Change Your Tune

I once assisted the late Marjorie Barstow on a teaching trip to a large mid-western university where she gave classes in the Alexander Technique to Music Department faculty and students.

In one class, a professor asked for help playing the trumpet.  He was clearly a talented musician, but he was adding quite a bit of unnecessary tension to his body when he played.  Indeed, even before he began to play, just picking up the instrument seemed to trigger a good deal of that tension.

As Marj worked with him, a lot of his tension dropped away and the quality of his playing improved dramatically.  So much so that even I – a somewhat tone deaf non-musician – could easily hear the change.

Marj would occasionally stop and ask him what he noticed.  His reply was always something like: “I feel so much easier, and I can tell the sound is better but…”  The words following the “but” were phrases like “…it doesn’t feel right” or “…I’m sure I’ll lose this right away” or “…I can never do this on my own”

On and on he went and each time Marj said nothing and resumed helping him with a bit more playing. Then, after about his 5th negative thought, out of her mouth popped the phrase, “You better change your tune!”

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

Marj and me, taken in 1989 when Marj was only 90 years old.

It happened so fast, so softly, and so unexpectedly, that I don’t think most of the people in the room consciously noticed it.  Certainly not the professor, who seemed very briefly to be in a state of severe mental confusion.  But after than, he started playing again, with no help from Marj, in a way that incorporated much of what she had shown him.

And the next day, when she worked with him, there was not a trace of his earlier negative thinking.  He had “changed his tune.”

I asked Marj about what she had said but, as I expected, she had no memory of it although she agreed he had made a significant change in his thinking and playing.

Marj, who at that point had been thinking about and experimenting with F. Matthias Alexander’s discoveries for nearly 70 years, would insert powerful transformative phrases – little zingers, really – that seemed to come out of nowhere and which would re-direct a student’s thinking in a useful way. For the most part they they went unnoticed at a conscious level.*

How did she do this?  Who knows, but I guess if you’ve immersed yourself in a field of study for as long as Marj, you develop the skill of spontaneously intervening in just the right way and in just the right time to help the person you’re working with.

I’m now at about 35 years teaching experience and I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised at what I say or do during a lesson.

I’m hoping this will become a more frequent experience over the next 35 years!

If you’re an Alexander Technique teacher, have you had similar experiences? Please leave your comments below, or on Facebook.

And if you’ve not had Alexander Technique lessons, and want to start the new year by changing your tune, you can locate a teacher here: How to Find a Teacher of the Alexander Technique

*Anyone familiar with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) watching Marj would find many examples of classic NLP interventions.  This is not surprising given that many of those interventions were based on extremely detailed, second-by-second observations of therapists who were known to be extremely effective, often in rather orthodox ways.  Marj, while not a therapist, would have made a perfect subject for the early NLP researchers.

Image Copyright: Violin / 123RF Stock Photo


Comments

Change Your Tune — 6 Comments

  1. I first began to study with Marj in 1976. At the end of four weeks I had to return to Austin and asked Marj how to continue to study on my own. Her words “watch yourself”are a constant daily reminder.

  2. Lovely recollection, Robert, thank you. And yes, the similar 35 years (!) has brought an increasing number of ‘little zingers’ – ones I also hope multiply – but, like Marj, I can’t remember them past the moment. I often think I will write them down after the lesson, or even after ‘the moment’, but they are gone – business done. Interesting you say they are perhaps at a level where they are not noticed, even by the teacher, and therefore at a level which works so well. Non-doing zingers!

  3. Lovely recollection, Robert, thank you. And yes, the similar 35 years (!) has brought an increasing number of ‘little zingers’ – ones I also hope multiply – but, like Marj, I can’t remember them past the moment. I often think I will write them down after the lesson, or even after ‘the moment’, but they are gone – business done. Interesting you say they are perhaps at a level where they are not noticed, even by the teacher, and therefore at a level which works so well. Non-doing zingers!

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