How Alexander Technique helped my voice problems
For over 20 years I have been working in primary schools around London teaching classes of 30 children musicianship through singing. I can remember how I used to think at the start of every day 'Today I won't strain my voice. I'll remember not to shout, not to raise my voice, not to sing too forcefully, not to whisper.' Not to do all the things my various singing teachers told me not to do and to do all the things they told me to do. I would start the day with that resolution, but by the second lesson I would start to feel the strain in my throat, by the end of three lessons I would be in pain. I would avoid environments where I might have to talk too loudly such as noisy pubs. I went to my GP, who referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist who put a camera down the back of my nose and reported that my vocal chords looked fine. Plenty of things would alleviate the problem, but nothing 'cured' it.
My 'before' picture. This is me performing in 2012. Head pulled back, upper back curved and carrying the weight of my head which is not balanced on top of my spine. I don't have any picture of myself teaching but I was using my body in the same way.
So, there was no cure....until I was in the first term of my Alexander Technique training course. At the end of the morning's training as I cycled to my teaching work in the afternoon I would feel impelled to sing, to sigh, to do my 'Alexander whistle' which seemed to be an effortless whistle that didn't involve pursing the lips. On many days the voice wouldn't have been mentioned or in any way worked on but often they were the times when my voice felt most released. As I developed the skill to prevent unnecessary tension in my body and to move in a more balanced and calm way my voice tired less easily. I found that during my teaching I could notice when I was starting to lose balance, my head straining forward off my shoulders, my upper back buckling and my neck shortening and tightening. in a split second I could pause and settle back into myself. I found that actually had a calming effect on my students and a virtuous circle developed - I was less tense, my voice was relaxed and more authoritative and my students and I had more fun. I could even shout more effectively when I needed to.
Above is my 'after' picture. Although it isn't a like-for-like comparison with my 'before' picture as I'm not playing piano in the picture I think the general lack of tension and corresponding increase in presence is apparent. It's clear that my head isn't being pulled back and that my shoulders aren't hunching forward.
It's an ongoing process, but instead of 'How can I solve this problem?' I now think 'Is there anything else I can not do in order to be more free in my speaking and singing'. It's an endlessly fascinating experiment.