Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mental Rehearsal

You perhaps are already familiar with the concept of "mental rehearsal," wherein performers practice by dancing/playing/acting a piece entirely in their head. The concept first gelled for me as a bona fide practice when I heard Yo-Yo Ma explain in an interview that he spent so much time travelling, he had very little time with his cello outside of his performances. Therefore, he used his time on airplanes to mentally practice, going over the intricacies of a piece, imagining fingerings, bowings, phrasings--not just mechanically, but how his body would execute the performance, what he would be thinking, what he was trying to say.

Dancers can do the same, as can actors, surgeons, athletes. When it comes to the body executing a performance, practice makes better...and mental imagery counts as practice. Which is on my mind today, because I miss my sniffer, and have been attempting a little mental rehearsal of the olfactory kind.

What scents lend themselves to rehearsal? Here are a few that my imagination has visited in the past few days. Not necessarily because they are favorites, but because I realize they generate strong and clear imagined physical responses.

The bubbly aldehydes of Chanel No. 5 and Arpege. The upper reaches of my nose actually open up a bit (okay, they try), because when I recall what I would smell, my body remembers how those bubbles of No.5 go right to the top of the inside of my nose and hang there. And hang, and hang. Whereas in Arpege, there's a quick mid-entry period, a zip to the top, and a settling of the bubbles, slowly descending.

The low in my nose, deep in my throat edibility of a gourmand like Ambre Naguile. Which connects me to simply low & sweet and nearly tastable leather or comfort scents, like PG L'Ombre Fauve, Lancome Cuir de Lancome.

Then there are scents that move around, like Hermes 24, Fauborg, which threatens to bubble like an aldehyde (I can feel the vibrations beginning), then settles into a veneer with a rumble underneath (kind of like the way a comfort scent feels, but with a bubbly brook somewhere in the distance).

It dawns on me that this hasn't been a mental "rehearsal" so much as a mental review; I am attempting to recapture, not rehearsing for improvement. Nostalgia embodied, perhaps? Since I was pretty much trying to recapture how I remembered things feeling, as well as smelling, perhaps this is ultimately an opening of the door onto the practice room before the performance is ready. And ultimately, practicing what? Isn't it the perfume that communicates? Or does the way my body works with it count as part of the message?

I recall the soprano in Ann Patchett's Bel Canto making the comment that she never allowed people to see/hear her practice. Would that I had been so wise...nonetheless, thanks for indulging me.

If you've got time for a longer read, there's a nice piece on mental rehearsal and "physical genius" here (a 1999 article from The New Yorker, found on gladwell.com).


The Daily Connoisseur said...

You always find the most fascinating ways to look at the world of perfume. I think a mental rehearsal is so cool in this regard because, for me, the enjoyment of perfume is probably 50% mental anyway. It's the fantasy that I create with the wearing of each scent. And also a very creative way to enjoy fragrance when you aren't feeling so well!

Unknown said...

I think the harder to love scents always require a mental rehearsal, in the back of your you must remind yourself this gets good, you just have to sit through the opening.

ScentScelf said...

Daily C,
Thanks! I find a good percentage of my enjoyment is mental, as well. Some scents require more, some less, but most involve at least some contemplation as part of the fun.

And I must say, while I'm happy to be clearly "on the mend," I was grateful to be able to "rehearse" at least some of the catalogue!

ScentScelf said...

Yes, that's another aspect, isn't it...fragrances whose reward requires waiting through the drydown. I've got a couple that I know present me with very difficult openings, but whose middle life is really, really nice (to me).

Sometimes I wonder if some scents aren't like stinky cheese...and acquired taste...and then I wonder how much I'd like to actually acquire. :)

Unknown said...

Here's a thought, people are kind've admired for there liking of stinky cheese or really dry wine or the bitterest chocolate; but why not in fragrance?

ScentScelf said...

Why not, indeed?

Actually, I rather feel that there is a sort of elevation of perfume right now, and the blogosphere might actually be somewhat responsible for a healthy part of the current perfume zeitgeist...Chandler Burr is "on assignment" for the NYT; multiple titles available at Amazon...who knows if it's just 15 minutes of fame, or an elevation of an application of the fifth sense in the arts...but something is definitely up.

Meanwhile, I fear I personally would still score more points in chocolatedom...though I'm learning about this perfumery! And some of my best friends like stinky cheese... :)

Unknown said...

In perfumedom I think there is a definite admiration for those that can wear the "harder" scents. And Bloggerdom most definately should be thanked for the resurgence of fragrance as an art. I'm pretty good with chocolate too, but I will never be good with really stinky cheese (I make the worst half-French girl out there :-)