discovery

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.  [...]

The Britten Cello Suites (Part 2): An Interview with Steven Doane — by Aron Zelkowicz

My first live encounter with a Britten suite was an in-your-face experience.  Steven Doane played the First Suite, Op. 72 as a “dry run” for a group of students as we crammed into an Eastman studio with barely enough floor space to not get poked with an upbow.  Mr. Doane’s association with the piece has only grown, leading to a brand new recording of the complete suites to be released this year.  I asked Mr. Doane about his thoughts and experiences playing this demanding work over the years. Do you remember the occasion of learning the Britten First Suite for the first time? It’s a piece that I discovered late - I was in my mid thirties when I started working on it, and it was revelatory.  It was an [...]

So You Think You Know? (Part 1) — by Selma Gokcen

“We think we know what we do, but all our efforts show that unless our sensory appreciation is reliable, this belief is a delusion.” – F.M. Alexander Musicians, like athletes and dancers, work on the basis of muscle memory. Our conventional teaching has taught us to play by "feel," as well as by using the ear, by sensing how far, how near, how long, how short, how much force or weight, how slowly or quickly—the endless  subtle variations of these directions we are called upon to make as we move. We rely on this "sense of where and how things are" not just at the cello but in everyday life. Through constant repetition, the conduits are formed for nerve impulses to activate muscle.  In this process our kinaesthetic sense is [...]

Looking & Seeing — by Selma Gokcen

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, [...]