Wren, Again*

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Singers! So much to learn. Start with a wren in song. No better example of full embodiment and whole-body singing exists. The wren serenades were an on-going feature of last week’s visit to the hill. A wren pair were even attempting to build a nest in the front porch rafters, but with little to no overhead space in their chosen spot, project was abandoned.

The cabin is surrounded with young oaks, and their boughs are a favorite song perch for the wrens. Petite creatures that they are, I recommend a pair of binoculars nearby for quick access when the piercingly sweet melody begins. Bring binocs to eyes and follow the sound. With magnification, you will see the wee body lengthen just prior to the tiny beak opening for the first salvo of sound. Take note. That’s precisely what we need to be about in preparation for our singing.

Stay alert, and you will observe the wren’s throat pulse with the trills, its entire body engaged in singing, much like a baby who responds to your voice with arms and legs akimbo and in motion. (3-month-old Vivi visited yesterday with her mother, doing this very thing.)

Life is our teacher each and every moment; availing ourselves of the lessons, our choice.  Let beauty and amazement teach you today—

*Click here for previous Bird Life post.

 

Feelin’ Groovy

 

Paul Simon, backstage with Stephen Colbert, tells him the tune is ‘naive,’ and not appropriate for 2017. ‘I don’t like it,’ he added. And having watched a 1982 Central Park concert video of Simon and Garfunkel performing The 59th Street Bridge Song, I believe him. They were tepid at best, seeming to force themselves through it, while the crowd roared. I’m with the crowd.

Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last, just—skippin’ down the cobblestones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.’

Feelin’ Groovy takes me back to days when all was new and fresh and everything was possibility. I’ve been hearing it in my mind’s ear this spring, most likely due to thinking about haste vs. hurry, and perhaps as antidote to a sobering American political era. Colbert changed-up the lyrics, and a few belly laughs later, I was glad to have found this present-day twist on an old favorite.

Slow down, you move too fast.‘ That was me years ago, and not much has changed with age. Now, although fingers will not zip those zippers nearly so quickly, and opening cans is a monumental chore, I still strive mightily for speed. Anything less is an annoyance, an affront.

Taking to heart the song lyrics, I’m choosing* to make my way through this day reveling in spring glory in the midst of tasks, pausing** between each one to sing, ‘Life, I love you. All is groovy.’

*Choice: a primary practice of the Alexander Technique. Having observed our habits of use, we can choose what to keep and what to change. 

**The Pause: Also called ‘Inhibition,’ it’s the space between stimulus and response. In the interval, the AT practitioner has options, i.e.–choice, much preferable to a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’

‘Engage!’

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Often the last word of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Engage! Delivered by Patrick Stewart in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, he is directing the ship to begin its next adventure.

Patrick Stewart has a gesture that partners the verbal command. With a forward movement of the forearm, hand beautifully aligned, fingers lightly together, he speaks and gestures, simultaneously. I never fail to relish this delivery of Stewart’s, which embodies both the captain’s confident, inquisitive character and the excitement of space travel, all in one sweep of the arm.

Play a little Alexander Technique self-observation game with yourself. Watch, with a spirit of kindness, gestures you habitually use. When in conversation, I often run a hand through my pixie cut head-of-hair.  I’m guessing it’s a bit of self-soothing, being an introvert at heart, and an extrovert by training. The hand tracing my head’s surface also gives me a tactile sense of its circumference, a kinesthetic awareness essential to optimal balance of head on spine.

Self-observation was Mr. Alexander’s primary path to developing the Technique. Using mirrors and carefully observing habits of use gave valuable insight into his acting skills.  He discovered his best stage performances integrated mind and body, what he came to term ‘The Self.’ He no longer suffered from vocal fatigue and hoarseness. He left his acting career, instead devoting himself to assisting other thespians, and also musicians, dancers, and professional writers in pursuing their art with greater ease.

Initially, I studied the Alexander Technique at the recommendation of a teaching colleague, after falling on ice-covered concrete steps. Pain was a constant companion, and the Technique gave me a way to recover well-being, after all medical options had been considered and tried.

With the easing of physical discomforts,  I then found the Technique an excellent  practice for living in the present moment, and for this too, I love Picard’s pronouncement. ‘Engage! Live! Be Here!’ Full-out living, fully present. It’s my wish for you and for me on this last day of Winter.

 

Once More

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I have missed writing for Poise and Presence! And so….here’s a post written on returning from a recent workshop.

It was a winter Saturday afternoon at Ohio University’s Alexander Technique Audition Workshop. Singers were delighted with the resonant, full, and free sounds emerging from their mouths. The primary question was, ‘How do I keep this?’

The answer? ‘You don’t.’ Attempts to keep,  codify, cement, solidify; all fail. Why? Because they require stasis, and fine singing with good use requires movement and change.

Then. If it isn’t possible to keep a glorious sound forever, what are the options? For starters, come back to the present moment in which you find yourself. The magnificent singing is over, but this moment is yours. Claim it. Get out of your head, out of the loop which is replaying the past, that past when you sang your best ever. It’s gone. The sound waves have moved on.

Utilize the magnificent power of your cognition to think well in present time. Alright. Back here. Back to now. Returning to feet in my pink velvet heels. (Yes, a student was wearing a pair. Loved them!) Inviting length and width, merely by thinking of them.

And about those habits of use: right arm pulling in toward ribs, torso torquing to the left, thorax over-arched and off-balance with the pelvis. Note them, and be inquisitive. What might happen if you simply stop with the arm pull, the torquing torso, the over-arching spine?  What if there is no attempt to fix, but rather a decision to ‘NOT DO’?

Then sing. Watch. Observe. Feel. Fully engage yourself in the experimentation that is required to hone your singing craft. You’ll produce yet another glorious sound, particular to this moment.

Thank you, Ohio University vocalists. It was a lovely afternoon. Always give yourself one more chance. Once more, with feeling! Once more with presence, and yes, poise.

Standing Still

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thrush, photo courtesy of pixabay

With new walking poles in hand, I traipse through the pine woods on an enchanted April morning. Meandering over the animal trails, I eventually pause in a small forest opening, catching a glimpse of a thrush hiding in low branches, waiting me out.

How often do we get to be face-to-face with a bird? That’s what happened next.  He studied me carefully, decided I was no threat, and continued his routine, hopping along the pine needle carpet, his beady black eyes intent.

Let’s redefine what it might mean to stand still. When I’m teaching choristers, they are encouraged to observe the support of their feet.  From there, they can let the body move ever so slightly in a figure-eight pattern.  These micro-movements prevent fatigue and fainting, both a hazard for choral singers who often stand in place for long periods of time.

Standing still in this lively way brought so much more of the world to my notice.  On leaving the forest opening by the same path, I now saw spring beauties, the bleached jawbone of a woods creature, a wooly-worm, and heard a deer snort nearby.  None of these wonders were in my field of attention on arrival.

Whether bird watching, singing, or waiting in line at the grocery, remind yourself that standing still can bring the world to you, and does not require freezing in place. May a few moments of lively stillness be yours today—-

 

 

Moss on the North Side

‘A home with moss growing is a happy home.’  —Marth’s mother.

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photo courtesy of pixabay

Moss grows on the north side of our city home and also the cabin on the hill.  Green loveliness even in winter months, if it stays mild as it has this season.  Other markers of a happy home?  A well-swept front porch. Rooms that receive natural light. The scent of cinnamon. A tea kettle in frequent use.

And the happy domicile equivalent of the body?  You’d be surprised.  Quiet is a good indicator.  I’m referring to the sounds of walking, climbing and descending stairs, in-and-out-of-chairs.

As an Alexander Technique teacher, I’ve been astonished at how much I rely on my ears to assess a student’s use.  Certainly the auditory sense was front-and-center as a voice teacher, but I had no idea the ears would be so important to my AT teaching as well.

Sweep the porch of your Body/Mind.  Receive light and love with the open window of your heart. Surround yourself with a pleasing scent. Sip tea. No need to seek quiet as a goal. That would be what FM called ‘end-gaining.’ AT teacher, Pedro de Alcantara, has this to say about end-gaining: ‘to go directly for an end (a goal) causes a misuse of the self which makes the end (goal) unattainable.’ (quote from Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique)

Peace and quiet with soft moss underfoot is my wish for you this fine day, both in your body-home, which the Elizabethans called the ‘bone house,’  and in your shelter-home.

 

 

 

 

Monkey

 

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1960’s pop-band, The Monkees

The very day I sat myself down to write to you about Monkey, I came across a news story of a former Pennsylvania church burning to the ground.  This building was intended to become a ‘museum’ of all things Davey Jones and The Monkees.  Well.  Can’t pass up that serendipity, so here they are! Adorable.  Love the turtlenecks.  This news story took me back to my teeny-bopper days, when Jones had me and many other pre-adolescent girls swooning.  (He’s the one bottom left.)

The Monkey  found in Alexander- Technique-Land is ‘a position of mechanical advantage.’  Beware of the word ‘position,’ as it does not refer to fixity, but rather to a human movement pattern.

Ohio University singers have taken  ‘Monkey’ and run with it this fall, or rather, sung with it.  And to great good effect.  What is it and why does its use result in ease and freedom?

Monkey consists of allowing the hips to move back in space, torso (with head leading) is ever-so-slightly forward of the hip joints, which brings the arms forward of the legs and torso, able to swing freely in jungle-monkey-fashion.  A picture (or two, or three) is worth a thousand words:

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Optimal use of structure, allowing just the amount of exertion needed to move the cog.

 

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Head/torso forward of hips/legs provides balance. 

 

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a deeper Monkey, propelling the bowling ball to the pins

Play with Monkey the next time you find yourself standing at the kitchen sink.  (Thanks, Alex!)  Observe what this ‘position of mechanical advantage’ gives your back, arms, and neck.  Work with your structure and hopefully find yourself a little bit of ease——