In my last column, I mentioned getting to know some of your habits at the cello…the worst ones can become your best friends, in that they will offer the richest material for work on yourself. So now we step into the arena. Looking at oneself is not easy. The same instrument that presents the problems is also doing the observing, so how reliable can our observations be when the instrument itself is faulty? This was F.M. Alexander’s dilemma. His vocal problem was hidden within himself, and so he set about observing himself in a mirror, later three mirrors, to see if he could discover any correlation between what he was doing with his whole body and his specific vocal defects. After long and patient examination, he identified several harmful habits, [...]
About Selma Gokcen
Selma Gokcen, born in America of Turkish parentage, has received critical acclaim for her imaginative programming. Along with Bernard Greenhouse and Jonathan Kramer, she presented a programme at London’s South Bank Centre, in New York and at the Kennedy Center entitled Pablo Casals: Artist of Conscience, celebrating the life and music of the legendary cellist.
Ms. Gokcen has performed with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Presidential Symphony in Ankara, the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, and the Aspen Philharmonia, among others. Her recital appearances have taken her to such cities as Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Charleston, S.C., and to Belgium, Italy and Turkey. In South America, she has toured under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. She has concertized in Australia and New Zealand, and given master classes in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
In addition to solo appearances, she is an accomplished chamber musician and has participated in the Chamber Music West Festival in San Francisco, the Southeastern Music Festival, the Hindemith Festival in Oregon, and the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.
Ms. Gokcen holds the Doctorate of Musical Arts, as well as a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School, where her teachers included Leonard Rose, Channing Robbins, William Lincer and Robert Mann. She was awarded a First Prize from the Geneva Conservatory of Music as a pupil of Guy Fallot, and also studied privately with Pierre Fournier. In 1999 she was chosen by one of Spain’s greatest composers, Xavier Montsalvatge, to record his complete works for cello. She has also recorded Songs and Dances in Switzerland for the Gallo label.
In 1988, Ms. Gokcen became interested in the Alexander Technique, prompted by a lifelong fascination with the roots of habits and the difficulties of modifying them. Students often entered her cello studio seeking changes but unable to resolve their problems.
Eventually her reading brought her to the Alexander Technique, a discipline described by its founder as “learning to do consciously what nature intended”. She came to London in 1994 and enrolled in a teacher training program at the Centre for the Alexander Technique.
Ms Gokcen was qualified as a fully-fledged teacher by the Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique in 1998. In September 2000 she was appointed to the faculty of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she is also a professor of cello. She works with string, wind and brass players, singers and composers. She also incorporates her Alexander Technique teaching as part of her cello studio.
The Alexander Technique embraces what is today called holistic thinking–an indivisibility of the mind-body connection and the awakening of awareness of what Alexander called the “use of the whole self”, which affects our functioning in all our activities, especially the highly complex skill of music-making. It is particularly useful in addressing breathing, coordination, and muscle tensions. Most importantly, the quality of attention developed through the practice of the Technique can transform a musician’s relationship with their instrument and their audience.
Selma Gokcen is also the co-founder and Co-Chair of the London Cello Society.
Much of our training as cellists has us working long hours, working hard, but are we working smart? Do we know what is productive and what is counter-productive in our manner of working? How do we know? Is it possible to know? Many years after my cello study at the Juilliard School, I hit a wall. I could not go further in my work with the traditional methods of cello technique, cello etudes, additional lessons and hours of practice. It seemed I was going round in a circle. I finally realised that solution to problems at the instrument might lie somewhere beyond the green pastures I had hitherto spent my life exploring. I said to myself: Maybe the study of music is like science. You have to go into the [...]
It is a great pleasure to tickle your screens from across The Pond, as they call the Atlantic Ocean here in Great Britain. I am honoured to be invited to add a few views to what is already a splendid site for cellists and a fruitful educational resource. The London Cello Society is an important part of my work, and as a nurturer of the cello world in the United Kingdom, I always celebrate a new addition to the Cello Cloud from which we can benefit. Our members are just getting to know CelloBello and they will no doubt enjoy and learn from it. It is said that the best things to write about are those you love. Therefore it makes sense in this first blog to introduce my passion [...]