Mornum Time Press
Mornum Time Press

Alexander Technique Publications

Curiosity Recaptured. Edited by Jerry Sontag

Curiosity Recaptured. Edited by Jerry Sontag


Curiosity Recaptured: Exploring Ways We Think and MoveEdited by Jerry Sontag

Foreword by Robert Davies

Book Cover and Design by Marianne Ackerman

Illustrations and Cover Artwork by Ginger Tate Beringer

Paperback, 272 pages, 14 illustrations, ISBN 0-9644352-2-5

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About the Book

The 15 essays in Curiosity Recaptured provide a compelling introduction to the Alexander Technique. Whether you are interested in the performing arts, problem-solving, the field of health, or simply a more satisfying way to live, this book can open the door to a new world. It can change what you notice and how you move.

Each essay in Curiosity Recaptured tells a story. Some are about learning a new skill or the excitement of solving a particularly intractable problem. Others reexamine commonplace moments of our days that often go unnoticed. Each writer tells a personal story that takes us from a specific activity being described to the impact the activity has on our overall interest and curiosity in daily life.

Curiosity Recaptured, with 14 original illustrations, is now available in paperback. In the foreword, Robertson Davies - internationally acclaimed author and long-time student of the Alexander Technique - provides a sweeping history of the Technique, and of his introduction to it more than 40 years ago. Included in this collection are essays on cycling, problem-solving, chair design, dance, acting, childbirth, singing, grief, walking, tennis, and much more. Whatever your interests, Curiosity Recaptured can help you look at the world around you in new ways. 


Curiosity Recaptured...goes a long way toward shedding some light on this mysterious but apparently effective way of dealing with the knots we tend to get ourselves into by the sheer fact of being alive. San Francisco Bay Guardian
The book provides a fascinating introduction to the Alexander Technique in daily life. - The Beaufort-Hyde News
Curiosity Recaptured is fascinating, insightful, challenging reading! - Midwest Book Review
This collection of 14 essays by Alexander teachers makes a captivating book...The themes are varied enough to suit anyone's tastes, running the gamut from giving birth to dealing with death and grieving along with activities such as walking, dancing, singing, cycling, acting, flute playing and playing tennis... - Direction Magazine
The essays look into the design of chairs, the practices of childbirth, the education of young musicians, as well as how we walk, play tennis, sing, dance, solve problems, and approach death. They explore the ways we think and move, toward the goal of greater freedom and joy. - Yoga Journal
The Alexander Technique is well-known for improving posture, breathing and bringing about a general release and freedom of movement. Ordinary introductory books to the Technique explain the general principles, but generalities often leave out the individual. The Alexander Technique teaches a better use (muscular use, for example) of the self. The Technique is applied by the self, the individual, and no other modern book better brings out the variety of application possible than Curiosity Recaptured ­ Exploring Ways We Think and Move. This beautifully produced book contains 14 essays which have been written by experienced teachers of the Technique. Some of the subjects are dance, acting, playing the flute, childbirth, cycling, overcoming the fear of falling while walking, and meeting the unexpected. Many well-known teachers have contributed, including Edward Avak, Deborah Caplan, Walter Carrington, Mary Holland, Ron Murdock and Alex Murray. The beauty of the essays consists in showing not only how the Technique is applied by the individual, for the individual, but also how the Technique has helped people to observe and learn, discover and rediscover interests, skills, capacities and, above all, one¹s self (one¹s true nature in popular jargon). As Robertson Davies writes in the foreword: It [The Technique] is an enlargement of whatever life may be yours. As the Technique unlocks tension patterns, it brings out our sense of wonder and our delight in wondering. This particular characteristic of the Technique may be well-known among its practitioners but is not known generally, and it has certainly not been written about so extensively until now. Curiosity Recaptured allows you to share the authors¹ experiences of joy in learning and in being curious. Be curious about this book. It deserves your curiosity. - Jean M. O. Fischer, editor of Articles & Lectures: Articles, Published Letters and Lectures on the F.M. Alexander Technique and publisher at Mouritz Press

The Authors

Edward Avak was born in 1937. After finishing his academic studies in Classics and Chinese, he taught high school mathematics before being trained to teach the Alexander Technique by the Carringtons in London. Since 1972, he and his wife, Linda Avak, have directed the Center for the Alexander Technique in Menlo Park, California, which became a teacher training course in 1982.

Anne Bluethenthal is founder and artistic director of Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers, a company she established in 1984 in San Francisco. Anne has performed her own and other's work throughout the U.S. As well as her work as a choreographer and performer, she has developed an innovative approach to teaching dance and training dancers. Anne has had a private practice in the F.M. Alexander Technique since 1985, and teaches dance throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Deborah Caplan received her certification as a teacher of the Alexander Technique in 1953. She is a founding member of The American Center for the Alexander Technique, Inc. In 1956 she received her M.A. in physical therapy, and was affiliated with New York University Medical Center for eight years. She is the author of Back Trouble: A New Approach To Prevention and Recovery Based on the Alexander Technique. Deborah specializes in teaching the Alexander Technique to people with back problems.

Walter Carrington was born in 1915, the only child of the Rev. W.M. and Hannah Carrington. He first had lessons with Mr. Alexander in 1935 and joined his Training Course in 1936, qualifying as a teacher of the Technique in 1939. From 1941 to 1946 he served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, after which he returned to work as an Assistant Teacher; and then carried on the Training Course after Mr. Alexander's death in 1955. He and his wife Dilys are Directors of the Constructive Teaching Centre Ltd in London.

Barry W. Collins grew up in Sydney, Australia where he went to University, receiving his degree in Dental Surgery in 1965. He trained to become an Alexander teacher under Don Burton and Elizabeth Atkinson from 1981-1984. He maintains an Alexander teaching practice in North London. In addition, he practices general dentistry two days a week. For the last 25 years, his main transport around London has been his bicycle, and holidays were cycling holidays.

Galen Cranz went to Reed College for her B.A., and continued on to the University of Chicago for her graduate work, getting a Ph.D. in Sociology in 1971. She trained to become an Alexander teacher with Thomas Lemens from 1987-1990 in New York City. Presently she lives and teaches the Technique in Oakland, California. She also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, in the Architecture department.

Robertson Davies had three successive careers: first as an actor with the Old Vic Company in England; then as publisher of the Peterborough, Ontario, Examiner, and most recently as a university professor and first Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, from which he retired in 1981. He has more than thirty books to his credit, among them several volumes of plays, as well as collections of essays, speeches, and belles lettres. As a novelist he has gained fame especially for his Deptford Trilogy; for the Salterton Trilogy; and for the Cornish Trilogy. He was the first Canadian to become an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He died on December 2, 1995.

Mary Holland was educated at Northfield School, Watford, England. She followed her dream of acting at the Webber-Douglas School of Dramatic Art, London. She trained to become an Alexander Technique teacher at the Constructive Teaching Centre with Walter and Dilys Carrington from 1968-1970. Since 1984, she has had a private practice as an Alexander teacher in Munich, Germany, and two years later began a small training course. She has worked as a graphic designer as well as an actress.

Barbara Kent is the Director of the Teacher Certification Program at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City. She was certified by (ACAT-NY) in 1971, and has been involved in training teachers there for over 20 years. She has her B.A. in music from San Jose State University in her native state of California, and her M.A. in music from Brooklyn College of the City University of N.Y.. She sang professionally for a number of years. She continues to sing and to teach voice. Barbara has taught group classes and workshops in the Alexander Technique here and abroad. In addition to training teachers, Ms. Kent maintains a private practice in New York City, working extensively with performers and Alexander Teachers.

Ilana Machover is a qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique and of Medau Rhythmic Movement, and an Advanced Teacher for Britain's National Childbirth Trust. She assists at Misha Magidov's training school for Alexander Technique teachers in London.
As part of her private practice, she runs special Eutokia courses for pregnant women. She has also conducted many workshops for midwives, childbirth educators and Alexander Technique teachers on the relevance of the Technique to childbirth.Together with Angela and Jonathan Drake, she wrote Pregnancy and Birth the Alexander Way. She has two children and four grandchildren.

Ron Murdock was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and Associateship in Music Diploma from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. From 1962 to 1966 he studied privately with Professor Bernard Diamant in Montreal. Between 1966 and 1969 he completed his vocal studies with Professor Frederick Husler and Yvonne Rodd-Marling in Switzerland. In 1969 he moved to London, England where he established a career as a solo tenor, singing with English Opera Group and performing in oratorio performances in many English cathedrals. Between 1976 and 1979 he trained as an Alexander Teacher with Walter and Dilys Carrington. He has given voice/Alexander voice workshops in every major European city as well as in New York and Montreal and maintains a practice in London and Amsterdam.He now lives in Amsterdam.

Alexander Murray attended the Royal College of Music, London, and the Paris Conservatoire. He played flute in the Royal Air Force Band, and was for many years principal at the Royal Opera and the London Symphony. He trained in the Alexander Technique with Walter Carrington at the Constructive Teaching Centre from 1958-1966. For the past 19 years, he has been a professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois.

Phyllis G. Richmond received her B.A. from Barnard College, M.A. from Columbia University, and certification as an Alexander Technique teacher from John Nicholls at the Brighton Alexander Training Centre in England. She is also a Certified Laban Movement Analyst and specialist in Historical Dance. Ms. Richmond has worked with theatre, dance, and opera as performer, teacher, movement coach, director, and choreographer for over 20 years. She is presently on the faculty of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Vivien Schapera was born in 1956 in Cape Town, South Africa. She was trained in the Alexander Technique by Joyce Roberts in South Africa and Walter Carrington in London, and was certified as a teacher in 1983 by Walter Carrington. She received her Masters in Psychology from the University of Cape Town in December 1984. She and her family immigrated to the United States in October, 1991, and started a training course in September 1993.

Jerry Sontag is the publisher and editor of Mornum Time Press, a family-run business founded in 1993. In 1994, Jerry edited and published Thinking Aloud: Talks on Teaching the Alexander Technique by Walter Carrington. A second volume of Mr. Carrington's talks is planned for release in late 1998. Jerry trained to become an Alexander teacher at the Center for the Alexander Technique in Menlo Park, California. He has maintained a private teaching practice in San Francisco since 1985.

Walton Laurence White, known as Larry, is a native of Los Angeles. He completed his B.A. at UCLA in Theatre Arts in 1963, and spent several years in the graduate film program. Larry did his teacher training in London from 1973-1976 with Patrick Macdonald. Larry has lived and taught the Technique in Santa Monica, California since 1976. 


Grabbing the Bird by the Tale

Professor Alexander Murray

My own life-long interest in music was sown in me by my mother, who could play on the piano any melody she heard, and by my father who introduced me to the penny whistle as soon as I could hold one. Musical curiosity pushed me in my mother's direction and I discovered very early how to play tunes "by ear" on the piano as well as on the penny-whistle.

In the window of the local music shop was a wooden recorder which I coveted but could never afford (it would have cost six months' pocket money). It seemed to me, at age ten, the most superior form of penny whistle. Not many months later, in June of 1940, opportunity knocked. By this time, however, the recorder had taken second place in my affections to a wooden fife.

Believing invasion to be imminent, the British Government initiated a scheme to evacuate children to the Dominions. Enrollment lasted for a brief three weeks, during which time my parents arranged for me to live with my aunt in South Africa. Prior to my departure, I did the rounds of my home-town relations collecting pocket money for the journey. I concealed enough of this from my parents to purchase the much-coveted fife. I remember sitting on my bed, trying to elicit a tune from it and pretending it was just one of my penny whistles. On the ship to South Africa with three hundred other children we would gather every evening for a sing-song which I would accompany on the fife or whistle when appropriate. By the time we arrived in Cape Town I was able to play both with equal facility. As we had cases of measles on board, we were kept in quarantine at the Governor General's House, Westbrook. During this period, the Municipal Cape Town Orchestra played for us. During the intermission I spoke to the youngest member of the flute section, a 21 year old Englishman, David Sandeman. "I play the flute too," was my opening line. He asked me to show him my instrument--very different from his--and invited me to visit him when I settled with my aunt and uncle.

After my first visit and lesson, I was in possession of a real flute, on which he had started his career. I was invited weekly for a free lesson which always concluded with tea and donuts in the company of his mother, a teacher of French in a girl's school, who had recently arrived from England.

Many years later, David Sandeman, who had returned after the war to become principal flute in the London Philharmonic, gave my wife an account of my lessons with him. He related that I was his first pupil ever and that he was under the impression that there was nothing to teaching the flute--you told the student what needed to be done and he would come back the following week doing it. It wasn't until he had his second student that he discovered there was more to it.

David's approach to teaching the flute was perfectly suited for me. He encouraged me to teach myself--to learn how to learn. He practiced William James' cardinal rule: Never discourage, discouragement is of the devil. This fruitful relationship lasted a year, by which time my uncle was transferred to Johannesburg and I was musically on my own. As luck would have it, David's orchestra came to Johannesburg for an opera season and I renewed our friendship. During his stay, he introduced me to the Professor of Music at Wits University. He invited me, age 13, to play in the University Orchestra. On one occasion, we played for the visiting Cape Town Ballet whose repertoire included the "Carnival of the Animals" by Saint-Saens. This remains indelibly in my memory because of the virtuosic flute solo, the Aviary. In little over a minute, the player is required to synchronize breath, fingers and tongue, the latter articulating rapidly the syllables teketeketekete over 300 times--a technique known to wind-players as "double-tonguing." At 14, I had not yet attempted to teach myself this skill, having been told by David Sandeman that it was first necessary to master "single-tonguing" (the rapid reiteration of tetetete). In the performance, I think I played the notes minus the articulation--less of a flutter than the composer intended.

During my studies at the Paris Conservatoire from 1950-52, I was once again confronted by the "Aviary", which I took in stride, double-tonguing and all. Several years later, with the London Symphony, I was called upon to record it as backing to the Ogden Nash verses, which were recited by Bee Lillie. This version, instead of lasting one minute was doubled in length which entailed over 600 repetitions of teke. As an aside, Saint-Saens "Voliere" is only one of many pieces in which the flute represents our feathered friends. I sometimes ask, in Doctoral exams, that the student write on the ornithological aspects of the flute. A cursory search of my memory recalls the following recordings I made with the London Symphony Orchestra between 1955 and 1967: Lo Here the Gentle Lark, the Gypsy and the Bird (Joan Sutherland); Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty (Pierre Monteux); Pastoray Symphony (Josef Krips); Respighi--The Birds (Dorati); Stravinsky--Firebird, Le Rossignol (Dorati); the Morceau de Concours for my 1st prize at the Paris Conservatoire in 1952 was Messaien's "merle Noir" (Blackbird).

Over fifty years after my first acquaintance with the piece, I found myself again confronted with fluttering like a bird, while playing in the Sinfonia da Camera (Hobson) in Urbana, Illinois. As with athletic skills, rapid movements are seemingly more suited to the young in years than the long in the tooth. Faced with rapid repeated tongue movements I began to wonder whether my tongue had loosened over the years or whether its mechanism was deteriorating.

Try the following experiment. Divide a regular pulse of one second into three parts (as in a waltz). Count 1-2 of the 1-2-3 and maintain a pulse of 1-(2) 1-(2) 1-(2) beating time on the one only. This will give you a pulse of 90 to the minute. At this speed repeat the syllables tetetete--four tes to a beat. Then intersperse ke between each te (maintaining the four tes to a beat). Thus: teketeketeketeke you will have the articulation problem to which I have been referring. This is the "tongue-twister" set by Camille Saint Saens.

As you will have inferred, except for my very positive experiences with my first teacher, David Sandeman, I consider myself largely self-taught. I did make one disastrous effort to learn the flute from a teacher whose approach was: If you want to study with me, you must do as I say. "From his vantage point, everything I had done previously was wrong. To breathe, I must raise my chest like a pouter pigeon. My lips should be fixed in a permanent smile and my tongue must strike the palate audibly to begin each note. Raising the chest to breathe in was one of the erroneous preconceived ideas with which Alexander had to contend in the early days of his teaching. Fixing the lips in a permanent smile is perhaps worse in that it is tantamount to fixing the head at the atlanto-occipital joint. Adding the uncustomary (and unnecessary) movement of the tongue was an overload for my nervous system. Assiduous practice on these lines precipitated a nervous breakdown, one of the symptoms of which was a stutter every time I pronounced the syllable te.

I am still recovering from that teacher's influence. The loss of a natural skill led, in my case, to a tendency unduly to analyze and criticize myself and others. Trying to be right when you have lost the belief in your own rightness (an important ingredient in the make up of a performing artist) is a double bind. A very good friend told me his teaching was based on the question: "What is preventing this person from playing well?" He had never heard of the Alexander Technique.

Foreign service in the Royal Air Force put an end to my studies with this teacher and I returned to finding my own way.

Early in my professional civilian career, in 1954, I was introduced to the Alexander Technique and lost no time in trying to apply the principles (as I understood them) to playing the flute. When I began lessons, I was principal flute of the Royal Opera, a strenuous occupation, entailing long rehearsals (10am-3pm) on occasion with performances every evening and an afternoon performance on Saturday. During the rehearsals in the orchestra pit, there was frequently a cold breeze blowing through the theatre while the scenery was being transported from the street to the stage. I had a tendency to bronchitis which was aggravated by such working conditions. A friend suggested that Charles Neil, one of the members of Alexander's first training course, might be able to help with my respiratory problems. I began a three year course of lessons. I regret to say that what I learned at that time is not what I now understand to be the Alexander Technique. When Charles Neil died in 1958, my Alexander lessons began, and with them, the process of change in my conception of the Technique, my use and, of course, my breathing.

My earliest recollections of applying what I was learning to playing was (and continues to be) to rid the mind of "taking a breath" to play. This is an important aspect of all my practicing. If I wish to play a long phrase, I first exhale, then allow the breath to return (through the nostrils, silently) and then play when the breath is ready to move out. When playing continuously, I always take time to breathe, even if it means stopping the flow of the music. Naturally, this applies to practice. When one is performing, one does what the music requires with whatever means one has at the time.

This kind of practice paid its first real dividends in the late 1950's, when I was the principal flute for the London Symphony. We played an annual Beethoven Cycle with Josef Krips. I found that I was able to play a loud, continuous section of the first Allegro in the 7th Symphony without being aware of "taking a breath." The breath was returning in the brief intervals between the rhythmic figures. Some idea of what happens when you stop the interference can be experienced if you exhale quickly, blowing out the cheeks. Repeat this little experiment rhythmically several times and you will notice that the breath returns with a sort of "elastic recoil."

The next really significant change in my playing was triggered by Alexander's 1906 article in which he names the great principle in practical respiratory re-education to be Antagonistic Action. The other clue in this article was "Many people can acquire fair chest poise at the end of inspiration, the end of the expiration the mechanism is absolutely disorganized." I was practicing some difficult passages on my flute at the time, using two mirrors for visual feedback. In my customary way, I divided the long opening phrase into sub-phrases, played them with time for breaths and then, finally, decided to "deflate" and "inflate" myself several times prior to playing the whole phrase in one breath. As I got to the end of the phrase, I saw myself visibly shorten--the pelvis moving forward over the feet, the back "narrowing in the loins." This was the first time in my practice that I had really made an unusual demand on my respiratory capacity and I saw in what way my mechanism was "absolutely disorganized." I then played the same passage but inhibited the movement forward of the pelvis, maintaining my length, and found that I had just as much air as before, but that at the end of the expiration the inspiration took place by "elastic recoil." This to me exemplified Antagonistic Action.

The next really significant evolution in my playing developed out of questions related to the balance of the head raised by Professor and Alexander teacher Frank Pierce Jones' Psychological Revue article of 1965. This article led me to the writings of Anatomist Raymond Dart--initially "The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion." Frank stated that the center of gravity of the head corresponds roughly to the 'sella turcica,' an area at the anterior of the base of the skull. I reasoned that the center of gravity must be dependent on the relationship of the upper and lower jaw--which was a mobile one. Free movement of the jaw is integral to the kind of flute playing in which I was interested.

The discoveries I have made over the years have dramatically altered my flute playing. They have also affected my teaching, despite the fact that I do not teach my flute students the Alexander Technique. If they are interested, they can study that on their own initiative (with my encouragement). My personal approach to teaching is to accept the student as he/she is, see what I think can be improved and look for a step-wise progression in the right direction. No matter how badly one plays, one can always play worse; this establishes the negative direction on a continuum. To move from worse to better is the immediate goal. How far is in the lap of the gods. In practicing, I always ask that the student take time to breathe inaudibly, no matter how long, and divide the music into phrases which can be played without strain in one breath. Problems of fingering are broken down into the smallest division--moving from one note to the next. Step 1: Finger note x, think of the fingering for note y. Step 2: Count 1-2-3 and move on 3 from x to y as quickly as possible. Repeat sequence as required. Step 3: Finger and play x; Step 4: Count 1-2-3 and move to y (as short as possible). Step 5: Integrate notes prior to x, pause on x, count and play y. Step 6: Cut duration of pause (progressively). If you think you are about to make a mistake STOP. Every mistake practiced is a mistake learned. AMEN.

A book appeared some twenty years ago written by a former concert pianist turned computer scientist. He had investigated the different time-space patterns made by someone pressing their finger on a sensitive button in response to a stimulus designed to elicit an emotional response. The button was able to register time and direction. For example, Hate had a sharp profile and took little time to express, Love by contrast, had a gentler profile and required more time. He named the characteristic form of each emotion its essential form. He also experimented with the expressive patterns of musical phrases. One of his most useful observations which reinforced something I already thought but had not formulated was that only one emotion can be conveyed at a time. Aggressive movements while playing affectionate music will not result in the sum of the parts but in the expression of one or other (inadequately).

A recent study of the early years of Alexander's development (Rosslyn McLeod, Up from Down Under) led me to Francois Delsarte (1811-1872) whose system was taught and advertised by Alexander in 1900 as "an aesthetic science with the same precision as mathematical science." Delsarte's history parallels both Alexander's and my own. A talented youth with a beautiful tenor voice, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire at age 14. After six months of vocal instruction his voice was ruined. He remained for four years, studying dramatic art, during which time he realized that his various teachers were each working according to their own personal tastes without any common principle. He set about searching for a scientific basis to artistic expression and from his observations developed his own system of dramatic expression which he taught for many years in a course of "Applied Aesthetics." In this, he emphasized the true nature of all art, "body," "mind" and "soul."

Since losing my metaphorical voice, my flute playing has taken many turns, but I rediscovered the joy of "playing" when I crossed paths with Chung-Liang Huang, a Tai Chi master and author of Embrace Tiger and Return to Mountain. We met as fathers of daughters at a mid-western grade-school when we were talked into performing together for the children (our own included). I discovered that dancing and playing simultaneously, undertaken in the spirit of "play" was both possible and pleasurable. Now, when I sit motionless in an orchestra, it is because I choose to. I know the potential for moving naturally is still there but restrained by choice, not by anxiety.

In my most recent attempts at playing the Aviary, I discovered that, in keeping with a flexible relationship of the jaw, lips and tongue (as examined in the familiar whispered "ah"), the second syllable of the double-tongue (ke) can be produced in a variety of ways. If you listen carefully to the pitch of a whispered ah and compare it to a whispered eh then ee you will notice a rise in pitch as the tongue approaches the palate. The various flutters in the Aviary are in the three different registers of the flute's range. Applying this discovery to the use of the tongue in the different registers, I am able to play the solo more distinctly and more easily than hitherto.

As a final experiment, repeat the following at a speed of 90 beats per second: tikitikitikitiki/ tikitikitikitiki/ teketeketeketeke/ teketeketeketeke/ takatakatakataka/ takataketi---/ Repeat four times, non stop.

My own painful experience led me indirectly to the Alexander Technique and to the constant rebirth of curiosity. I hope yours will encourage you to experiment with the articulation problems of Saint-Saens Aviary which are only one aspect of playing such music in an aesthetically satisfying way.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it has liberated Saint-Saens cage of birds for yet another free flight.