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Clare Finzi: Alexander Technique

Have you ever had one of those moments of glorious uninhibited performance perfection? Nearly always these happen for me in the practise room, the shower, or even just in my mind. They give me tantalising glimpses of the potential within me. Very often, when I come to the real thing, I find easy, direct expression and flawless technique elusive. Instead, I may be aware of tension or anxiety that gets in the way.

“the most remarkable results, such as freedom of expressions through freedom of movement, or learning to breathe freely despite nerves, or being able to let go and enjoy playing are possible through the Alexander Technique” Alexander Baillie, International solo ‘cellist

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WHAT IS THE ALEXANDER TECHIQUE?

The Alexander Technique is a method of educating you to recognise and challenge your habits. You learn to be aware of your body and mind in a clearer and more effective way.

WHY DO PEOPLE DEVELOP BAD HABITS AND AREAS OF TENSION?
If you watch toddlers and small children, you may notice that they move with an unconscious ease and grace. This is usually the case until they are sent to school, and required to sit on often poorly designed chairs for much of the day. It took hundreds of thousands of years for us to evolve from four footed creatures to standing on two legs, but we have only had a thousand or so to get used to basic props such as chairs, and just in the past few decades computer technology has yet again transformed the way we live our lives. It’s a very short time relatively. We need to think with careful awareness about how we use these props, and the laptops, tablets and phones that so dominate our existence, to help us cope with the pace at which we’ve had to adapt. We also often translate emotions into physical tension – whether fear, anxiety, anger or elation. The positive conscious control that A.T. cultivates helps us to be aware of and mitigate this tendency.

HOW WILL IT AFFECT MY SINGING?

How you use your body affects the way in which it functions. Musicians may spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on their instrument, and will maintain it with great care to ensure that it stays in optimum condition. Your body is your instrument, and A.T. will help you to understand how to use it well and what you might be doing to get in the way of that. It highlights in a very obvious way areas of tension that may be getting in the way of your breathing, and helps you learn to be in control of releasing them.

WHY DO PERFORMING ARTISTS OF ALL GENRES WORK WITH IT?
Recognising and challenging your habits and habitual reactions enables you to be less at their mercy, therefore more in control. This can help performance anxiety. Complex repetitive movements are required for many performing arts and sports, so an understanding of the optimum way of functioning is crucial here. As mentioned earlier, our breathing is affected adversely by held tension, and if you are not breathing freely, you will not be able to perform to your highest level.

IS IT JUST FOR PERFORMERS THEN?
Absolutely not! It is beneficial for everyone. It can help in all areas. Very often people come to the A.T. when they are experiencing pain or stress, or if someone has pointed out that they have poor posture. They are amazed to discover that usually these are not due to illness or genetic defects, but simply a result of poor use and habitual disfunction.

I FEEL I AM PERFECT ANYWAY……
Ah, but the trouble is that you can’t trust what you feel, because it is simply going to reflect your habitual use. For instance, if you always hold your head slightly to the side, when you put it upright, the world will seem crooked. You may be surprised in an A.T. lesson to discover the strange habits you never knew you had.

WILL I BE PERFECT AFTER A LESSON OR TWO?
Well, I’ve been practising for most of my very long life, and I’m certainly not perfect yet. However, the longer and more effectively I think A.T. thoughts, the more crucial I know they are. It is a lifelong journey, and the sooner you start on it the longer you will have to enjoy it.

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Video: ‘deep bone strength’ by Katherine Porter.

Clare Finzi will be teaching Alexander Technique on Choral Courses 3 and 4 this summer.