A Musician's Journey into Wellness
by Robert Bedford
After graduating from Music and Art High School in New York City, I entered The Juilliard School where I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees. My mentors at Juilliard, and later at Catholic University, Sasha Gorodnitsky and William Masselos, are well known as pianists and teachers. Moreover they seemed to possess remarkable overall coordination. However, at the time I did not have the skill and expertise to comprehend the ease and self-assurance with which outstanding performing musicians use their arms and hands.
As a young professor of piano during the 1960's and 70's, my own teaching reflected my conservatory training, which was basically an effort to free stiffness in the wrists and arms of my students. Only after many years of teaching at the university level did I come across the work of F.M. Alexander, whose first book, The Use Of The Self (1932), documents his painstaking research over a period of ten years in the field of human technology. In the late 1980's, a Professor of Classics at Tufts University named Frank Pierce Jones conducted experiments which lent scientific support to Alexander's theories. He reported his findings in a pamphlet entitled," A Technique for Musicians."
I was always fascinated by the movements of animals and babies as well as movements of well-coordinated people in general. Likewise, I frequently paid attention to movements exhibited by outstanding performers. Naturally, I was intrigued by Jones' pamphlet describing Alexander's stunning leap into the field of human technology which identified why SOME people move very efficiently. Consequently, I began a course of lessons with a qualified Alexander Technique teacher in Philadelphia, ostensibly to improve my overall coordination. I hoped that by upgrading my general level of coordination, technical difficulties I was experiencing in certain works e.g. a Chopin etude, Opus 10, no. 2, would disappear. At that time there were about one thousand certified Alexander Technique teachers worldwide; today there are many more.
Assured by my teacher that my performance would improve indirectly, I was to first experience an overall kinesthetic lightness. Then I would better understand how the head/neck/torso relationship functions optimally in adults as it does when we are very young. Upon hearing that well-timed, promising statement, I happily made my first connection between babies' movements and the Alexander Technique! Later on during my training, The Dart Procedures, specifically, taught to me by Joan and Alex Murray, served beautifully as a compliment to Alexander's principles.
Recently there has been a palpable movement to raise musicians' consciousness to the danger of musicians' injuries. Wellness centers have sprung up all over the country. It's not difficult to understand why so many professional musicians have acquired a pre fear of what I call "over-practicing", a fear, I suspect, that can exist below the sense register. After a course of lessons in the Alexander Technique, I literally had no fear of "over-practicing". Furthermore my sense of balance had significantly improved eliminating any concern about shaky balance walking on stage or sitting at the piano. A new understanding of how to use my whole body more naturally removed any fear of injuring myself from many long hours of practicing. Before long I was programming the Chopin etudes once again. Only this time the etudes were much easier to play. I discovered that as my general level of coordination improved, I was able to release unnecessary contractions throughout my total body posture. In time any preconceived notions I had about arm and hand positions were no longer tenable. I was free to literally create an entirely new way to use my hands based on a new awareness of how the body integrates to vitalize an expanding posture.
My Alexander Technique teacher, who is not a musician, soon became impressed with my overall progress in acquiring the Technique and asked me what I was doing. I frankly told him, "I am assiduously following Alexander's directions as set forth in his first book with a discipline only a dedicated performing musician can explain." Be that as it may, it wasn't long before I, too, made a decision to qualify as an Alexander Technique teacher, aspiring to bring it into the 21st century with a specialty in teaching the Technique to musicians. This credential required that I take a leave of absence from my teaching assignment at West Chester University where I have been a member of the keyboard faculty for thirty-five years.
Eventually, I created my own particular style of teaching the Alexander Technique to musicians as well as to the general public. This work is very interesting to me, and I teach it differently to each student, always adhering to basic principles, although each student will ultimately develop his or her own unique process. Some Alexander Technique students tell of almost overnight freeing up of the whole playing mechanism. Others express skepticism at first but are willing to experiment often seeing the Technique as gentle and nonthreatening.
Robert Bedford, critically acclaimed pianist, has appeared widely in solo recitals throughout the United States. A Juilliard graduate, he was a gold medallist in the International Recording Competition for Pianists. Dr. Bedford, a professor of piano at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, is a certified teacher of the F.M. Alexander Technique. Many of his former students are members of university faculties throughout the country.
Email Dr. Bedford: firstname.lastname@example.org
Use of The Self and other books by F. M. Alexander, as well as many books about the Alexander Technique - including several for musicians - are available at The Alexander Technique Bookstore in Association with AMAZON.COM
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