I was always very interested and fascinated by the Alexander Technique. I've heard about it, the first time, at the Royal Academy of London, where the Technique is one of the integrated disciplines in the musical training. So I met Claudio Jacomucci to ask him some questions about this famous ri-educative technique of movement and his experience as an accordionist and teacher.
Q: What is the Alexander Technique?
A: It is a methode to correct and improve the way we use ourselves (our body and mind) in daily activities. It helps us to increase our coordination, to minimize the tension, to not react unconsciously and impulsively to stimuli and to prevent physic discomfort and troubles. In short, it gives to ourselves more conscious control on everything we do.
Q: What kind of problems a musician meets playing his instrument, in this case the accordion?
A: If we take as example the accordion playing and its problems.
Let's start from the support: even with the "correct" mechanics or a suitable position of the instrument in relation to its performer, in order to support its weight we react stiffening or collapsing the thorax. This makes the spine shorten and reduces the breathing capacity.
The ordinary activity of the bellows (open and close it) usually provokes the twisting of the shoulders and the thorax (specially at the moment of changing direction of the bellows) with an increased tension of the neck and so the thorax (holding the breath). This inadequate postural support and its rigidity reaches the limbs, arms and legs, stiffening wrists and creating a limitation for the freedom of the fingers.
Then, other specific problems come into playing, as the articulation, the big jumps, fortissimo sonorities, difficult and "impossible" passages, the bellows shake and other techniques. To all that, we can add problems such as sittings for hours during the daily practising (often embracing heavy instruments) and the inevitable impact with the audience (stage fright).
Many musicians (like many people who professionally use their body in intense and ripetitive activities) meet serious troubles with their backs, hips, shoulders and don't have a reliable means to solve them, except the medical or surgical one.
Q: What is a lesson like and how can you apply the Technique to playing?
A: First of all, it's important to remember that musicians are individuals. Their principal instrument isn't the object in which the blow or the key they touch but their psycho-physical mechanism, it is to say the mind and the body and the way they use them.
During a lesson, the teacher ask the pupil to perform a simple act (such as sitting or standing up from a chair); the teacher guides with his hands this movement and try to make the pupil aware of the way she is interfering with her primary mechanism (her natural poise).
Alexander discovered that from the coordination of neck-head-back depends the freedom and the balance of the general movement.
The teacher then encourages his pupil not to react impulsively to the stimuli of doing something and help her to perform the act with an increased freedom, coordination and control, making use of thought during the act. This is the most important thing: to stop and think within the act, not after (or at all!).
When the pupil is able to mantain this thought, she can start dealing with more complex activities mantaing also her expansion and elesticity.
Q: Where does the technique come from?
A: F.M.Alexander was an Australian actor (1869-1955) who was forced to leave the scene because of the loss of his voice during his recitals. After many years of investigation, he found out that the cause of his trouble was the way he was using "himself" and that it was affecting also his general physiological functioning.
The Alexander Technique does't teach any new skill: the efficiency of our psycho-physical unity is innate; we can observe the grace and the elasticity which children (up to 4 years old) move with.
Q: Can you say that your personal experience in music has changed? The AT principle has affected your musical conception?
A: If music is the art of communication through the sound and not a game of criticism and competition, if during a performance we are able to communicate a touching experience, then I believe it is a nonsense to let our bad habits build a barrier against a forgotten instinct.
To many people the word "technique" is synonymous of "virtuoso or dizzy" but I think that the technique is a whole of expressive recourses that allows musicians to freely conceive an interpretation without adapting the musical will to his own limations. Tasting every sound, every phrase, every subtle variations of musical "direction" is becoming more and more a recurrent experience.
Q: What are your projects at the moment?
A: I moved to Umbria, I live in Orvieto. I teach the Alexander Technique and hold workshops for musicians (including accordionistes!), actors and dancers in different institues and as an invited teacher in Italy and abroad.
There are various musical projects which they will come up in some months, like the presentation of the duet with Antonio Politano (accordion and recorders), the collaborations with different european composer and various premieres.
Thank you Claudio. I wish you good luck and lots of fun in your work.
Amsterdam, February 2001
Jakob Ter Leeuw