Ep 15: The Breathing Bow with Ruth Phillips

Ep 15: The Breathing Bow with Ruth Phillips

Ruth Phillips

about ruth

Ruth Phillips was Born in London in 1964. At the age of sixteen she left the Yehudi Menuhin School to study in Dusseldorf with Johannes Goritzki whom she had met at the International Musicians' Seminar in Cornwall. Two years later she started her professional life, playing in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. In 1990 Ruth went to America where she continued her studies at the State University of New York with Timothy Eddy. There she received her Masters degree in performance. Upon her return to the UK she became a member of Glyndebourne Touring Opera where she played for twelve years. It was then that she took up the baroque cello, working with The New London Consort, La Serenissima and the Hanover Band. Since moving to France in 2004, Ruth has worked with the Musiciens du Louvreand the Concert d'Astrée, and is co-principal cellist of Opera Fuoco

Ruth has taught at Dartington Summer School, the Guildhall School of Music, European Youth Summer Music, Toulouse Conservatory. Informed by her work with yoga, mindfulness and meditation, she had become well known for her Breathing Bow retreats for which people come from all over the world to find more ease, efficiency and joy in their playing. Along with her colleagues, Alexander teacher and cellist Dale Culliford, and yoga teacher and cellist Jane Fenton, Ruth has given Breathing Bow workshops at the European String Teacher’s Association conference, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music. Ruth’s writing on breath and performance has appeared in many publications including The Strad and BBC music magazines. 

In this episode

Ruth and I could have kept talking for hours! This conversation kept circling back to a few themes — letting go, getting our egos out of the way, being present with an experience as it is — at a deeper level each time. Through it all, we explored quite a lot of Ruth’s musical journey and her approach to working with musicians including:

  • Ruth’s early training and her ambivalent relationship with the cello, even as a young professional

  • How having her cello smashed to pieces during travel set Ruth on a journey to redefine her relationship to the cello and to music

  • How Ruth’s early experiences with yoga allowed her to connect with her body in a new and profound day

  • The idea of movement occurring with a release of the breath (as opposed to occurring through manipulation or control) and how this shaped Ruth’s ideas about music and cello playing

  • How understanding and being able to feel the way that movement naturally occurs in bodies can allow us to set a phrase in motion and then leave it alone

  • Finding the gesture in the music by first finding it in the body and how this can contribute to a more natural and allowing way of playing

  • The difference between creating something that an audience can be impressed by and creating something that the audience can relate to

  • Why Ruth created The Breathing Bow

  • What happens at a Breathing Bow retreat or workshop: This is fascinating and quite detailed. Ruth speaks, among other things, about guiding musicians to feel how the movement of the breath initiates movement in the body, about how the joint between the hand and the bow can be experienced like any other joint in the body, and how these experiences can be transferred to the music.

  • How having a mix of students, amateurs, and professionals enriches the learning process for everyone

  • The feeling of isolation that comes from watching others appear to enjoy themselves on stage and feeling as though that experience is unavailable to you

  • The role of thinking in playing music: When it is helpful, how even so-called “positive thinking” can be a kind of tension, and what it might mean to practise not thinking

  • Cultivating presence vs combatting performance anxiety

  • How practices such as meditation can help us practice our relationship with our audience by helping up practice not holding on to something

  • That performing requires us not only to offer something but also to let it be received

  • How understanding and working with fear as energy can help us in performance

  • Moving beyond trying to control every phrase and nuance, the audience’s reaction, etc. in order to allow that energy to flow through us

Learn more

Ruth’s website

The Breathing Bow retreat in Provence - July 2019 (I kind of want to start playing cello so I can go!)

The Breathing Bow Facebook page

The Yehudi Menuhin School

Yoga teacher Peter Blackaby

A 5-part series on stage presence written by Ruth for cellobello

Interview with Ruth on the blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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