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*The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, London, England (www.stat.org.uk)

Welcome

This site contains a selection of my writings on the Alexander Technique and music-related subjects, including an introductory interview, articles for teachers published by Statbooks, Statnews, and AmSAT News, my masters thesis, unpublished pieces for students, and revisions of my articles on Carl Petkoff and his approach to flute vibrato and my study with master oboist Fernand Gillet that were previously published in The Flutist Quarterly. You will also find an announcement of the publication of my recent translation of The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach (1907) by French musicologist André Pirro.

Under "Invention Activity" there is a description of an article about a new model of violin/viola shoulder rest that I have developed over the last thirty years in conjunction with my teaching of the Alexander Technique to professional musicians: Developing the Portabene Shoulder Rest by Applying the Principles of the Alexander Technique to Violin/Viola Shoulder Rest Ergonomics

 

THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
 
In brief, the Alexander Technique is a hands-on educational and therapeutic psychophysical method that teaches a system of self-awareness and self-management for use in daily life as well as in activities that require superlative control. Developed over one hundred years ago, it has proven very effective for dealing with excessive tension, anxiety, and stress as it cultivates a positive life-attitude and a thoughtful, non-aggressive approach to whatever we want to accomplish. Experiencing the subtle and non-invasive hands-on work from a skilled teacher and learning to apply the principles of the Technique in all aspects of living lays the basis for us to function as a unified whole, dispelling the common misconceptions of human activity as being either physical, mental, spiritual, or some combination of these that still sees them as separate functions.
 
Sometimes the Alexander Technique is presented merely as a method for understanding and improving movement and carriage—which it certainly can do—but well trained and experienced Alexander teachers can often bring about a remarkable change in the working of their students'  musculature in motion and at rest through the subtle, non-invasive skill they have gained in using their hands. A good deal of this change is brought about primarily in traditional, one-to-one Alexander lessons during "chair work" and "table work" while the student applies Alexander's principles of inhibition and direction of the neck-head-torso-limb dynamic as a complement to what is being received from the teacher's hands, whose effectiveness is uniquely dependent upon the dynamics of the teacher's own neck-head-torso-limb direction from moment to moment. F. M. Alexander (1869–1955), the founder of the method, was known to have been able to use his hands to bring about astounding changes in the supportive function of his students' and trainees' musculature in a very short period of time, but learning to use one's hands in that unique and exacting way demands a long training period in order to achieve even minimal effectiveness. It's a remarkable attainment that fully trained Alexander teachers usually go on refining throughout their lives.
 
However, as with most skills, there can also be varying degrees of it: some teachers may have developed a superlative ability in the use of their hands to create alterations in the supportive action of a student's musculature that lead to its more balanced operation, while others may be less effective or inept at it, even if they have completed a traditional, full-time three-year training. In addition, a student's "availability" for learning to incorporate the principles of the Technique and for receiving the hands-on work from a teacher also comes into play in the lessons. This availability can be hindered by obstacles that Alexander often found to be in his students' and trainees' way, such as their degree of faulty sensory appreciation, their fixed prejudices, their pre-conceived ideas, their uncontrolled emotions, their undue self-determination and  end-gaining attitudes, their too quick and unthinking responses, their tendency to follow the herd instinct, the conditions of undue tension or flaccidity in the musculature that supports them in relation to gravity, and the general level of stress in their lives—all of which may be altered dramatically during a course of lessons.*
 
*This description of the Alexander Technique was corroborated by various senior Alexander teacher colleagues trained on courses established by members of The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique in London, England.
 
Quote from F. Matthias Alexander's third book, The Use of the Self, "Evolution of a Technique," Methuen & Co., London:1932, p. 3:
 
". . . when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of 'body' and 'mind' as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties, and shortcomings could be classified as either 'mental' or 'physical' and dealt with on specifically 'mental' or specifically 'physical' lines. My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate 'mental' and 'physical' processes in any form of human activity."
                                                
 
 
 

For a more complete description of the Alexander Technique, see: THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE: A TALK WITH JOE ARMSTRONG.

 

MY MUSICAL EXPERIENCE AND RELATED ACTIVITIES

As a flutist I hold a Master of Arts degree in music, having studied with Carl Petkoff at Illinois Wesleyan Universtiy (1962-1964), Alex Murray at the National Music Camp (1965 & 1966), and with Boston Symphony principal oboist, Fernand Gillet while I attended Tufts University (1973-1975). From 1966 to 1969 I played in the U.S. Army Field Band, the Pentagon's touring concert band, and while living in Boston I have performed in recitals and chamber music concerts with a number of the professional musicians I have taught.

I recently completed an English translation of French musicologist Andre Pirro's 1907 book, The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach, which has been published by Rowman & Littlefield. Here is more information about the book and Pirro http://joearmstrong.info/Pirro.html . You may order the book online at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442232907 . Chapter two of my translation appeared in the the Riemenschneider Institute's BACH Journal, Volume XLI, No. 1, 2010, and you may read extended passages from the book at http://www.books.google.com . My primary motivation for translating the book is that I found it far more compelling and exacting than Albert Schweitzer's two-volume work on Bach written at the same time. And I hoped, mainly, that the translation would be of great interest to performers as a guide for interpreting Bach's works through the remarkable understanding that Pirro has shown for Bach's composition of the music to illustrate the enormous range of feelings embodied in the lyrics of his many cantatas and oratorios.

Here is a quote from a review by Raul da Gama of The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach in "The World Music Report," September 3, 2014:

In the Finding of a Masterpiece
 
"André Pirro’s classic, The Aesthetic of Johann Sebastian Bach brings to life the aesthetic of the master who changed all music since Palestrina, creating a German Renaissance that paved the way for Ludwig Van Beethoven and Richard Wagner. But this book is a triumph not only for its author, but for Joe Armstrong, the man who brings to this translation a nuanced sense of rhythm that captures Mr. Pirro’s subtle cadences in a book of great technicality and breathtakingly beautiful prose."
 
 

INVENTION ACTIVITY

For the last twenty years, I have developed and have patented a radical new design for a violin and viola shoulder rest based on my Alexander teaching experience. Several of my professional violinist and violist students have been closely involved in the testing of it, including the late Janet Packer, violinist and Chair of Strings at Longy School of Music; freelance violinist Moby Pearson (formerly of the Apple Hill Chamber Players and the Atlanta Chamber players); freelance violinist Mark Latham (conductor of various orchestras in the New England area and recent recipient of a doctorate in conducting at the University of Michigan); Julie Leven (violinist with Boston Baroque Orchestra, Handel & Haydn Society, the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, and recent  founder of Shelter Music Boston); and Boston freelance violist and viola teacher Jenny Shallenberger. The invention has reached the prototype stage, and I am looking for an investor or manufacturer to take the next steps toward production and distribution. I continue to receive enquiries about the design from players around the world, and many say that they are still quite dissatisfied with all current shoulder rests on the market. This dissatisfaction was affirmed by a survey I made of 320 upper string-playing members of the Boston Musicians Union, most of whom said they would be particularly interested in a new design based on the principles of the Alexander Technique.

Read more about the problem and the solution in my article:

Developing the Portabene Shoulder Rest by Applying the Principles of the Alexander Technique to Violin/Viola Shoulder Rest Ergonomics

 

Recently added (January, 2015):

A presentation Rosanna Warren and I gave of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem L’Après-midi d’un Faune in combination with a solo flute adaptation of Claude Debussy’s musical composition Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune. It was performed at the Editorial Institute of Boston University on April 28, 2010, for a meeting of the local chapter of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers. The web page to which you can link above includes sound files of the performance and a transcript of the ensuing discussion of the artistic and historical aspects connecting the two works.
 
This collaboration with poet, author, and professor, Rosanna Warren grew from our many years of work together in applying the principles of the Alexander Technique to reciting poetry, which she does often in public readings of her own and other poets’ works. Although I have frequently used poetry recitation with most of my Alexander students to help them experience and understand the basic principles underlying Alexander’s concepts of breathing and vocal production,* it was especially rewarding and inspiring to work on these aspects so extensively with Rosanna, since she could choose from a multitude of poems in both English and French that she knows by heart.
 
Our discussions in her Alexander lessons often focused on connections and differences between musical and poetic expressiveness, and we frequently touched upon the idea that her experience teaching Mallarmé’s poem L’Après-midi d’un Faune in her university French poetry classes might someday materialize into a presentation of the
poem that could be illustrated by a solo flute rendition of Debussy’s music based upon it. Eventually, from all the work we had done together, the time seemed ripe, and one day when were discussing the idea again, Rosanna said, “Let’s do it.” She scheduled us for a meeting of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers, which turned out to be an ideal setting. We hope that this record of the event will be of interest to both literary and musical audiences.
 

 

 
       MUSICAL COLLABORATION AND TRANSCRIBING
 
Over the last five years I have collaborated with with clarinetist, Liz Leehey   http://www.elizabethleehey.com/index.html in creating thirty-some  transcriptions for flute and clarinet of non-woodwind literature—including numerous arias and duets from operas and Bach cantatas and chamber music for strings and piano. You can find and purchase most of our transcriptions for flute and clarinet through Sheet Music Plus at  http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/publishers/joe-armstrong-and-liz-leehey-sheet-music/3005055, Van Cott Information Services at http://www.vcisinc.com/woodwindmusic.htm#WW314 , and at Musica Neo http://joearmstrongandlizleehey.musicaneo.com/
 

 

MY ALEXANDER EXPERIENCE

I had my first lessons in the Alexander Technique from Joan Murray at the National Music Camp in the summers of 1965 and 1966, where I also met and had lessons with Walter Carrington. Between 1966 and 1969, I had additional lessons with Joan Murray, as well as with Frank Pierce Jones and Rika Cohen. From 1969 to 1972 I trained to become an Alexander teacher in London with Walter and Dilys Carrington and Peggy Williams, and after that I moved to Boston where I also worked intensively with Frank Pierce Jones from 1973 to 1975 while attending Tufts University and conducting the research on the Alexander Technique in musical performance that is described in my masters thesis:  http://www.joearmstrong.info/JoeThesis.html . For over forty years I specialized in teaching the Alexander Technique to musicians and other performing artists in the Boston area, where I also directed an Alexander teacher training course from 1977 to 1988. During my Alexander teaching I have collaborated with Alexander teachers Kitty Wielopolska, Chariclia Gounaris, Vivien Mackie, Don Burton, Jean Clark, Nelly Ben-Or, David Perrigo, and Larry Carter. In 2014 I discontinued teaching the Alexander Technique in order to devote myself more fully to other interests, but I hope the teaching and writing that I have done over the years will be carried on by those I have given lessons to or trained as teachers and by any who care to read what I offer here.

In addition to these writings, I have also done several in-depth  book-length interviews with prominent Alexander teachers: Grethe Laub, "The Alexander Technique and Child Education," published by Novis, 2006, in the collection How Are We Living Our Lives? www.novis.dk ; Kitty Wielopolska, Never Ask Why: The Alexander Work and Schizophrenia, published by Novis, 2001 www.novis.dk ; and Vivien Mackie, 'Just Play Naturally,' which is an account of her cello study with Pablo Casals and her discovery of the resonance between his teaching and the principles of the Alexander Technique, originally published in 2002 by Duende Editions and reprinted in 2006 by Xlibris www.xlibris.com . My prefaces to the Wielopolska and the Mackie books are also included on this site. Preface to Never Ask Why; Introduction to 'Just Play Naturally' .

For more information about me, see: Biographical Notes

 

 

****ARTICLES****

 

Carl Petkoff and His Technique for Creating a Subtle and Expressive Flute Vibrato

A revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in The Flutist Quarterly, Spring 2002.

"Fabulous! Really important reading and information . . . an invaluable asset to our community." Flutist Marianne Gedigian.
 

I. THE CLAIM: METEOR OVER THE MIDWEST
(With sound clips of Carl Petkoff's playing)
II. CARL PEKOFF: THE MAN AND THE TEACHER
III. VIBRATO IN GENERAL
IV. LOOKING MORE CLOSELY AT FLUTE VIBRATO
V. EXPLORING A SPECTRUM OF FLUTE VIBRATO POSSIBILITIES
VI. THE PETKOFF VIBRATO
(With sound clips of Joe Armstrong demonstrating throat vibrato, diaphragm vibrato, and the Petkoff vibrato.)

Here are some of my vibrato examples from my article on Carl Petkoff's approach to creating an expressive flute vibrato:

Click here to hear the Andante of Mozart's D major flute quartet played with the Petkoff vibrato.

Click here to hear the Andante of Mozart's D major flute quartet played with automatic, throat vibrato.

Click here to hear the Andante of Mozart's D major flute quartet played with automatic, diaphragm vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Syrinx played with the Petkoff vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Syrinx played with automatic, throat vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Syrinx played with automatic, diaphragm vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun played with the Petkoff vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun played with the automatic, throat vibrato.

Click here to hear Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun played with automatic, diaphragm vibrato.

 

Oboe Master Fernand Gillet's Remarkable Contributions to Woodwind Playing

A revised and expanded version of an article entitled "Oboe Master Fernand Gillet's Legacy to Flutists: His Methods for Developing Superior Technique and Expressive Control" that appeared in The Flutist Quarterly, Winter, 2004.

INTRODUCTION
I. LONDON AND CASALS
II. BOSTON AND GILLET
III. LESSONS
IV. ACCENTS, PORTATOS, AND LEGATO
V. MOZART, BACH, ET AL
VI. EXERCICES*
VII. USING THE SCALE POSITIONS
VIII. THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE AND WORKING WITH GILLET
POSTSCRIPT

*Fernand Gillet's Exercices sur les Gammes, les Intervalles, et le Staccato

A digital version of Gillet's flute version of Exercices sur les Gammes, les Intervalles, et le Staccato with a "Flutist's Foreword" written by Joe Armstrong is available through www.music4woodwinds.com.

The oboe version (1929) and the the clarinet version (in three parts) are available through Alphonse Leduc. Bassoon and saxophone editions have not yet been made.

Musical Vision

Suggestions to students of the Alexander Technique for dealing with stress and enhancing expressiveness in musical performance. {2005) This article is informed by the writings of Susanne K. Langer on the philosphy of aesthetics and by the teaching of Pablo Casals.

From Frog to Tip

A cellist's Alexander lesson with Joe Armstrong. (Edited 2004)

 

Working on Breathing: Exploring Its Relation to Vocal Production and Wind-Instrument Playing

An updated and expanded version of my 1989 article "Working on Breathing and Vocal Production" that was published by Statbooks in 1993. Includes a detailed approach to doing Alexander's "Whispered Ah" procedure as part of the "respiratory re-education" that he advocated in his writings (April, 2015).

Introduction by Joe Armstrong to 'Just Play Naturally'

My account of what led me to interview Mrs. Mackie about her cello study with Pablo Casals and her discovery of the resonance between his teaching and the principles of the Alexander Technique. Duende Editions, January 2002. Reprinted 2006, www.xlibris.com.

Effects of the Alexander Principle in Dealing With Stress in Musical Performace

Masters Thesis, Tufts University. (1975) : New Forward, July, 2001


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Reflections on my Work with Frank Pierce Jones in Light of my Other Experiences with the Alexander Technique: 1965-72

Having worked with Frank Jones before and after I completed the full teacher-training course, describing mh him in the context of working with other teachers during the same period may be of interest to those who did not know him and to those who were only his pupils.

The Alexander Technique, a talk with Joe Armstrong

Interview with Joe Armstrong by New Visions magazine. (1994)

INTRODUCTION By Joe Armstrong

To "An Alexander Teacher's View of Child Education," an interview with Grethe Laub, Copenhagen, May 1982. An excerpt from HOW ARE WE LIVING OUR LIVES?: GRETHE LAUB, INTERVIEW AND TALKS, 1982 - 1988. Published by: www.novis.dk

Positive and Negative Primary Control and Research

Letter to the Editor of The Alexander Journal, Spring 2006, in response to Jean Fischer's compendium of Alexander's use of the term "primary control" in his four books. And suggestions for research based on Frank Pierce Jones' studies of the startle pattern.

Inhibiting: "One's Moment Of Complete Freedom"

An in-depth introduction, geared for pupils, to the central principle of the Alexander Technique. (1999, revised April 2015)

Directing and Ordering: A Discussion of Working on Yourself

Includes an examination of different concepts of "directing" and "ordering" and recommendations for working effectively on yourself. Comparisons are made between "ordering," meditation, and biofeedback. (1988, revised 2014)

Just Standing, Looking and Seeing

Suggestions for working on yourself by non-verbal directing. (1999)

The Word Made Flesh: Developing Your Ordering Voice

An exploration of effective ways to use silent verbalizing to improve you use of yourself. (2002)

Alexander's Language Development

Response to R. Dennis' article "Primary Control and the Crisis in Alexander Technique Theory" (AmSAT News, Summer, 1999). I give recommendations for reaching a unified definition of the concepts underlying Alexander's discoveries and suggestions for research. (2000)

Alexander Hypotheses

The essential claims of F.M. Alexander paraphrased for use in research and intramural defining of the Technique. (1998)

Reconsidering "Forward and Up"

Challenging a common interpretation of Alexander's direction for the head as part of the sequence of directing our Primary Control of the use of ourselves most positively. I draw upon my Army Basic Training experience of learning to do the "low crawl" by applying principles of the Alexander Technique. (2000)

"Forward and Up" Reconsidered

A sequel to "Reconsidering 'Forward and Up.'" (2001)

Manner and Conditions of Use: A Crucial Distinction

Clarifying Alexander's own written use of these terms, which Alexander and most of the teachers he trained considered necessary for complete and effective teaching and teacher training, exposes a neglected factor in some newer orientations to the Alexander Technique. (2001, published in AmSAT News Summer 2003, revised for Alexander Studies Online, March 2015)

Preface by Joe Armstrong to Never Ask Why: The Life-Adventure of Kitty Wielopolska (1900-1988)"

... another remarkable Alexander story." Walter Carrington.

An appreciation of Kitty and my thoughts on how the tenets of phenomenological psychiatry might explain how her extensive experience with the Alexander Work could have helped her deal with the trials of schizophrenia. Novis Publications, January 2002 ( www.novis.dk ).

 

Special thanks to Jeff Mitchell for help in editing many of these articles, and to John Ranck and Terry Balle for help in setting up this web site.



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Email me: joe@joearmstrong.info


Last update ... January 20, 2015

© Joe Armstrong