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Power is Energy, Unblocked and Properly Directed — by Selma Gokcen

"The words of truth are always paradoxical." —Lao Tzu Paul Katz was here recently in London giving a workshop on the bow to the members of the London Cello Society and raised an interesting point about strength.  His Tai Ch'i teacher once said to him, "Hardness is Weakness, Softness is Strength: Hardness is Death, Softness is Life."  This remarkable saying inspires this article. As cellists we need to be able to call upon reserves of power to play our big repertoire, to perform long concerts and tours. No way are we not interested in knowing about power and strength, but as soon as we raise the question of where it comes from, then hundreds of viewpoints can be found. Weight training, strength training, aerobic conditioning, and the list goes on. [...]

Holding On for Dear Life — by Selma Gokcen

"Doing in your case is so 'overdoing' that you are practically paralysing the parts you want to work." —F.M. Alexander   As an Alexander Technique teacher, I work with many cellists who are in distress—the kind of distress that means they can't play for the time being. Their conditions vary from tendinitis to De Quervain syndrome to back pain to focal dystonia. The list is long but one thing most of them share is the habit of 'holding on to themselves.' What do I mean by this?  When they are in a position of rest on my teaching table—lying on their backs with their heads also resting on a small pillow—they remain gripped by tension in their necks, backs, arms and legs that may take us many months to undo.  [...]

THINKING IN A NEW WAY—Overcoming Habits (Part 1 of 6): The Value of Quietness — by Selma Gokcen

We can overcome habits of a lifetime in a few minutes if we learn to use our brains. —F.M. Alexander The obstacle is the path. –Zen proverb I offer this six part series of articles to demonstrate how I work with the Alexander Technique to help musicians to overcome deeply ingrained habits. If a quick and easy fix is what is wanted, then the reader won't find it here. The process as I see it is multi-layered—the same habits that affect our cello playing and music-making are also our habits of life, the way we perceive, react and behave, moment to moment. Such observations are at the heart of Alexander's work. Albeit with the help of a good teacher the process of unlearning habits can be easier, there are no shortcuts. [...]

The Process of Unlearning Habits — by Selma Gokcen

“It is not the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying,’ but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ effective.” –F.M. Alexander   As professional musicians, we have a deeply trained muscle memory system, a network of learned movements which allows us to study and perform a huge number of works in any situation, often in a short space of time.  This system is a blessing when it is reliable and accurate and a burden when it does not serve us well. Confronted by unwanted tension or a repetitive stress injury such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, some of us, as F.M. Alexander did, may ask: what is my part in this?  How have I brought about this condition? And it [...]

Running After What is Behind You — by Selma Gokcen

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 [...]