Some thoughts after Voksenåsen workshop: a follow up

Thank you everyone who participated in the workshop! Due to time limitations and large group sizes it was difficult to address many of the interesting questions that emerged and therefore we decided to write a little summary as well as address some of the questions that didn’t get so much attention. We hope we have sparked your curiosity and that you will pursue your music performance studies with an increased awareness for approaches that might allow for more sustainable and enjoyable music performing.

The foreign language metaphor
It is not too difficult to achieve visible and audible improvements in a short amount of time by applying hands-on manipulation. During the workshop you might have noticed improvements in sound quality and posture, felt more comfortable at ease and relaxed, or maybe that it became easier to play. At the same time, you might have noticed that some things were different, maybe felt unusual, not quite “natural”. Probably this was accompanied by a feeling that you had no idea how to do this on your own. This is a rather usual outcome of such workshops.

A metaphor of learning a foreign language might be helpful. Visiting a foreign country, you might hear and understand a few words in that language, but it would take time and committed study and practice to become proficient enough in order to communicate in a more or less fluent way without the help of a dictionary. Furthermore, there are more to language than just words: there are also rules of grammar, pronunciation etc. You could call these the inner logic of language: something we do not really think of while speaking, especially when speaking the mother-tongue, but that is there nonetheless. It defines and gives the shape to our languages, yet at the same time it lies under the surface and comes to us only upon us becoming conscious of it.

You can think of the Alexander Technique as the inner logic of yourself, some sort of grammar of your inner workings. Spend a few moments thinking about this. There are all our daily activities (which in the language metaphor could be said to be the words) that we see (or hear), but underneath it lies this structuring element, this grammar.

The principles that shape us and underlie our activities can be studied and learned. But just like grammar does not constitute a language by itself as it needs to be “dressed” in words and be used in either spoken or written form to become real and alive, so is the Alexander Technique of only limited use unless you are engaging in an activity and applying its principles while doing so. To speak a foreign language applying correct grammar is difficult and, it bears repeating, requires a lot of practice. The same applies to the Alexander Technique: it takes practice. It is possible to get by with using poor grammar, yet it is also possible to improve it. Being good at grammar makes our language more elegant and expressive. This is what we are after: studying and improving on our inner logic, or grammar. At first it might be hard, but everything gets easier with continued use and practice. Then we can become more elegant, expressive, and not just manage to get by.

Hitting the wall and getting depressed
You might have had some (hopefully positive) experiences in working with the Alexander Technique previously. It happens far too often that people get a taste of the work, see and feel the improvements yet due to the lack of continued support often get frustrated and disheartened. This, however, is not the fault of technique itself, but rather a complex systematic issue that consists of, on the one hand, seemingly obvious challenges of limited resources (read, money), but touches also on some deeper ones, like the “shopping attitude” among others. Our attention is overstretched by so much information out there. There are methods to become rich in 7 steps and learn a language in 24 hours. It is difficult to commit yourself to one thing and do it properly. While this might be necessary in our fast changing society to some extent, we believe not everything has to be this way. To make my point, just imagine if you had to constantly learn to play a new instrument; say every 6 months. You would definitely be able to play them at a certain level, but probably not at the world-class level that you are probably not very far from at your current stage.

Important to mention at this point is that some years ago you have actually committed yourself to play your instrument and to invest countless hours of practice (very few professions in the world have this level of commitment). At this stage it is quite reasonable to assume you have passed the threshold of 10 000 hours it takes to become an expert in any field. However, we see time and again that it is not enough to study the rules of music and principles of an instrument. You(!) are an important element in this formula as well. Therefore, we urge you to commit to studying yourself. Commit yourself to yourself.

Returning to the issue of getting frustrated and disheartened: when you get stuck with some instrumental problem you probably go to a teacher, ask your friend, or maybe try to googling it. Same should apply to the Alexander Technique: seek a teacher, find some friends you can talk to and work together with, build a support network. On a more general level, talk to your teacher to include the method in your instrumental lessons. Be proactive asking for feedback on specific issues. This might mean breaking some old patterns in your lessons: but be brave, this is you and your future we are talking about.

Before you can do all that, however, you have to commit yourself to a method. We believe the Alexander Technique is such a method. While useful in a plain-vanilla form, we also believe that integrating it into your lessons (by having a team of teachers) is a superior way of learning it. You can take our word for it now, or you can wait and follow our project to explore why this might be the case. Either way is fine.

Longevity (not only wine should get better with time)
If you are a music student playing an orchestra instrument and you plan on get an orchestra job and continue to work there until you retire, you are looking at somewhere between 40 to 50 years of active professional life. Give yourself a moment to think about that: 40 to 50 years.
You’ve got to play well to get a job to begin with, but that’s just the first step. For understandable reasons most of us are mostly concerned with playing well. The reality is that already as students many report being in a sub-optimal physical state related to long hours of practicing (pain, unwanted tensions etc.). We could accept this as a normal professional hazard, but given the time span that the career after graduation should last, this would simply be irresponsible. It is also not uncommon amongst long-time orchestra musicians to gradually loose the sense of enjoyment that they started their careers with. While there might be many reasons for that, we believe that a thriving, enjoyable and long-lasting career is not something that just happens, but has to be proactively taken care of. It is a result of attitudes and habits that year after year, layer after layer shape us. Few, if any, of us look that far into the future, but at the same time, if asked, the majority would probably say they hope to stay healthy and to keep enjoying making music.
It is not easy, if at all possible, to answer the question what makes a music performers career to last long and remain enjoyable, but that’s what we wish to explore and we hope you’ll join the exploration.

We would love to hear your thoughts and experiences that you had during and after the workshop. If you have any questions or if we could be of any help for you in taking your next step, just drop us a line at the bottom of the page.

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