Over the past few months I have been pulling “that book” (“What IS that book? That weird bone book” – the Conable’s “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” book) out in lessons to help students map their bodies and use themselves more naturally and efficiently. I recently began incorporating material from Barbara Conable’s “How to Learn the Alexander Technique” manual as well. I have been rewarded by gasps of delight, wide eyes, laughter, and stunned appreciation for the ease with which sound can be produced, with increased power, nuance and mindfulness vs. effort. My students are learning to get out of their way and let their music come forth with more presence through better understanding and use of their own natural organization.
Particularly useful in our work and play together from “What Every Musician…” have been illustrations of the
- relationship of the head and spine, (pg. 6, 10 )
- spine’s centrally interior position in the body, (pg. 22)
- musculature in the neck surrounding the spine and connecting to the upper torso (pg. ),
- organization of the skeleton and how it bears the weight of the head and body from the middle of a person (pgs 6, 9, 20),
- sit bones and leg bones and how they support us both generally and when playing (pg. 22, 27), and
- exact place the arms attach to the body skeletally (and how free they, the ribs, spine and the entire torso can be once it’s realized it is not the collarbone/shoulder blade or shoulder joint; pg. 52, 50…likewise the freedom of the legs from the torso, pg. 71).
And from “How to study”, clarinetists have been responding well to the
- structure of the head and it’s appendage, the jaw (p. 37 – boy, does that blow their minds),
- spaciousness of the upper torso with the spinal cord interior to the body and in alignment laterally with the second joint of the arms (p. 54),
- furthering the concept of “what is a shoulder?” and proper mapping of the arm (p. 53), and
- the length and layering of the neck muscles (pp. 33-34).
While I have been careful to encourage students’ curiosity about the relationship between these parts and their mapping, and the bodies natural coordination and their assumed role in that, I appreciated my mentor’s suggestion to focus on intent as an integral part of the process of being and using oneself most efficiently or easily. With certain students, “I can’t” is a strong response to consideration of the way intent can guide the interaction of the nervous system with the skeletal/muscular/fascia system. I applaud them greatly when it is apparent that between sessions they are taking me up on the invitation to play with intent and allowing a more natural response to any number of situations: interfacing with or playing their instrument, engaging in a sport, breathing, sitting. Others get the idea right away and are quick and eager to resume work in this area along with their regular music instruction. I have increasingly been using Alexander’s suggestions in inviting students to “let their necks be free” -visual or kinesthetic cues from use of mirrors, video and playing while in a supine position on the floor help many to understand what “so my head may move forward and up and my back may lengthen and widen” mean.
I like the discussion of continuum in Barbara Conable’s book “How to learn the Alexander Technique” (p.16) and the freedom this idea allows in change generally, and in establishing easier use over time. I often discuss the “spiral” nature of growth with students (involving regular plateaus and opportunities to address key issues – pitch, time, phrasing, support – from different vantage points as one progresses through more advanced levels). I love my adult runner-musician friends who (understandably and regularly) admit a certain obsessiveness with progress and perfection. These traits are so readily apparent in many of the students I teach, especially in those who disavow their talent or interest during those difficult middle years. Our AT work has been a big game changer for my brightest but doubting students in establishing a new relationship with their physical selves and more easily owning and enjoying their voices on the clarinet. For my beginning students, I am pleased to be starting them off this year with more practical language and concepts to encourage their relaxation into relationship with the instrument and to find the easiest way to engage with it. There is often a certain amount of confusion in the first 3 years about discrepancies between what band directors and myself are asking for in terms of “position”. AT work is netting good organic results in terms of support and sound production and seems to circumvent “positional” confusion.
In my running work, I have found the continuum idea useful as I continue to let my intent guide my workouts. Running alone is an easier way to attend to feeling the weight and balance of organized movement. I have found a few new running partners with whom it is easy to “run free” (my running groups motto!), and am pleased that I can usually regain my focus and intent on longer runs or in larger groups and races if it slips or the body fatigues. A massage therapist with whom I began working this winter is helping me identify musculature and fascia and its optimal use for or release into support/movement. I scrubbed a February marathon in favor of more mindful training for a June race to allow more time for my body to adjust to new demands and all systems to improve their coordination in a more efficient and easy form. Running as a “whole” vs. focusing on parts is transferring nicely to cycling and swimming as well. I have a few friends who have dealt with similar high hamstring issues who would like to improve their form, and will follow up on conversations to explore with them how AT has benefitted my training.
To close, I realize how difficult it is to put all of what I am experiencing into words – particularly when I am working with around 50 students/week and daily myself. I am going to try to establish a regular schedule (weekly? every fortnight?) to write to better capture some salient points or new understandings…