 11, named My favourite piece is the Goldberg Variations. This includes the following text, which refers to the death of my father, Niels Borregaard, in January 2017: 


When my husband died

I think 

my mind just 


there was nothing

it was just 

very lonely


In itself a simple text for which the necessary storyteller-distance is easily sustained as long as it is spoken without music. However, since playing the accordion is an act of emotional engagement, and the music at this point in the piece consists of beautiful, soft and elongated motifs closing in on Bach, it remains a significant challenge for me when speaking that text on top of playing that music, to avoid connecting myself to the actual meaning of the words – the event my mother describes and my own vivid memory of it. 


The unfiltered honesty suddenly surfacing here (and the often following slight loss of voice control) makes me feel unusually vulnerable on stage, but more importantly it demonstrates that the significance of My favourite piece lies not in the text alone – personal, verbatim or not – but in the merging of the text with the music. Reading the text from start to end reveals it as a very simple, generic story, but the emotive power of music imbues it with presence and specificity that makes it relevant for the audience. As a reviewer observed when watching the premiere of the video in 2021: ‘It is the accordion that makes a banality such as “I felt better with him around / he was always holding my hand” sounds like hard-earned life experience, and emphasizes the crushing melancholy in the children's song “Bjerget i skoven”’ (Seismograf 2021). 


Music is what distinguishes a troubadour from a storyteller, and in the programme note the accordionist described as both.




A couple of days after the workshops from which most of the video clips above are taken, I wrote the following in my practice log-book (original capitalizations):



Have practised for a few days since text workshop on zoom (remember to watch the videos).

Keeping the diaphragm support makes a big difference!

– for keeping distance from the text and preventing personal/film acting (as was so clear over zoom)

– for keeping direction and thought in the text across the breaks


If I don't hold diaphragmatic support, the musical tension becomes weak/slack and I can't keep track of where I am in the changing metres. I start playing ‘for myself’ RE. PATSY!!!! FIRST CIRCLE. When I support properly, the words and my attention are directed outward away from myself SECOND CIRCLE!! But not just text, also the music. The tension and the direction are propagated into my left arm, which keeps the tension of the bellows, whereby the sound is held up, the articulation clarified. To be fully present with the material, but at the same time send it away from myself. 

     – With the active diaphragm support, I can nuance the text (Old farm’s inner secret, sleeping kids in bedroom, trying to speak over noisy child and so on. NB: METAPHORS, IMAGES, ‘IN THE MANNER OF’, ‘AS IF’ – CENTRAL METHOD ALSO FOR TEXT!!!) and at the same time avoid it becoming private.


Besides its advantages for text delivery, the heightened awareness of diaphragmatic support also had palpable consequences for the precision and clarity of my accordion playing. It helped focus on musical structure in the flow of time rather than singular details and it prompted a general sense of presence and projection. As indicated by the (seemingly quite excited) ‘PATSY!!!! FIRST CIRCLE’ and ‘SECOND CIRCLE!!’ I realized that the difference between playing ‘for myself’ versus ‘for someone’ was consistent with British voice and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg’s theory of presence as unfolded in her book PRESENCE – How to use positive energy for success (2007).


Rodenburg conceptualises ‘Three Circles of Energy’ (Rodenburg 2007, p. 16) to distinguish between degrees and qualities of ‘a natural movement of energy [that] should always run though you. Body, breath, voice, how you listen, think and feel. You feel this energy and others feel it around you. The energy is completely tangible’ (Ibid.). Crudely summarized: the First Circle is a circle of ‘introspection and reflection’ where ‘the energy you generate falls back into you’ (Ibid, p. 17); the Third Circle is a ‘circle of bluff and force’ where ‘your attention is outside yourself, yet unfocused, lacking precision and detail’ (Ibid, p. 19); and the Second Circle is where ‘you reach out and touch an energy outside your own, then receive energy back from it’ – ‘you touch and influence another person rather than impress or impose your will on them’ (Ibid, p. 21). According to Rodenburg we all shift between the three circles many times during a day, and we often have a personal tendency towards one of them, but ‘the art of being present is the art of operating from Second Circle’ (Ibid, p. 22). 


Rodenburg’s description of the Second Circle as a state where the tangible energy interacts between sender and receiver is very similar to the autopoietic feedback loop theatre studies scholar Erika Fisher-Lichte uses to theorize the unpredictability spontaneity of live performance. In her book The Transformative Power of Performance (2008), Fischer-Lichte writes: 


Whatever the actors do elicits a response from the spectators, which impacts on the entire performance. In this sense, performances are generated and determined by a self-referential and ever-changing feedback loop. (p. 38)


[T]he autopoietic feedback loop is generated and kept in motion not just through visible and audible actions and attitudes of actors and spectators but also through the energy circulating between them. This energy is no phantasm […] but is indeed physically perceptible. (p. 59)


Whereas Fischer-Lichte’s book is academic, a substantial part of Rodenburg’s book consists of exercises and practical guidance based on her lifelong experience with teaching voice, speech and language skills.


In the chapter called ‘Words’, Rodenburg writes: ‘If you mean what you say as you say it and then send it forth, you are speaking in the second circle’ (Ibid, p. 100), which basically sums up all the workshops described above:

‘Mean what you say’ indicates that the performer has to connect to the material, which is another way of saying that the material’s expression has to be embodied in the performer, for example by applying meaningful intentions.

‘As you say it’ specifies that these intentions are not only conceptual deliberations – they must be expressed in the moment of performance.

‘And then send it forth’ relates partly to the diaphragmatic support providing the air pressure to create sounds and connect them in phrases with an unbroken line of thought and partly to the focus on outwards communication towards the audience. 



Despite all the knowledge and sensitivity gained through the workshops and Rodenburg’s book, the multitasking strategy of slowly assembling text and music still established a precarious construction where specific words or sentences had to be placed at the exact same position every time to avoid the construction collapsing. The consequence of this text-music fixing became clear when I invited the Danish actor, Henrik Birch, to watch a test-performance a few days prior to the premiere: Henrik’s main critique was that I lacked the flexibility and spontaneity usually associated with a storyteller. One could also say that I did not facilitate the formation of Fischer-Lichte’s autopoietic feedback loop.   


However, with a specific number of beats and bars fixed in the musical composition, I kept on wondering where and how the text could loosen up without obstructing the flow of the music. The contours of an answer emerged during my first lesson in the SingingBody Artist Support course in Copenhagen, I signed up for in January 2022. This course consisted of 2 x 10 solo lessons with opera singer/vocal teacher Idil Alpsoy and voice therapist/body coach Naja Månsson and aimed at ‘development of the voice through the body’ [1], which sounded relevant not only for My favourite piecebut for the whole research project.

In the first lesson I played half of My favourite piece for Idil and Naja, who immediately diagnosed that it was not, as I had thought, only the words and notes I held too tightly in place: I was essentially holding my breath, which limited the expressive potential of both body and voice. As Idil said: my normal speaking voice was relatively free – she could hear ‘me’ in it – but as soon as I started performing, this quality was lost, because I was clenching the stomach, holding the breath and thus pushing the voice out. 


I wonder if the reason that the ‘diaphragmatic support’ I had used as an important tool in rehearsals and performances since the premiere turned out to be nothing but clenched abdominals preventing my own free voice to sound could be ascribed to the fact that I adopted it during the Zoom-workshops: the limitation of sound reproduction and visual communication through my computer screen may have prevented Ted from realizing what I actually did – and vice versa. Or perhaps Ted did not challenge my understanding of diaphragmatic support further, because the solution developed through the screen solved the most urgent problems adequately at that point in the process. Nonetheless, Naja fortrightly concluded that the pushed voice became a bit annoying to listen to in the long run, and that we should work towards getting some of the sound quality and expressive range clearly present in my accordion playing into my vocal performance as well. 


When the first sense of discouragement caused by this information had evaporated, I eagerly plunged into the work with Idil and Naja, and after a few individual lessons with both teachers, I started to understand how the voice actually works, and how breath, tongue, jaw and – yes – the diaphragm are directly inflicting on the voice’s possibility to function. Idil’s and Naja’s teaching was based on the understanding that all these specific anatomical areas are interconnected and influenced by general bodily conditions such as grounding, posture and flexibility. This reminded me of the Alexander Technique [2] I studied 5-10 years ago, and the honing of my proprioceptive sense cultivated back then became an advantage when trying connect to the minuscule, hidden anatomy of the voice or the breath’s connection to hips and pelvic floor.


SingingBody also worked with full body exercises to increase flexibility of spine, hips, chest and fascia – all of which are essential not only for producing sound with the voice, but also with musical instruments (and certainly for maintaining my 41-year old body’s ability to perform the type of physical pieces of this PhD-project) – and the course’s attention to the grounding of the body and expansion/flexibility of the chest led to working with projection and presence on stage in ways that resonated with specific exercises in Patsy Rodenburg’s book - especially chapter 6, ‘Working on the Second Circle Body’.


After a while I learned where my voice should naturally be placed and that using it from this position could make it resonate completely differently and contain more of the qualities from my speaking voice. I even managed to sing the Lullaby from My favourite piece with a non-clenched voice, which I had probably never done before. Although this was very gratifying for me, the most exciting discovery happened when I tried to apply some of the (many) SingingBody exercises to accordion playing and to the multitasking of My favourite piece:

Sticking out the tongue and biting it to keep it in place hinders an unintentional pulling back of the tongue and jaw, which otherwise inhibits the mobility of the voice and creates subtle hold of the diaphragm/breath. Biting the tongue while playing the accordion, the un-held breath made my phrasing, flow and timing of music more natural, as any response to a given musical impulses would unfold as free movement instead of being steered. I also experienced more relaxed bellow turnings and a somewhat calmer mind.

Biting on something with the jaw in an open position, prevents it from pulling back and tightening. The tongue/diaphragm remains free and the airstream that feeds the voice can flow unhindered, which gives a better use of the diaphragm when speaking/singing. Besides, speaking without moving the jaw or closing the lips trains the tongue to articulate the words. When practising the multitasking in My favourite piece like this, it was easier to place my voice more appropriately and closer to my usual speaking voice, but astoundingly I also experienced an immediate sense of cool overview as if I could monitor the two layers – music and text – simultaneously without one of them trying to dominate the other. I was able to experiment with text placement without the music fell apart and even purely instrumental difficulties (for example jumping between positions in the bass) became easier. Consciously controlling all the physical parameters responsible for these changes was impossible (at least with my limited voice/singing experience), but the exercise afforded a holistic bodily sensation of what it felt like when things ‘worked’ – and the more aware I became of this sensation, the better I could recreate it without the wood piece in my mouth.

One of the first pieces of advice from Idil and Naja was to lie flat on the floor, front down, with a tennis ball in the solar plexus for 10 minutes every day. After a (rather painful) while, this softened the diaphragm and stimulated the vagus nerve that sends parasympathetic nervous threads to the throat, thoracic and abdominal cavity, that is, areas directly influencing breath and voice. Later, another tennis ball was added to the bellybutton or just above the pubis to soften these regions and establish (a feeble, initial) conscious connection to the low abdominal muscles used when properly supporting the voice. However, the solar plexus massage also had a remarkable effect on pure instrumental playing.


During spring 2021 I had several performances of a staged version of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations [3] in which Bach’s music alternates with text by the Danish author Ursula Andkjær Olsen recited by the actor Annika Johannessen in a scenography by Julie Forchhammer. Since I was in the middle of the SingingBody course, I used the tennis balls in my warmup before each performance, which helped keeping physical and mental stress in check before and during the challenging piece. A couple of months later, I had another Goldberg-performance – this time purely instrumental – and since it had been a while since I last played the piece all by myself with no actor to take focus and offer me a break, the massive task of 90 minutes nonstop solo Bach made me a bit nervous. At the sound check my fingers were hectic and imprecise and I felt disconnected from the sound of my instrument. I kept rehearsing right until doors opened, but nothing seemed to improve and began to worry about the quality of the performance. Backstage 15 minutes before the start of the concert, I lay down on the tennis ball – and it hurt badly. The pressure of the ball revealed that my mental stress had built up a lot of tension around the solar plexus, and after the ball had massaged and loosened up this area, I felt less nervous and much more connected to my breath, my accordion sound, the music and being on stage during the concert. 


Essential for the parasympathetic nervous system – the so-called ‘Rest and Digest’ counterbalance to the ‘Fight or Flight’-function of the sympathetic nervous system – the vagus nerve plays a key role for general well-being and is an important factor in treatment of for example stroke, epilepsy and stress- and burnout symptoms. Its impact on high level performance is also being researched in sports psychology. [4] 


It is obvious that 2 x 10 SingingBody lessons has not transformed me into a skilled singer – which was also never the purpose of my research – but it certainly has broadened my understanding of breath, diaphragm, tongue, jaw and voice and allowed me to experience the real difference between supported/free and controlled/held. And since my starting point in the course – the performance of My favourite piece – was solidly built upon knowledge from my accordion practice, I began to wonder if this practice contains fundamental unfortunate habits or perhaps rests on a crooked foundation.  


The effects of the improved and increased bodily awareness addressed by the SingingBody course made me realize how coarsely I consider this dimension in my usual accordion playing, and I wonder how much – if at all – these fundamental functions of the body are addressed in standard musical education. 


Expanding my instrumental practice through a new degree of bodily awareness is a yearlong journey I look forward to embarking on, but in relation to the current PhD I can at least acknowledge that SingingBody provided powerful tools to improve my performance of My favourite piece. When rehearsing the piece over the last 12 months, I have bitten my tongue and wood pieces, lain on tennis balls, attempted to warm up and place my voice properly and tried to connect properly to my diaphragm – and although any changes may simply be due to the fact that I know the material better after an accumulated amount of practice, I am now able to separate text and music to a degree that gives me (and hopefully the audience) a stronger sense of storytelling flexibility. Furthermore, if my voice truly is beginning to sound more like ‘me’ in performance, this would only add yet another layer to the multiplicity of voices present in the performance of the piece: my own, the storyteller’s, my mother’s, the accordion’s (as well as Philip’s, Ted’s and Bach’s).


Reflecting on the process outlined above I have tried to transfer the described practical work into a theoretical model that clarifies the meaning-constituting layers in the text and how my relationship with them shapes the performance. 

The blue horizontal lines show how the layers build on top of each other – from my mother’s verbatim words to the storyteller’s meta comments – the green ellipse symbolizes the performer, and the left side column describes the effect on the performed text. 


Despite the visual separation in the model, the layers are not mutually exclusive: they all exist at once, but the degree to which the performer relates to and is influenced by them will continuously differ throughout the live performance. Partly due to the unpredictability of the autopoetic feedback loop, partly because it is required to create contrasts in the performance and partly because of the precariously difficult multitasking, the performer will oscillate between layers or relate to more of them simultaneously. However, the diaphragmatic support should not drop below the dashed line, as this will eliminate the ‘storyteller-distance’ to the text and leave the performer in Rodenburg’s introvert First Circle, which is not suited for stage performance. Certainly not for a troubadour.