By Jennifer Goetz
An artist’s easel, complete with a canvas and a still-life subject, and a sleek, black Steinway & Sons piano sat onstage in Mayo Concert Hall — a perfect setting to learn about the Alexander Technique.
This semester’s second Brown Bag, titled “The Alexander Technique: For Health, Happiness, Self-Expression and More” and hosted by the Department of Music, focused on how musicians and artists can learn to use this technique to alleviate physical tension to improve their abilities.
William Barto Jones, who has been a fully certified Alexander Technique teacher for the past eight years, explained and demonstrated how this technique can benefit all different types of artists and people, alike. Barto is no stranger to the arts — besides serving as a teacher, he is a pianist, singer and former New York City opera vocal coach.
Barto provided examples of some well-known individuals who practice or have practiced the Alexander Technique, such as George Bernard Shaw, John Dewey, Madonna, Paul Newman, Judy Dench and Benedict Cumberbatch.
The century-old Alexander Technique has to do with learning to decompress the body and be conscious of simple movements that can provide bodily relief. Lessons are usually 45 minutes long, in which certified technique instructors guide students through the process so they can become aware of the compression in their body and learn to release it. The technique can also improve breathing, circulation, digestion and more.
It was created by Australian actor F.M. Alexander, who suffered from chronic laryngitis and invented this technique to improve his health. It has “(helped) instrumentalists and singers to perform with less stress and likelihood of injury,” according to The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique on the technique’s website. This technique is also about “(reeducating) the mind and body” to renew energy for other activities.
Rebecca Zhi, a senior fine arts and biology double major, described the technique as “good and relaxing.” Jones demonstrated the technique with Zhi and went through a typical lesson. All Zhi had to do was stand, lie down, then sit up and stand again. These basic movements, with Jones specifically focusing on releasing any compression in Zhi’s neck and back, demonstrated how the technique improved these daily functions.
Jones needed to guide Zhi through the technique and encouraged anyone interested in attempting the technique find an instructor. Once an instructor goes through it, then the student can figure out what their problem areas are and how to improve them.
“F.M. Alexander figured it out on his own,” according to Jones. He added that “(having) experience (with an instructor) will give people awareness (to figure it out for themselves).”
Jones asked Zhi to sit up afterwards and she was visibly sitting up straighter. Then he asked her to return to her painting and to feel the difference. “I feel more comfortable,” Zhi said. Jones asked Zhi afterwards to tell the audience how she feels working on her painting after trying the Alexander Technique. She described it as “interesting, more relaxed and less tense.”
After demonstrating with Zhi, Thérèse DeGenova, a senior music performance major, preformed J.S. Bach’s “Sonata No. 1, Presto” on her violin for the audience. Although Jones didn’t have the time to work on the technique with DeGenova, Jones aided students this weekend in an effort to bring the technique to anyone interested. Eric Vanderzee, a senior music performance major, who knew about this technique prior to this Brown Bag, said he planned to attend Jones’s next session to learn more.
Every individual is different, and they are going to feel where the compressions are, Jones said. In the discipline, an instructor begins to see where the problems are for each person based on what art form they practice.
Jones has experienced the benefits of the technique. He hasn’t had a cold in about two years and, since practicing the technique, he now stands taller. According to Jones, the technique is a way to solve body problems and is a way for the “mind and body to work together” as one.