The obstacle is the goal - Zen Proverb
The training of attention through my line of work—the Alexander Technique—happens in a particular way, through the application of certain principles. We take the obstacles, in this case a pupil’s habits, and work with them moment by moment, observing and undoing the tensions in the neck area and throughout the back and spinal column. In this way the pupil’s habits become rich material for understanding how their attention can be directed.
The head is heavy and bears a particular relationship to the spine, as it is either poised (gently balanced) on top of or pulled into the spinal column. Cellists are vulnerable to tightening the neck and pulling the head either forward and down towards the fingers or back and down, shortening the space along the nape of the neck. Tensing the neck makes for contraction of the spine.
F.M. Alexander, the founder of the technique which I mention here, discovered some important facts about human movement which musicians would benefit greatly from knowing and applying. The contractions along the spine produced by pulling the head off balance profoundly affect the functioning of the hands and fingers. I call this head-neck-back relationship our ‘innate steering mechanism’. If we could recognize just how important it is, we would already have a key to the prevention of injury, strain, and the emotional stress they cause.
When the coordination is functioning well, there is a powerful upflow of energy along the spinal column. This powerful upflow can be unleashed from within the spine right into the fingers, creating the ‘élan’ in movement which we can sense and see in the playing of the great performers. It is neither physical nor mental but belongs to another force passing through the body. One can learn to marshal this force indirectly but never to control it directly.
In the Alexander Technique one works with the teacher to undo the habits of pulling down on the spine which cause the blockage of energy. It takes time to begin to recognize how one goes wrong and a lot of humility to see just how wrong one can be! The attention ‘muscle’ gradually gains in strength through the years of work, just as the fingers do from technical practice. In time one can begin to sense this upward flow of energy and ride it, using it to generate the energy needed for playing. A singer friend of mine once said to me that there are two ways to sing: the ‘Grunt and Go’ system (tightening and pushing everything to produce sound) or the ‘Position of Agility’ where free movement allows for a variety of expression. The Alexander Technique offers one way of exploring in the here and now how to pay attention to this valuable energy coursing through the spine.
We are proud to present a CelloBello live-streamed event!
Join us on Thursday by clicking on the link below:
Gary Hoffman Master Class
New England Conservatory, Pierce Hall
Thursday, Nov 3rd, 7-10 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)
CelloBello is pleased to continue presenting master classes live, as it happens!
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