My student Danielle had the opportunity a few days ago to take a lesson with her former voice teacher. It seems to have been a real eye-opener for her. . .and led to her coming up with a brilliant and individual way of applying the Alexander Technique.
During this lesson, Danielle's teacher suggested many of the same manipulative techniques she'd always relied on -- "unhinge your jaw," for example -- but with her new Alexander/Reid perspective on singing, Danielle was noticing that these recommendations were producing more tension in her technique, not less. She realized that her former teacher's approach was no longer valid for her.
Danielle told me that the detrimental instructions were causing her frustration to mount along with her tension, until she experienced a sudden shift in thinking. It started with an Alexandrian pause; she gave herself a moment to stop responding with tension and frustration. This inhibitory moment allowed Danielle to come up with a more beneficial approach.
Danielle noticed that the teacher was not watching her, but engrossed in playing the piano, so she realized that the teacher would not be able to see whether or not she was incorporating the manipulative instructions. She then thought to herself, "Let me see how I can please my teacher, but first, let me please myself." (That is the new formulation of the Alexander Technique that I found truly brilliant.)
Armed with this new thought process, Danielle proceeded to "translate" her teacher's suggestions into more sensible ideas along the lines of what she and I have been exploring in her lessons. In this way, she improved her own singing, and apparently pleased her teacher as well!
[Note to self and other voice teachers: It might be a good idea to watch your students as they sing, to observe how well they are carrying out your intentions! We cannot afford to waste any potential source of information. I rely on my ears, my eyes, my hands (thanks to my Alexander training), and even a sort of empathetic "sense" through which I can feel in my own body a reflection of my students' ease/tension.]
One of my greatest satisfactions as a teacher is to discover that my students have taken what they got from my lessons and gone beyond it. Thank you, Danielle, for sharing with me your recent "proud moment"! May it inspire other singers, too, in their own explorations.
On further thought, I am realizing how valuable the Danielle Principle is in all areas of our lives. Let us see how we can please others, yes; but first, let us please ourselves. (In the sense of refusing to abandon our commitment to ease in our actions.)