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Alexander Technique for Harpists

25 Feb 2018 5:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

~ relieve tension and find freedom at the harp ~

As harpists and musicians, many of us have had experiences of tension, unnatural breathing, or pain in our playing, and long for more freedom, lightness, and fun while making music. Almost everyone struggles with problems such as these at some point along the way - fortunately there is help!

The Alexander Technique offers simple but profound learnings in balance, easeful body use, and mindful breathing and movement. Thousands of musicians (and others) worldwide have found help in regaining the natural ease that is within us.

The Harp Society of New Zealand is sponsoring a visit from Lucy Reeves to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in May 2018.

Lucy Reeves is a professional harpist and a qualified Alexander Technique teacher residing in Brisbane, Australia. Her experience with both disciplines gives her a unique understanding of the stresses we harpists put on our bodies every day, and how we can find a path towards more fluency and relaxation in playing the harp.

Lucy writes, "My Alexander Technique lessons at the Royal College of Music were transformative, a glimpse of another way of living life. They were a 30 minute haven each week where I could go and just Be, a space free of expectation and judgement where I decompressed and emerged with lightness of body and spirit. I would return to my instrument after an Alexander lesson and be able to easily play a tricky passage I'd been struggling with all week. That really got me hooked - - if I could learn and apply a technique to open up my body and become this free of self created tension and limitation all the time, how much better could my music making be? Over the years, living the Technique and later training as a teacher, the fun question to play with has now become, how much more enjoyable can life be?!?"

If you haven't heard of the Alexander Technique, or you are wondering what it can do for you, below are comments from two New Zealand harpists who have worked with Lucy:

"While in Brisbane last year, I took the opportunity to book an Alexander Technique (AT) session with Lucy Reeves. At the end of my hour long session, the sense of release and relief I felt was so strong that memories came flooding back about how I felt at the end of each AT appointment I attended some 30 years before. I was introduced to AT while at university and suffering significant back pain. My regular appointments provided relief from pain and meant I could maintain my daily routine. In the intervening years, I'd forgotten what this felt like. At the end of my time with Lucy, she gave me a sheet setting out the balanced resting state procedure (a 10-15 minute floor based exercise I now frequently do) which helps me to think about my posture and breathing and gradually release accumulated tension in my body. Depending on the time of the day I do this, I'm either ready for a peaceful night's sleep or invigorated for the day ahead!"

"I only had one short session with Lucy which covered AT theory and some application of that to the harp. She was very interesting and helpful about sitting position at the harp. Her experience as a harpist meant that she really knew how the AT fit with my instrument and she gave very personalised advice to help me avoid strain at the harp."

Below are excerpts from the wonderful book, The Alexander Technique for Musicians by Judith Kleinman and Peter Buckoke.

Frederick Matthias Alexander, the creator of the Alexander Technique, came to a clear understanding of some basic truths about being human. He found a way to help us to choose how we react to whatever happens in our lives, consciously rather than automatically.

A few questions Alexander Technique encourages us to ask are:

  • Do you have a habit of mental chatter, while you are practising?
  • Is your habit an obsession with the results rather than the way to achieve the results?
  • Is your habit to screen out your body's feedback?
  • Do you have a habit of thinking that getting things wrong is a failure, rather than a path of learning?

When considering instrumental technique it is very useful to "body map" the the moving parts. To get a sound out of any musical instrument you need to move your body. We are designed to move at joints. What joints are involved in playing your instrument? When you have a clear and accurate perception of where your body is and how it is designed to move, your movements will be fluent and your coordination reliable ... Mapping how the forearm bones move when you play is very influential ... If you think you do not use your legs when you play your instrument, think again.

Whether you are standing or sitting, your legs will contribute to your upper body support. Clear ideas of where your hip joints and sitting bones are ... will improve your chances of playing with your whole body as a coordinated unit.

Particular instrumental issues [for harpists]:

The legs are often rather tense with restricted movement ... The hand shapes are often held in tension when the fingers should be releasing. There is a tendency for... losing connection with the back's natural support.

Selected quotes from music students:

  • I got used to my faulty habits and they soon became normal and "right" to me ... I now know in a profoundly organic, physical way as well as an intellectual way that I simply cannot trust my own sensory awareness and I do need... guidance
  • It took me almost an hour to rediscover the joints on my hands and it felt so enlightening...I can avoid exerting tension on them and prevent recurring injuries
  • Today, I became aware for the first time that when I play, I tilt my head quite far backwards. I have learnt now that this can only hinder my playing by causing the the muscles in my neck to contract

Further information about Alexander Technique can be found at the following websites:

Means Whereby - Lucy and John Reeves based in Brisbane, Australia

Alexander Now - The Alexander Technique for Musicians - Judith Kleinman and Peter Buckoke 

Alexander Technique NZ - AT Teachers in New Zealand

Alexander Technique Workshops in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

Lucy will conduct workshops in New Zealand in May 2018. The workshop, lasting approximately 2.5 hours, will provide an introduction to Alexander Technique followed by principles of Alexander Technique at the harp. 

Each workshop will run for approximately 2.5 hours and dates are:

Auckland - Saturday, 19 May 2018
Wellington - Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Christchurch - Saturday, 26 May 2018
** Location and start times will be advised soon

The price for the workshop is $95 for Harp Society members and $105 for non-members.

Lucy will also be available for private lessons during her time in each city. 

Half hour lesson - $45
45 minute lesson - $67.5
One hour lesson - $90

Click on the link below to complete registration for the workshop nearest you and indicate your interest in booking a private lesson.

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