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Horn Students Explore Alexander Technique

Can a collaborative approach to Alexander Technique help students tackle stressful performance situations and avoid strains and tensions?

Between October 2017 and March 2018 the horn students at the Grieg Academy, Assistant Professor of horn Ilene Chanon and Alexander Technique teacher Stephen Parker embarked upon a collaborative Alexander Technique project with financial support from CEMPE.

Improved Concentration

For the students involved, the project resulted in improved concentration during practice and concerts, a reduction in frequency of pain, tension and discomfort during horn playing, an increase in situations where optimal performance is achieved, and an increase in observational skills.

Collaborative Alexander Technique (AT) lessons may help students to become more aware of the relationship between their body and their instrument, thereby allowing for greater ease of playing and avoidance of performance-inhibiting tension, Ilene Chanon concludes.

Description

The class schedule consisted of twelve individual half-hour AT lessons for the students, four one-and-a-half hour interactive group AT lessons and twelve half-hour AT lessons for the Assistant Professor of Horn, Ilene Chanon. The horn studio comprised one second-year bachelor student, one fourth-year bachelor student and one International Diploma student. The students had no experience of AT before the project.

An interactive learning process was utilised whereby the students built on their increased knowledge of certain principles obtained in individual AT lessons and exercised their observational and listening skills in group lessons. Chanon was an active collaborator during all group lessons, addressing horn technique and musicality, while Stephen Parker tackled the Alexander Technique (AT) principles. Chanon’s private instruction in AT enabled her to follow the progression of the students over the duration of the project, during horn lessons and in horn studio class sessions.

The students completed an Alexander Technique questionnaire before and after the project to determine whether there were any changes in thinking, physical well-being during playing and quality of performance. The questionnaire addressed thought processes during practice and performance as well as the students’ perception of pain, discomfort and tension relating to the quality of their horn playing. In addition to the questionnaire, Ilene Chanon made observations regarding improvement and progression in horn technique, expression and overall performance.

Results

Although the project lasted only six months, the size of the horn class was relatively small and the overall student attendance rate was only 80%, many noticeable changes have occurred in the horn playing and habits of the three students.

Questionnaire Responses

The questionnaire was designed to specifically address the following aspects:

  1. Thoughts and attention.
  2. Pain, tension and discomfort.
  3. Optimal playing.

Ilene Chanon's observations

Prior to AT lessons, Student A had a visible and audible hesitation in his playing at the beginning of each new phrase as well as a rigid posture. By the end of the academic year the habits of hesitation and rigid posture had been eliminated. Student A now has softer initial attacks and a more fluid stance, which corresponds with a more fluent style of playing.

Student B began the AT process with the challenges of shallow breathing and a backward-leaning posture. The sound was relatively small, and the low register was especially weak. Student B worked on shifting her weight forward, allowing the lungs to be filled to capacity. By June 2018 the sound was bigger and rounder and the low register greatly improved.

Student C exhibited a tendency to narrow her field of focus inward while performing, inhibiting a connection with the audience. Parker emphasised eye contact and a more open approach to performance. When Student C dared to look at the audience and establish contact, the character of the music became much more evident.

An increase in observational skills was developed during the interactive group lessons resulting in an accelerated learning environment. The students built on their knowledge of AT principles learned during individual AT lessons and were encouraged to actively observe the tendencies of their peers through visual scrutiny and intense listening. Through careful observation of their peers, the students recognised their own habits and noticed the clear connection between the visual, physical habits of playing and the resulting audible sounds produced.

Conclusion

The results of this project support the notion that the addition of interactive, collaborative Alexander Technique lessons to applied horn studies at universities and conservatories help the students to become more aware of the relationship between their body and their instrument, thereby allowing for greater ease of playing and avoidance of performance-inhibiting tension.

The students in this project have demonstrated much improvement in their ability to produce the best sound and technique even in the most stressful of situations. Project leader Ilene Chanon concludes that a collaborative Alexander Technique programme would be a welcome supplement to any horn studio, greatly enhancing the breadth of education as horn players.

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