page 21

page 22

Carol MacCallum Strozier (below) suggests improving and enrich- ing performance through physical


WHEN Frederick M Alexander came to London from Tasmania to begin leaching the Technique in 1904, he had big dreams. I think he would have imagined the Technique spreading as far as it has. He was a very unusual person, and this is a very unusual Technique, standing alone in both the holistic and the scientific medical worlds. Research continues to validate the

principles upon which the Technique is based and we are learning still more about the depth of the changes it can bring about.

Alexander discovered for himself how the “antigravity” mechanism of the body works and can then be successfully used; thus freeing the individual from a life of habitual behav- iour and enabling him to change and live consciously, making choices about every aspect of life: emotional, intellectual and physical. He evolved a Technique for teaching “total body co-ordination”.

I realise these statements sound like quite a mouthfill, but if you are willing to read fur- ther, I will explain why The Alexander Technique is so valuable for everyone, smallpipers in particular. Most of us are unaware that it is possible to affect large changes in our own bodies. I am not talking about going to the gym and using tightened muscles to lift weights and increase muscle size, nor am I talking about using yoga to stretch and lengthen muscles. What I am suggesting is the use of Alexandrian “nondoing” rather than the “doing” we force upon our bodies.

By using elegantly simple principles, the body is re-educated and releases itself physi- cally to return to the form and use for which it was designed. Remember that the brain and thought are part of the physical body. Our design is made to function as a whole. Structur- ally, if the head, neck, back relationship is working well, the head can lead and everything else follows - spine and limbs.

We are vertebrates. As such, we need to pay particular attention to the relationship of the head, neck, back - what Alexander called the Primary Control - in ourselves. This rela- tionship is ever-changing and adaptable, but to put it under nearly continuous strain is not wise. The habitual patterns people use to put their head, neck, back relationship out of alignment are infinite.


The number of proper alignments in which that relationship can be well used are equally infinite. There is no such thing as “perfect posture”.

The antigravity mechanism referred to earlier is set in motion when we combine the Primary Control, Direction (a physiological change), sometimes called the “Up”, and Inhibition (not to be confused with Jungian supression)/ Stopping. Inhibition/Stopping is a natural function in animals which seems to have been nearly lost in humans. Many of us find it tremendously difficult when asked to stop, full stop, for any period of more than a minute or two. This Stopping actually allows us space to make decisions about what we will do or not do as well as to make observations - objectively. That is the point: to make con- scious choices once the unconscious habit is observed.

Our habits of response, whether they are intellectual, physical or emotional, or some com- bination of all those, are so ingrained and a part of us as to be unconscious. You cannot change something of which you are not conscious; thus the importance of Inhibition, which Alexander considered to be the cornerstone of his Technique.

When these three principles - Primary Control, Direction and Inhibition/Stopping - are working together, we can have freedom and ease of movement. For smallpipers that means:

Moving the arms on the bellows and bag without first contracting the neck/arm/shoulder muscles and then trying to use them, frequently causing pain and damage.

Breathing regularly with expansion, instead of holding the breath while movement occurs and/or breathing only at long intervals. Leaving the head/neck alone to be still enough to co

-ordinate the movements of the whole body (and the music) instead of bobbing around and/ or jutting out like a ball on the end of a bat.

Letting the fingers move easily on their own instead of gripping the chanter like a vice and creating conditions for tendonitis, carpal tunnel problems and other RSI ills which could apply to the above issues as well.

The list of physical issues could go on and also includes emotional and intellectual issues, ie, lack of self confidence, repetitive and negative head chatter, self concept, physical presentation, musical presentation, and the performance itself which is the outcome of the rehearsal. You can see why musicians and actors have been making use of the Technique to great advantage for over 100 years.

Some of the benefits that may be expected from learning the Alexander Technique: per- formance anxiety reduction, ease of breathing, enhanced stage presence, physical ease while playing. It also helps prevent injury, changes harmful physical habits, integrates and main- tains chiropractic and osteopqthic work and helps pain management.

The Alexander Technique is a preventative. It is a skill that is learned by the individual and can be refined through use and practice. Some information may be passed on efficiently in small groups, but the real work is done in one-to-one lessons with a qualified, skilled teacher using “Nondoing hands”, observation, body mapping, anatomy, indirect procedures


and active, dynamic personal knowledge. This is expressed best by Patrick MacDonald, a member of the original training course with Alexander, in his book The Alexander Technique: As I See It: “While it is theoretically possible to learn the Alexander Technique without the aid of a skilled teacher - after all, Alexander did it, so why not others - the odds against anyone doing themselves any good in this way are astronomical.”

You would seek a teacher when learning to play an instrument to any degree of proficiency. The same applies in learning the Alexander Technique. You are learning to play an instrument: your self! I encourage all pipers to learn how to put more ease and freedom into your life and your playing. It will change your life.

The Technique applies to everything and everything applies to the Technique.

Recently, I opened a new book, Human Givens, by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell, and my eyes fell upon this: “An important human given, the need for meaning, is driving us to write this book. This ancient natural human desire, the quest to understand, originally grew out of primitive creatures’ evolving ability to move independently. Indeed, movement is fundamental to the very existence of brains, which developed primarily to control movement, to predict the outcome of movement and remember the result of past move- ments ... So important is it that the primary motor cortex and the premotor cortex are both located in the frontal lobe, which is one of the most advanced parts of the brain and deter- mines not only where we direct our attention but also the relationship between short-term working memory and long-term memory.”



Carol Strozier is offering an introductory workshop in the Alexander Technique during the Piping Live! Festival, August 7-13. Call the National Piping Centre, 0141 353 0220 There will also be a six session introductory course in the basics of the Alexander Technique dur- ing September, October and November.


These 45-60 minute sessions will involve small group work and an individual lesson for six pipers. For details of this and further Alexander Technique courses, contact Carol Strozier, 0141 954 8074, or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. before Sept. 9, 2006.


Carol MacCallum Strozier qualifies this summer as a teacher of the Alexander Technique at the Cumbria Alexander Training Centre in Kendal, Cumbria. Before she moved to Scot- land in 2001 to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Scottish Music course, she performed and taught in Michigan, Maryland and New York.