The Freedom to Choose
November 30, 2006 at 11:21 PM
Last night I was listening to Elman playing the Mendelssohn and Lalo. Pretty erratic rubato, but I don’t think we are ever going to here the likes of such a sound ever again. Just swept me away.
One of my favorite experiences is taking lessons from a completely new Alexander Teacher. Of course the basic principles are going to be there, but you never know where they are going to come from. It’s fascinating. One teacher I found very helpful talked about how the problems violinists (musicians in general) have actually start during the process of getting set up for practice... It isn’t a question of warming up, or stretching or similar. He showed a simple comparison to illustrate the point. Walk across the room and pick up an object such as a pencil. Walk across the room and open your violin case. What is the difference? In the latter case, all the baggage of years of misuse of the self is triggered before we even get the instrument out of the case. It is almost always true that the quality of breathing is markedly different. This does not have to be so. Then one enacts a habitual misuse of self when opening the case. Typically the player bends over, the head drops down and back crushing the top of the spine and `Bob’s yer Uncle,` optimum playing conditions have been and gone without a flicker of protest. What this teacher told me about was how FM Alexander talked about `Choice points,` in our daily lives. At these moments, such opening a violin case, we can choose to stop and consciously regain good use of the self.
In many ways this highlights what I find is one of the origins of most problems in violin playing. Violinists tend to talk about `a difficult shift,` or a `vibrato problem,` or `this passage is hard to get in tune.` But the real problem is usually directly traceable to misuse of the self, which means the head has dropped back and down, primary control has gone and the system is desperately trying to compensate for this sudden initiation of tension by tensing else where, typically in the hands. A strong clue to this is watch the scroll of the violin. If it dips a misuse is usually occurring. The solution is actually quite simple: one simply stops just before the point where the problem occurs and thinks `I feel ease in the neck as my head gores forward and up and my back expands.` Unfortunately, If you haven’t had Alexander Lessons then this instruction cannot be carried because ones beliefs about what one is doing are still controlled by our habitual patterns of misuse. In essence we kid ourselves because our body –always- prefers what one has established as habitual over something new.The hands of an AT teacher are the means of breaking this vicious cycle. However, this does not mean that a `non- Alexander lesson` player is stuck. They can center their awareness on the base of the thumb joint, and perhaps more importantly the base of the first finger. One releases the tension. The whole feeling of the hand changes. After that the problem has a very strong tendency to disappear.
So how do you open the violin case?
you bend the knees. But at the same time you are cosciously working on primary control so taht although your body is going down it is simultaneously heading forward and up. Words don"t express it well. The hand sof an AT teacher do,
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