You know how in video games the characters jump up on to a box, and then swing up on to a pole and then get on to the roof of a building and then jump from building to building? In real life this is an actual thing and it’s called parkour (parkour involves movements such as running, jumping, swinging, climbing, vaulting, and rolling while navigating obstacles).
And though it’s normally difficult for professional harp player and mom, Julia Seager-Scott, to motivate her children, 12 and 8, to pull themselves away from their Minecraft games to go on a family bike ride or walk the dog, they jumped at the chance to try parkour; to move as though they were in a video game.
During a busy season playing at the Stratford Festival, Seager-Scott booked off two weekends in September for family activity time. A musician friend suggested parkour and after the children’s enthusiastic response, Julia booked an intro lesson for her family of four at Toronto’s The Monkey Vault, parkour “gym”. Intrigued, but knowing very little about what they were getting themselves into, the Seager-Scotts made their way to the hard-to-find warehouse where they warmed up with their teacher, “Prime”.
All around them were people working on their skills, “[we] were looking around going, ‘that guy just did a back flip, that guy just swung off a huge pole,’ it was just really inspiring to see people doing their thing and enjoying themselves.”
Julia may have been inspired but she was also very concerned that she wouldn’t be able to do it herself. “I am so nonathletic (laughs), and I have a back injury … and I [was] worried about breaking any bones because I [had] a huge harp week the next week, like huge”.
But Prime broke down each move and explained every component and the Scotts were all able to have fun and be successful, each in their own way, based on their skill levels, heights, etc. They tried things like running and jumping over boxes (vaults) and running up walls. Seager-Scott pointed out that the kids did better than the adults (some adjustments were made for the 8-year-old because her height made some of the moves extra challenging) and that’s partially what made it such a fun outing, the role reversal. She also felt it was so motivating to try something new in front of her kids.
“Every time I had to do a move, I was thinking, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t want to break anything, I’ve never done anything like this.’ And then I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to try. I’ll just see what I can do,’” said Julia.
Besides the physical challenges, Seager-Scott said that the mental aspect — that they had to keep pushing themselves to keep trying — was an awesome part of the experience.
“And it was so bonding, we all agreed afterwards that it was not what we expected at all, it was really great.”
They’re definitely planning on doing it again, and if it wasn’t so far away from where they live they would make it a regular family activity. Next time they won’t need to take a lesson, they’ll be able to use the open gym. She noted that the gym is a little bit like an extreme playground where the culture seems to be of the free-range variety. The kids know their limits and pretty much seem do what they want. This was a bit of a challenge for Seager-Scott who in theory agrees with that approach but struggled with watching her 12-year-old engage in some pretty risky play. Before she knew what was happening he was walking across a girder about 15 feet above the ground with no mat underneath (there are mats but each person is responsible for moving the mats under their piece of equipment).
“I waited until he was across and then I said, ‘you cannot do that again,’ and he challenged me and said, ‘why? I just did it perfectly fine’. And then he proceeded to look at me and walk across a slippery metal pole 10 feet above the ground. So not for the faint of heart.”
Not only is parkour an opportunity for kids to get in some risky play, and a fun, bonding family activity, it also ties in to her profession as a harpist. Julia doesn’t really consider herself physically literate; as a child, her mother discouraged her from playing sports in case she hurt her wrists and couldn’t play the harp that week. But being a musician and doing parkour both take extreme body awareness. In both cases it’s important to be able to know your limits. It also reminded her that she needs to physically balance out all that time spent playing the harp.
“With all my back issues I’ve learned that my harp playing is like working out for 6 hours a day as an athlete. And my arms are so strong which I found out through this whole process. So I have to do more leg exercises, I have to do biking, running, and when I’m swimming I try not to use my arms so much.”
She also says that activities like biking and running are awesome for relaxation and helping with performance anxiety but they are also helpful as they allow performers to feel what it’s like to have adrenaline running through their bodies and not associate that with being scared, because, Julia says, “when you’re performing you have to be comfortable with that level of adrenaline and still play.”
“If you turn it into, ‘I’m scared…this is a scared feeling’, it works against you, but if you’re thinking ‘oh yeah, this is how I feel when I’m running, this is how I feel when my heart is pounding really hard when I’m biking’, and then you play, it’s a way better experience and I think you play better.”
To all the kids that might dream of growing up to be professional musicians, Seager-Scott has this advice:
“Do all the stuff. Do everything, try everything, and don’t let [being worried about getting hurt] stop you.”
Obviously, Seager-Scott is taking her own advice and making up for lost time.