NATS Chat with James Brody - November 7, 2010

This is the transcript from the November 7, 2010 NATS Chat with James Brody, Alexander Technique Specialist, and host Matthew Hoch. Brody is the co-author of the textbook Rock and Roll: An Introduction, published by Schirmer/Thomson. His degrees are from Indiana University and The Ohio State University. A bibliography of resources provided by James Brody follows the transcript. Please join us for future chats, which are held in the NATS Chat Room on the NATS website. All are welcome to attend.

Matt Hoch: Hi there, James. And welcome!

James Brody: Thank you.

Matt Hoch: I'm hoping that we get a good crowd tonight. Folks often sign in at the last minute.

James Brody: I understand.

Matt Hoch: How are things out in Boulder? I went there for the first time this past May.

Matt Hoch: Hello folks, and welcome to the chat!

James Brody: Unseasonably warm. A bit too dry -- we've had two fires in the foothills a bit too close to downtown. Last year at this time we had already experienced over 20 inches of snow. Nothing so far this year. Golf has been great!

Matt Hoch: It is my privilege to introduce James Brody, a well-known AT specialist to you.

Matt Hoch: James, perhaps some of the other voice teachers here are like me. I know very little about AT technique, but I'm interested in learning more.

Matt Hoch: Can you talk a little about how you first discovered AT, and what benefit it may have for singers and singing teachers?

James Brody: There are some excellent resources. Barbara Conable's books are quite accessible. There is a book by Jane Heirich about Voice and AT. James Jordan is a fan of AT and Body Mapping and has mentioned this work in his writing. There was recently a study published in the British Medical Journal citing the benefits of AT. Once off this chat I could send links to you.

Kristine Hurst: I'd love those links.

Heather R Nelso: Ditto

Matt Hoch: I can send them out to the distribution list if you send those to me, James.

Heather R Nelso: Sweet!

Fay: The book I recommend to my AT and Voice students is Pedro de Alcantara's: AT, a Skill for life!

Kristine Hurst: There's also What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body, right?

Matt Hoch: Just bought that one... Haven't read it yet.

Fay: AMEN to that!

James Brody: I first became interested in AT when Bill Conable came to teach at The Ohio State University when I was an undergraduate student. He taught AT classes and I found the work stimulating. He brought Marjorie Barstow to Columbus. She was one of Alexander's early teacher trainees and was a brilliant, dedicated, direct teacher of the work. Several accidents that were damaging to my back led me to use AT more and more in my everyday life. Eventually I trained to teach. I now lead the Musicians' Wellness Initiative at CU. Check out our web page.

Matt Hoch: I can see we're going to develop a nice bibliography out of this chat!

Fay: It's easy to read, accessible to students and give a thorough discussion of AT's principles.

Exotic Dancer: Yes Matt - I would love the links too

Kristine Hurst: Does Ohio State still have a vibrant AT program?

Fay: Check out www.amsatonline.org for several videos, articles, AmSAT certified teacher's direcdory

James Brody: Yes, Kristine. I happen to have that book still in front of me. It is not strictly about AT but more about Body Mapping, an ancillary and supportive to AT. BM takes no specialized skill to bring forward as it is mostly anatomically-based information. Very helpful -- I encourage all to investigate.

James Brody: Bill Conable has retired from OSU. I believe that Dale Beaver may have taken over there but cannot guarantee that. AmSAT and ATI are the two AT organizations in the U.S. Both have helpful web sites. I would also encourage a visit to the Andover Educators web site for more information on Body Mapping.

Kari Ragan: Brody-I would love to know what you have found personally so helpful in AT?

Matt Hoch: Does Barbara Conable still offer her courses? I knew Janet Alcorn during my time at Hartt and I think she was a practitioner.

Fay: She has retired.

Kristine Hurst: Here's a question: if I wanted to become certified in AT, how/where could I do it? Is there any way I could do it in a sabbatical plus summers? I'd is discouraged, but for folks with "day jobs" (or in my case, semester jobs) there are few alternatives.

Heather R Nelso: Ooh,, that is a great question Kristine!

Fay: Go to amsatonline.org and click on teacher training

James Brody: Sadly, Barbara has retired from teaching. Amy Likar has taken over the reins of Andover Educators, so Body Mapping teaching/training is still ongoing.

Fay: different courses have different training schedules and it pays to check several

Matt Hoch: I'll have to check out the wesbite.

Fay: I just heard of one in NYC which is training year round, to offer more optioins.

Peg: Does the website list periodic classes in different locations?

Rachel V: What is the most important thing, do you think, that singers DON'T know about AT that should be part of their every day routine?

Kari Ragan: Great question Rachel.

Fay: Whispered Ah

Fay: Many people do not know that FM Alex. was originally called the Breathing man

Kristine Hurst: really??

Rachel V: What is the Whispered Ah? and what is it's benefit?

James Brody: To my knowledge, there is not an AmSAT training currently that would accommodate anyone such as a college professor. There are several programs I have seen that offer intensive training programs, i.e. a condensed schedule, e.g. five days each month.

Kristine Hurst: OK

Fay: Indeed and there are AT teachers especially trained in The ARt of Breathing along as post grad AT training.

James Brody: Yes, he was called the "Breathing Man." He was able to help many folks who had breathing issues of all sorts, some declared incurable. Not joking -- don't want his work to sound like patent medicine.

Kristine Hurst: How neat!

Kari Ragan: There's a lot of information so far on where to get training etc. Could we direct the conversation to the practical application of AT for those of us who aren't as versed.

Rachel V: Thanks Kari!

Fay: check out theartofbreathing.net

Matt Hoch: I'm a complete novice to the AT technique. Can you sum it up in a sentence or two? Is it about mostly posture and breathing, or is there more to it? What is most relevant for singers?

Fay: The technique teaches the student to become aware of misuse within the whole mental, physical, self.

James Brody: There may not be "one" most important thing. One of my primary concerns in my teaching is overall balance. I'm not much interested in "posture" per se -- good "posture" is a nice side benefit to good balance. Too many singers do not include their whole spine and their legs in their thinking. Often, when I guide a singer into better alignment throughout their entire spine (especially and including lumbar) and then help them to balance over their legs they are astounded at what they have been missing in terms of access to air and comfort in long phrases.

Peg: cool!

Fay: He then can learn to stop that which is preventing him from reaching his goal, whether it be mental, physical or emotional.

Rachel V: How do you "check" overall balance, and what are some things that can help loosen the lumbar?

Fay: The hands on of guiding the student to become more kinesthetically aware is important in teaching the technique. It's not just about posture, as many think.

James Brody: I am a novice at chatting -- sorry if I am late or not getting to everyone's questions. The AT is a tool for becoming more aware of what we are doing in any activity. I like to say that it is as much about thinking as it is about movement (and vice versa). I guide my students movements with my hands; eventually, they are able to take themselves into better balance through their thinking. Alexander talked about the latter as "Constructive Conscious Control."

Kristine Hurst: Jim, what's your take?

Kristine Hurst: Thinking IN activity!

Fay: Yes, conscious control is absolutely right.... every moment in activity or not.

Matt Hoch: James, what one resource might you recommend to the raw Alexander beginner? (Book, website, article, etc.)

Robert Petillo: I went to theartofbreathing.net and see there is a workshop this coming weekend in New York....but no location or time, and no clickable link for the event. Does anyone happen to know the details?

Fay: The workshop this next weekend is a workshop for AT teachers who have been trained to teach breathing coordination.

Fay: I do believe that Jessica does offer other workshops and has presented at other voice confrences

Kristine Hurst: Wouldn't it be great if they offered one for students?

James Brody: One of the most helpful procedures anyone can engage in is Constructive Rest. Active rest, lying down work -- also terms used to describe this. I will have a picture and description up on the Wellness web site soon. In the meantime -- lie on your back on the floor, your head on a few paperback books (for support -- head needs to be a bit off the floor -- no pillows -- too cushy). Knees up. Hands on abdomen (somewhere between base of rib structure and top of pelvis. There are a number of things you can do beyond this (see Missy Vineyard's book) but just RESTING with some deliberate thought given to it is a great idea. After all, when a dog gets tired, what does it do? What do we humans, with our grand pre-frontal cortex do when we're tired and we have things we "must" do?

Robert Petillo: Aha. Well, that wouldn't be me.

Fay: I offer them for students...

James Brody: To finish: who is smarter, us or the dog?

Rachel V: Definitely the dog....

Kristine Hurst: duh...

Fay: The lie down is indeed, really really important; the pausing and awareness!

Rachel V: That sounds much like the Farinelli's exercise that Richard Miller was such a proponent of...

James Brody: There are several good introductions to AT. Michael Gelb's "Body Learning", Barbara Conable's "How to Learn the Alexander Technique" are two. Very different approaches, but both good. Missy Vineyard's "How You Stand, How You Move..." is excellent, incorporating a bit of neuroscience into the mix. We are seeing more and more scientific evidence that Mr. Alexander was really on to something important.

Exotic Dancer: yes

Rachel V: But, less active & more aware

Kristine Hurst: Could you talk a bit about AT in the gym? I've been working with a trainer and am seeing real progress, and would like to be sure I'm not only doing things well by his standards, but also by yours, Jim.

James Brody: One more thing that I recommend to my students: take breaks. This is an old saw, I know, but we now have hard evidence for this. If we go all out for 60 minutes, we might accomplish what we could term "1x." If we take ten minutes out of that 60 for other activities, there is an excellent chance we can accomplish "2x." Neurons get tired, too.

Peg: OK

Kristine Hurst: I have reminded my students of that and they are RAVING about the results. When they listen to that advice, that is...

Robert Petillo: Aging teaches that pretty well, too.

Kristine Hurst: true...

James Brody: I suggest to my "pumped up" friends that they simply be very attentive to the process. Alexander talked about end-gaining: the act of attempting to achieve a goal with no attention to the means. Exercise is great -- over-tightening your neck to accomplish it may not be so.

Kristine Hurst: Point.

Fay: I teach AT to music students at a small college. Without exception they have reported that they handle stress and their entire scheedules with more ease.

Kristine Hurst: My guy is very attentive to my form, but it;s a good reminder that I'm the one who needs to be attentive to my neck.

Kristine Hurst: Yes, I've found that too. My life has CHANGED since I became a regular at the gym.

James Brody: Really excellent thinking goes a long way. Most of us fall into habits of behavior about which we are not aware. AT can help us to become more aware of both our thinking and our physical means. Alexander talked about his work as psycho-physical re-education. Good words.

Kristine Hurst: Indeed!

Peg: Would someone who has never really done Alexander be better off beginning with a class or some private lessons?

Fay: Right on!

Rachel V: Or reading a book?

Kristine Hurst: I'd highly suggest Jim's summer class in Boulder. You get the best of both worlds.

Fay: AT is always best and was meant to be private lessons and one should have at least two. But sometimes a class can be a good introduction. Never from reading a book.

Rachel V: Thanks!

Fay: I was introduced to AT at a week-long emmersion at Westminster Choir college and in retrospect it was a wonderful over view and education about the tech.

Kristine Hurst: I went to Westminster. Who taught it?

James Brody: Alexander did most of his work with individuals. Gradually, work in classes has become more accepted. I find that there is so much information I can provide that if I were only teaching individuals I would be saying the same things over and over and over. As with many pursuits, the precepts are perhaps more effectively absorbed when you have individual attention. Think about an individual voice lesson vs. a class -- similar.

Robert Petillo: Good stuff, folks. Getting late here, so good night.

Fay: I also find that duet lessons in AT can be very beneficial.

James Brody: Apologies but I disagree about the "never reading from a book." Alexander wrote a good bit and many people were exposed to his ideas very successfully. Again, just as with many pursuits, individual attention can be vital. In my classes, everyone gets individual attention, just not hands on for an entire hour.

Fay: I don't believe that AT can be learned from a book; although books can give great information. I only mean that one can not really learn AT by getting a book and never seeing an AT teacher,.

Kristine Hurst: I loved the classes, and found that, even when I repeated the course a year later, I still learned (and re-learned) new things. I also learned differently according to who was in the class.

James Brody: I encourage music teachers to have resources at hand. This might include one of Barbara Conable's books (see her book "The Structures and Movement of Breathing" , anatomical charts and the like.

Fay: Yes, indeed, I also believe that classes can be very useful and well taught. with a combination of discussion and hands on and students working on themselves.

Matt Hoch: There seem to be a lot of AT classes out there, but not too many that focus on AT for the musician or singer. Is yours the only one?

Fay: Yes, FM's The Use of the Self, is probably the most "readable" by students. My first class at Westminster used that.

James Brody: As with many pursuits (including singing!), there are multiple layers to Alexander's work. Some view it as a purely bio-mechanical process. He didn't -- he understood that in order to change the way we move, we must change the way we think.

Fay: Absolutely!! What a concept!!!

James Brody: Any perceptive AT teacher will be able to help any musician as what we work on first is the whole "package", not just the musician. Many of the issues we have as musicians may not necessarily stem from, say, poor vocal technique, but overall poor use of the body.

Fay: You can go to the events page on amsatonline.org to find classes. But, unfortunately most of them are in the most populated places, NYC, SF Bay area, etc.

James Brody: That being said, I am fortunate to have worked with several thousand musicians over the course of my teaching career and have some good information on what our habits are and how we might go about changing them.

Fay: I agree James.

James Brody: Some typical habits of singers: (1) pressing forward in the lumbar spine. Please do not ask your students to "tuck their pelvis" if this is one of their habits. That will add even more tension, as they are already compressing their spine by pulling down. Why do two things when you only want to not do the first?

Fay: Lately I have had several students with new insight about "finding" their feet!

Fay: Pretty simple, but to them it made the difference.

Matt Hoch: Do you have any specific advice regarding reconciling "appoggio" with AT?

James Brody: (2) Dragging the head back and down (typical of us all), pressing forward and gasping to breathe. Much of this can be addressed by watching oneself in the mirror.

James Brody: Appoggio and AT -- this is an interesting issues and one that would take more time than my fingers can take! However, if you read Conable's "The Structures and Movement of Breathing" and then any source on appoggio, comparing is interesting. I feel it is important to allow the natural process of breathing to occur without deleterious interference. While we need "support" most of us "clench" instead. Experimenting with this is important -- how much efforting DO we need?

Matt Hoch: Appoggio is an especially hard concept to teach too, IMO.

Kari Ragan: So does AT not support the idea of external intercostal expansion?

Rachel V: Can you think of the appoggio as a buoyancy of the diaphragm? Will this help keeping the "clench" out of it?

James Brody: I'm not certain what "external intercostal expansion" means -- please help.

Matt Hoch: Expansion of the ribs during inhalation, right?

Matt Hoch: And the maintaining thereof during exhalation.

James Brody: The diaphragm is essentially an involuntary muscle, so I'm not certain how we can provide "buoyancy" there -- again, perhaps some help!

Kari Ragan: Yes, Matt. As defined by McCoy as one of the two primary muscles of inhalation.

James Brody: Intercostal muscles provide about 25% of the muscular effort in breathing. (The diaphragm the other 75%.) If we do not allow our rib structure to move (all the way around -- front, sides, back to the extent that it can) we will not be achieving full excursion. In my experience, what happens is that singers/wind players will over-engage voluntary muscles thinking that somehow that will help -- over-tensing abdominals, squeezing this or that. We're not toothpaste tubes. The spine wants to lengthen on exhalation.

Rachel V: I recommend to my students that they feel a buoyancy of the system, right around where the diaphragm is (although it, in itself, is not actually under our direct control)...this seems to help them engage without locking.

Matt Hoch: Just the four minute warning bell... Any final questions for Prof. Brody?

Matt Hoch: This has been wonderful!

James Brody: I'm a fan of whatever works, especially if it is based in fact. I have heard a lot "folk lore" in my teaching career!

Rachel V: Definitely things to think about & take away - esp. just being aware and mentally on top of ourselves, while giving permission to take short breaks rather than push through....

Fay: Thank you, James. Enough cannot be said about the movement of the ribcage in breathing. I have found that students are not taught to exhale, but instead concentrate on conserving air. FM's procedure of whispered AH is a singer's best friend.

Kari Ragan: Good-night all. Thank-you Professor Brody.

Rachel V: Good night!

Fay: thank you for bring AT to the discussion... Matt and James.

James Brody: Seek balance, not posture. Poise is a nice word. The spine lengthens in all vertebrates in efficient movement. Take breaks. Challenge your most sincerely held thinking on occasion. Accept the current condition of your coordination AND make decisions about where you would like to direct yourself. It is never too late to change. Have fun -- why did we get into this in the first place?!?

Matt Hoch: Thank you so much, James! This was great.

James Brody: Nice to chat with all of you. Matt -- please remind me of the items I can provide to you (via email) and I will do so. Bibliography, links, and the like. All best wishes to all of you. Keep your thinking moving!

Matt Hoch: Goodnight to all!

Matt Hoch: Definitely--I will send you an e-mail in the morning.

Fay: Ciao!

Alexander Technique Bibliography

Find below a non-comprehensive list of books related to movement, body awareness, and the Alexander Technique. If you cannot find them in your local bookstore, try [amazon.com] or [alexandertech.org] on line. (* May be ordered direct from Andover Press: 4427 N. Willis Blvd. Portland OR 97203.) My very minimalist web site for links to helpful AT sites: http://spot.colorado.edu/~brody/

Alexander, F. M.The Use of the Self. Orion, 2002.

Anderson, Bob. Stretching. New York: Random House, 1980.

Bloch, Michael. F.M.: The Life of Frederick Matthias Alexander: Founder of the Alexander Technique. London: Little/Brown, 2004.

Calais-Germain, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle WA: Eastland Press, 1993.

Caplan, Deborah. Back Trouble: A New Approach to Prevention and Recovery Based on the Alexander Technique. Gainesville FL: Triad Publishing Co., 1987.

Conable, Barbara. How to Learn the Alexander Technique, 3d ed. Portland OR: Andover Press, 1995.

Feldenkrais, Moshe. Awareness Through Movement: Easy-to-Do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture, Vision, Imagination, and Personal Awareness. New York: HarperCollins, 1977.

Gelb, Michael. Body Learning: An Introduction to the Alexander Technique. 3d ed. London: Aurum Press, 1994.

Gray, John. The Alexander Technique: A Complete Course in How to Hold and Use Your Body for Maximum Energy. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1990.

Jones, Frank Pierce. Freedom to Change: Development and Science of the Alexander Technique. (originally Body Awareness in Action). London: Mouritz, 1997.

Maisel, Edward, ed. The Alexander Technique: The Essential Writings of F. Matthias Alexander. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1990.

Vineyard, Missy. How You Stand, How You Move, How You Live: Learning the Alexander Technique to Explore Your Mind-Body Connection and Achieve Self-Mastery. New York: Marlow & Co., 2007

Addressed to musicians

Conable, Barbara. The Structures and Movement of Breathing: A Primer for Choirs and Choruses. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2000

Conable, Barbara. What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body. Portland OR: Andover Press, 1998.

de Alcantara, Pedro. Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.

Heirich, Jane. Voice and the Alexander Technique. Berkeley CA: Mornum Time Press, 2005.

Horvath, Janet: Playing Less Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians. MMB Music Inc., St. Louis, 2002.

Malde, Melissa, et. al. What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body. Plural Publishing, Inc., 2008.

Mark, Thomas. What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body. GIA Publications, 2003.

Norris, Richard, M.D. The Musician's Survival Manual: A Guide to Preventing and Treating Injuries in Instrumentalists. St. Louis MO: MMB Music, 1993.

Pearson, Lea. Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Player Needs to Know About the Body. Columbus OH: Flutibia, 2002.

Intermezzo