After about thirty years of playing the flute, my teacher (normally for the sax, but he’s an excellent flute player also) told me to change the way I shape my mouth to play. He put it rather bluntly: “Lose the joker’s smile!”
I saw what he meant when I looked in the mirror: Sure enough, the muscles in my face contracted into an eerie “smile” when I played the flute.
The solution was both simple and daunting: Relax the smile muscles. Of course the initial effect was that nothing but wind came out, because it’s not just a matter of relaxing those muscles but of using a whole combination of re-shaping my embouchure (the shape of the mouth when you play an instrument) to make the sounds. My mouth still twitches trying to go back to its old ways, but it’s coming along…
I began to realize, though, that the concept of relaxing to attain something applies more generally. I do community theater and it’s clear, watching both others and myself, that any form of forcing an expression on one’s face or even in how one holds one’s body, amounts to “mugging” or, to use a crossword puzzle familiar word, “emoting.”
Maybe it applies even more broadly: The zen of “letting go.” Not the easiest thing to do when your instinctual reaction is to tense up, to hold on. Not easy to go easy, to let go.