by Jim Froelich
I studied viola in college, and it was there that I met an Israeli violinist who was one of the best string players at the school. He was also an excellent tennis player.
He and I lived in the same boarding house, and I would hear him pick up his violin in the morning and play phrases beautifully and easily, without warming up. It felt like the sun rising.
He mentioned that he had spent time training to teach something called the Alexander Technique. He told us it was a method for doing things more easily. Based on hearing and seeing him play, there was something to this.
While this violinist was a very free and natural player, he hadn’t always been. He talked about his previous struggles: he had asked his teacher how to improve faster, and was told to practice more. He had followed this advice but it hadn’t helped much–in fact, he just felt fatigued.
Then he encountered the Alexander Technique, and it transformed his life. His playing improved “on its own” without overwork, and he enjoyed playing more, with less effort.
Interestingly, this technique was not only applicable to music. He also spoke of tennis shots that he could now return that he previously couldn’t reach.
This young man went on to have a busy performing career.
A Significant Impression
He must have made a real impression on me, because after I transferred to a different school, I perked up whenever I heard this Alexander Technique mentioned, which led me to take Alexander lessons with different teachers. Eventually, I became a teacher myself.
Before starting the Alexander work, I played viola with what I would now call a pressed sound. I was trying to push my way through difficult passages (without fully realizing I was doing this). I was forcing the actions of both my bowing and fingering hands.
I had studied for many years with a viola teacher who played well and emphasized the importance of working harder, even when fatigued. Finally I seemed to exhaust the possibility to improve.
But when I took Alexander lessons, my playing underwent a shift, and I seemed to be able to learn a level of playing that I could not otherwise attain. Fortunately, this time coincided with finding teachers whose approach complemented the Alexander work. My sound became more round and full, and the movements of playing flowed better, and were easier.
In my orchestra work I could stay aware of more things in the moment: hearing my playing, hearing the section and larger groups, seeing the conductor, and adjusting as needed.
Not So Nervous
I was also less bothered by nervousness in performing. The sense of flexible control in my playing had increased greatly.
The lessons in the Alexander work had other benefits as well. I had more energy in general and better stamina, and I slept more soundly.
I have seen similar kinds of improvements in students who have studied with me.
Recently I heard a student reflect on the benefits of the Alexander Technique. One major problem he described was fear of performing. He also felt confusion about the presence of pain and discomfort: why it was there, and what to do about it.
The student said several solutions developed from lessons. He gained awareness of unhelpful and restrictive habits of movement and thinking, and lost his fear of performing, while learning to be more playful about it.
This student had taken only five lessons when this conversation occurred. I have seen many people benefit similarly.
I sometimes start a lesson by asking what the student would like to do with less pain, better focus, and greater ease. It could be a simple activity such as walking, sitting without discomfort, or moving with more freedom.
Or it could be something more involved such as speaking in public, playing a concerto, or performing a dance on stage.
If you have anything like this that you’d like to look at, consider joining us at Solaluna for the Alexander Technique classes we have coming up at 3:00 PM on Saturday, Feb. 28.