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mjgrieveson

Alexander Technique for organists

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I came across this ebook when searching around the topic and wondered if anyone had read it? If so, I'd be very interested to hear any views, opinions etc concerning the subject or the book. It doesn't appear to have any reviews.

The Alexander Technique is often recommended as a way of preventing/alleviating stress injuries brought about by the frequently unnatural postures that musicians adopt when playing (or singing), often for some hours at a time.

 

I have read accounts on here and elsewhere of problems with damaged tendons, back pain, shoulder and neck discomfort and so on.

 

Do forum contributors have any thoughts on this subject?

 

http://www.amazon.com/Alexander-Technique-TRICEPS-Approach-Organ-ebook/dp/B00AUHWTU2

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Thanks for flagging this. I would love to hear readers' reviews, as and when.

 

A sketchy memory: 15 years ago, during my postgraduate performance studies at the RNCM, we had the opportunity of a taster Alexander Technique session. This included basic, generalised class observations and exercises, and the opportunity for brief individual consultations.

 

Mine were on the Hradetsky organ in the concert hall, and then in a fine harpsichord by Michael Johnson. The Alexander Technician observed me playing each briefly, and asked to what extent one could change the instruments relative to the player's position. When I described the essential absence of any such possibility, apart from bench height, and went on to describe some of the challenges of other such instruments, it was clear from her resigned response that she didn't have any experience of organs & harpsichords, and that she thought that I had no hope in terms of developing a good posture etc.

 

I wonder if others have received tuition from an Alexander Technician who specialise in organ/keyboard instruments?

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I know little of the Alexander Technique, but would only point out that an important but sometimes overlooked detail of organ console design is the amount by which the pedals are recessed under the manuals. The optimum measurement differs according to the number of keyboards. If it isn't correct (not recessed enough), you can (for example) find yourself tipping forward when playing on the top keyboard while pedalling at the same time. This requires correction of posture via the back muscles. If the pedalboard is too recessed, you have to arch your back backwards to maintain balance. Both conditions are not conducive to good posture and, I have been told by a physiotherapist, are likely to cause or aggravate chronic back pain.

 

There isn't a single optimum 'recess' measurement but a small range within which consoles should be designed. The range depends on the number of keyboards.

 

Therefore good posture would seem to depend on the instrument as well as the player.

 

CEP

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I wonder if others have received tuition from an Alexander Technician who specialise in organ/keyboard instruments?

 

I cannot speak for keyboard players, but for violinists, who have to maintain a comparable anti-physiological posture while playing and practising.

 

I have experienced, both in myself and in others, how much the awareness that’s at the core of Alexander technique can set free an unprecedented energy and easiness in a player. In my experience, the whole training was not so much about finding a correct posture – since that changes depending on the player’s own physiological condition, the music and, obviously, the instrument – but more about learning how to become aware of tensions and to find ways to deal with them in order not to get oneself trapped in tense positions.

 

To freeze in mid-playing and exercise a momentary assessment by “primary control” (feeling one’s way from head down through all the joints involved) seems always to be at the start of it. In a dynamic process, you start from there to develop positions and, more so, movement patterns that allow the playing impulses to float freely through your joints. Adjustments, more often than not, are minimal, but can be very effective. Once started, it is a process that virtually never ceases.

 

If you look up videos by, e. g., Olivier Latry, Thomas Trotter or John Scott on the web, your can watch that kind of flow in amazing ways. I do not know, of course, if they ever related to Alexander technique, but they certainly are model players when it comes to general suppleness.

 

All of this can appear pretty alien at first, but is actually quite down-to-earth when you learn to exercise it – no spiritual implications involved.

 

All best wishes,

Friedrich

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Friedrich makes an important point - you really need someone else to tell you about your posture, unless you're in the habit of videoing yourself. But although seeing your self as others do is instructive, it's not always comfortable. I well remember watching part of a wedding video, laughing at the pirouetting head-tossing prima donna playing the organ. Then I realised that it was my brother's wedding ...

 

My piano teacher often tells me off for various postural problems which I am simply unaware of. The main problem is playing with my shoulders hunched so much that they're approaching my ears, an obvious cause of that horrible stretching pain across the back of the neck. Solving this often soothes other back problems. Another is, of course, the fingers. Years of playing on stubby organ keyboards, sometimes with rather heavy actions, or actions which require a firm thump just to make everything sound at the same time, encourage poor habits if not pointed out and corrected by someone much more competent than the self-taught person's tutor. And, for me at least, proper advice about posture has helped reduce a lot of the shoulder and back pains I used to have while playing too long. And improved technique, posture, and fitness really do create a synergy, especially when, especially here in the Netherlands, you're faced with an instrument that doesn't seem to conform to any known standards of the placement of manuals, pedals and benches relative to each other - especially for this rather compact Englishman. It's worth it for the sheer joy and privilege of playing these instruments though :-)

 

But you really can't hide some things from people who know. Recently, at the end of another ABRSM piano exam, the examiner politely enquired whether I played another keyboard instrument. Somewhat surprised, I told her that I played the organ. "I thought so", she said, "your sight reading gave you away!" I'm still dumfounded, but the lesson is, always ask advice!

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