by Len Lear
Mt. Airy resident Joseph Arnold, 30, has been playing violin since he was five years old. He grew up studying classical and fiddle music and graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2006 with a BA in Jazz Studies. He has extensive experience playing with many different kinds of groups, including orchestras, small string ensembles, indie rock bands, jazz bands, blues bands, pop bands, a tango band, country bands and folk bands, as well as a far-out space rock improvisation group.
“I’ve been playing violin since I was 5 years old,” he told us last week, “and have been learning it wherever I’ve been since then … For as long as I can remember I loved playing music for people, whether at concerts or for the plumber who came to fix the sink. Practicing every day is really, really hard for most kids, so unless they have both the desire to play and the unwavering support of their parents, both of which I was lucky enough to have, then they’re unlikely to follow through.” (Neither of Arnold’s parents is a professional musician. His father manages software engineering departments, and his mother is a technical writer and editor.)
The Mt. Airy professional violinist has performed in many venues in many cities over the years — in churches, concert halls, bars, restaurants, backyards, campgrounds, at festivals, in basements, on beaches, at bonfires, weddings, etc. He has been on several national tours with Anna Vogelzang, a singer-songwriter from Wisconsin. Currently he is performing with the Hot Club of Philadelphia (Gypsy jazz), the Birmingham Six (Celtic rock) and the Sawtooth String Quartet (jazz/funk strings).
Locally he has played with the Hot Club at the Mermaid Inn, Paris Bistro and Andrea Clearfield’s Salon in Center City.
But while his music is undoubtedly soothing to listeners, it is not the only kind of therapy in which he specializes. Joseph is also a gardener and massage therapist and teacher of the Alexander Technique, a method of mind-body coordination and pain relief. In fact, the main reason he moved from Pittsburgh to Philly five years ago was to be close to the Philadelphia School for the Alexander Technique, a teacher-training program run by Martha Hansen Fertman.
“During my time at Carnegie Mellon University,” he recalled, “I was practicing violin five or six hours a day without any breaks. Soon, I developed pain in my forearms, which spread to my upper arms and shoulders, through my back and into my whole body. After a short time, I could no longer play violin for any length of time and was quite distressed.
“I tried many different therapies to get rid of the pain, but the Alexander Technique was the most helpful. I was so inspired by it that I enrolled in the teacher-training program at the Philadelphia School for the Alexander Technique. I now no longer experience chronic pain, and the quality of my musicianship has improved as well.”
When asked what he still aspires to achieve, Arnold replied, “To find deep peace and awakeness in every moment of my life. Is this an achievement or non-achievement? I suppose you’d have to ask the Buddha.”
When asked to encapsulate the essence of the Alexander Technique and whether or not its primary purpose is to alleviate pain, Arnold explained, “How you use your body affects how your body feels. When you improve the way you move your body, you’ll function better and be more comfortable … It certainly has helped alleviate my emotional suffering, as well. Some say that the difference between suffering and pain is that pain is inevitable and suffering is a choice. When I’m feeling blue, I can make myself feel a whole lot worse by making the choice to follow negative thought patterns. On the other hand, when I realize I’m doing this, I can then make the choice to pay attention to something else. This is the essence of the Alexander Technique.”
Arnold will be playing in concert with the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra on Saturday, Feb. 28, 8 p.m., at the Church of the Advocate, 1801 Diamond St., near the Temple University campus. He will be the featured soloist in the world premiere performance of his own composition, “Jazz Violin Concerto #1.”
And for the fourth time, Arnold is also teaching a three-session course, “No More Back Pain,” for Mt. Airy Learning Tree starting Saturday, Feb. 21, 10 a.m., at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, 20 E. Mermaid Lane.
More information at 215-843-6333 or firstname.lastname@example.org