Levator labii superioris muscle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
So my flute guru, Keith Underwood, paid me a house visit to give me a lesson. I told him I needed mega help as I am just coming out of that medical-worry funk that stopped me from picking up a flute. Yeah, I know, self-defeating behavior. Sigh. Talk about feeling rusty! I told him that I wanted to continue our discussion of his proper breathing methodology. So we talked about tension in the upper lip and position of the tongue, et al, and how the flute shouldn’t be called a wind instrument but a compression instrument, as playing well is all about that particular compression of air. And that this is all so, so French! (We rhapsodize over everything French: great French flute playing, French flute treatises, plus the usual stuff). Keith is also a major proponent of the Alexander Technique. For us Alexander Technique people he makes special analogies. So he likened having the correct tension in the upper lip, going up the levator labii superioris, and the position of the tongue in playing the flute, to the same set-up as hands on back of chair for us AT practitioners. It helps for good use of self; it enables efficient and fabulous embouchure. Hey, as Keith points out, this type of breathing is kind of like an inverse whispered ah. So…I’m practicing this way via De la sonorité of the venerable Marcel Moyse, Debussy’s Syrinx, and a Handel sonata. I just refound my book of Handel sonatas. They are all marked up by one of my old teachers, the late, great, hilarious Harold Bennett. So I see his markings and I am immediately transported back to Jackson Heights and my lessons with him, with his dog Andy hanging around, and Harold’s “homogenizing” of my flute. Well I digress. Well not really. Harold did breathe like this, in his fashion, if I recall. Wish I could go back and time and observe Harold’s use of self while playing! Well, anyway, Keith said to me, after I played a bit of Handel, that I sounded French. Cool, right? It’s all about that breathing, especially thinking taking breaths down to the collar bone and the upper ribs. Little breaths. Little breaths that keep accumulating air so that one needs to play a long line one can effortlessly. Of course for me it’s all about playing with a “stifled smile.” For me it’s finding and thinking the specific analogies and metaphors that work for me so that I can think then execute properly. Sounds very AT, n’est-ce pas? Watch closely as Jean-Pierre Rampal plays. He smiles. So now that my funk is over, and I’ll have lots of time, I’ll be playing lots and lots. And smiling. Oh how I needed that shot in the arm lesson!
For the record, the above photo is of my outside little garden on the window sill where the fire escape is. It was taken this summer. Iconic NYC apartment fixture…a fire escape! I love to grow some flowers and a small amount of herbs…the chives and mint always reappear and to those I add lavender, rosemary, whatever… It’s my little city garden and I love tending to it. I love peering out the window to check it out. I’ll have lots of time in the near future for looking out the window, but now it is autumn and my garden is winding down rapidly.
I have gotten wonderful news! So far all those nasty medical tests I had to undergo have been negative! Later on I have to repeat one just to make sure. But now I am cleared for torn meniscus surgery and this will happen soon. I am making plans for my work hiatus, and arranging to have a table in my apartment suitable for the AT lessons I am planning to have at home while I recuperate. My wonderful friends are rallying around me, helping me to obtain this table. Wouldn’t it be so fine to have an AT teacher putting hands on as I have to do my post operative multiple leg lifts? A senior teacher at my training, one of my wonderful friends, suggested this to me. It must happen! I must experience this! Meanwhile, I am cramming in all the lessons I can fit in before my surgery.
My fortunate news is bittersweet for me, for I know those who might be undergoing great health battles right now. Life is sobering and surreal lots of the time. The tables have turned. I am just facing a knee surgery while others are waiting, hoping, and maybe facing intensive medical treatments. I want to bring them solace by holding hands with them via telephone and texts with the same empathy and caring that I have been receiving!
For the record, two people in the AT community have interviewed me regarding how I came to the technique. First up was Robert Rickover. Here is the podcast. Second up…a written interview with Imogen Ragone. Mille fois merci to Robert and Imogen for their interest and support! Well really, mille fois merci to those in the AT community who are cheering me on! And to all my friends and work colleagues! I’m getting by with lots of help from my friends! At some point, I think I will make a post and list and thank everyone by name! This thought makes me smile. This recuperation will be a different one for me than my others in that now I have my three years of the technique on my side! I am promising with all my might to try not to end-gain on any front: recuperation, pause in training, et al! I will just follow my particular meandering path.
English: Illustration of the pain pathway in René Descartes’ Traite de l’homme (Treatise of Man) 1664. The long fiber running from the foot to the cavity in the head is pulled by the heat and releases a fluid that makes the muscles contract. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Sometime in the spring of 2013 I wrote:
I was at a weekly Alexander Technique lesson, and the sun was streaming through the huge windows of the atelier, and my teacher and I were really shooting the breeze. More than usual. As I was floating up and down from the chair, concentrating on the use of myself, with the guidance of his of hands, I marveled at this scene and how it had become customary for me, and I started to ponder about how the Alexander Technique had come to be so integral to my life.
Here I am, a normally stressed out New Yorker, now with my jangly nervous system slowly but surely calming down. I guess most would say that NYC is a stressful place, but it is what I know and what I am used to. Born and bred, what can I say? It is certainly fast paced, the fastest paced. Great, great energy. The most amazing energy I know. And now, after an AT lesson, I just float out into that energy, refreshed and energized.
What finally led me to the Alexander Technique was abject pain in my neck. What had happened: it was found that I was walking around with severe and dangerous cervical spinal stenosis. I could have been paralyzed at the next possible fall. I had no symptoms whatsoever. The diagnosis was a total surprise. I underwent a laminoplasty: intense neurosurgery on my entire cervical spine. So I now have a fused cervical spine and nifty titanium hardware in my spinal column to keep it open permanently so that my spinal cord can never be crushed again. I have a fancy and mysterious long scar! The surgery was a total success; however I had a long recuperation, and over two years of physical therapy could do nothing for that post-operative pain I found myself in. I lost an inch of height. My modest height of five feet shrank to four feet eleven inches.
Two surgeons and a flutist acquaintance of mine recommended Alexander Technique to me. So I started lessons in the fall of 2010.
My pain evaporated after about a month of lessons. A few months later, I regained my inch of height. Time and lessons went by. I wound up changing teachers. Ah…great fit! Great energy! More time and lessons went by. I wanted more and more lessons…and so to that end I decided that the best thing to do was to undergo the training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. While continuing private lessons, I started my training in the spring of 2013.