01 January 2016 - The Feldenkrais Method
Alison McGillivray, Feldenkrais Practitioner, player of cello & viola da gamba

Feldenkrais & Musicians

“It’s amazing, you go in, play a for a few minutes, then the teacher moves you around a tiny bit, hardly anything, then you play afterwards and it’s completely transformed!” — this was the first time I heard anyone talking about the Feldenkrais Method, several years ago. I was busy playing concerts and teaching the cello at the time, but immediately thought, hang on, I want to do that.

I started taking one-to-one Feldenkrais lessons, and sensed a change in my own playing immediately. Movements became smoother, and intriguingly my lingering stage-fright gradually dissolved. As I continued into the practitioner training, I took my cello with me to the course and would play at the end of every day. I was astonished to hear as well as sense the results of the work we’d done, whether it was with lessons investigating rolling, reaching, or walking, in the sound of my cello. A parallel sound exploration to the embodied one.

Alison working with a singer, OM Yoga Show 2016; photo by Sibell Barrowclough

I now combine teaching the Feldenkrais Method with my life as a musician, and work with players and singers in all sorts of contexts. I teach one-to-one sessions, exploring issues directly to do with playing or breathing, and I’ve taught group lessons on many music and orchestra courses. This spring I was working as the cello tutor on the European Union Baroque Orchestra course. I taught Feldenkrais classes in the period just before lunchtime, providing a great opportunity in the middle of a busy day for the musicians to stop and take some time out to quietly explore themselves.

Exploring the midline, EUBO 2016; photo by Noora Heiskanen

In the Feldenkrais Method, the lessons are framed with a reference point: a functional movement at the start which we return to at the end to help us track any changes, really to help us learn. At the EUBO course, I used an ‘air-guitar’ reference point — only in this case, it was air-cello or air-violin or air-harpsichord. I invited the participants to mime playing their instrument at the start. I asked them to notice how comfortable they were, and also to notice what kind of music they were imagining playing. I then took them through an Awareness Through Movement lesson, lying on the ground, exploring their relationship to the floor and the connections through their body. The classes were half an hour long. After that time I invited them to stand and again play their air-instruments to sense the differences. I also asked them to notice the quality of the music they were imagining playing now.

The changes the students talked about were common to many classes I’ve taught: they reported feeling more comfortable, calmer, more grounded, and that they could move more smoothly. One thing I noticed especially was a beautiful quality of attention that they brought to themselves at the end of the lesson compared to the start. And even though I couldn’t of course hear their imaginary music, the quality of that too seemed to change.

Part of the Feldenkrais Method is about learning to quietly listen to ourselves. And as we learn to do that, the music we make is also transformed.