Yesterday I had a particularly good Alexander Technique lesson with John. I complained of middle-back pain partway through a session of basic self use, and through his probing questions we identified that in actual fact I was adjusting my posture to do what I thought was right. I would try to pull my shoulders back and force my neck to lengthen, all in the name of ‘letting go’!! When I stopped doing this my thumbs and forefingers no longer went numb (a common problem for me during AT lessons!), however the middle-back pain was still an issue. John’s challenge of “just let it be, just observe it” is extraordinarily difficult – it’s terribly uncomfortable, and the automatic instinct is that it is wrong. After lying down at the end, however, I was able to stand without effort or pain and my back felt balanced. We decided that the best thing would be to lie down in the proper way as often and for as long as is possible and just see what happens.
The other good lesson to which the title refers was the one I had with Patrick today. It was an extended one and ended up over 2.5 hours long, although Patrick went in and out a bit while I worked on some of the things we discussed. Mostly we did tone work – an adaptation on some of the things Michael Cox was talking about at his week-long masterclass earlier this year (still kicking myself for missing that!). So now a bit of an additional plan for tone practise to ensure I’m covering a range of different sounds, colours and dynamics:
- Start with 5mins checking air angle & flute position on lip – my jaw has a lot to do with this! I have a natural overbite, but actually push my jaw right forward whenever I go to play flute. I get a much better sound if I let it stay in its original position and roll the flute out slightly. The aim is always a ringing sound (wasabi point!!).
- Then establish 7 increments of dynamics (from ppp to ff+) & vowel shapes A, E, I, O, U for colour variation within these dynamics. Play every combination on something like Taffenel/Gaubert ex. 1 and really feel where the body is physically each time, endeavouring to be able to get exactly that whenever it is needed.
- On top of these shape and dynamic changes, add vibrato – from ‘identical twins’ through to ‘brother and sister’, and not beyond. The aim is to oscillate between two beautiful sounds, not one good and one bad sound.
- Tailor these sounds to imagination and poetry, and not so much to the science! Relate the physical to an image.
- After another 10mins work, do some finger exercises before returning to the traditional Moyse/Wye/etc. But when coming back to the standard exercises the trick is to always know what you’re after before you make a sound – pick one of the above sounds and work with that.
This is great for preparation for my string of lessons next week in Melbourne – I have five in as many days!! Lots of lying down and a slightly different tack for thinking about sound practise.