• Bill Politis

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There are 7 comments on Studying the (Body) Language of Music

  1. I loved this article, and the video that accompanies it. Since I have had some opportunity to study the Alexander Technique, I wonder if it figures into any of either Tuttle’s or LaCourse’s teaching. There seems to be some similarities. Would love to know.

    1. I too have studied AT while at BU with Betsy Politin (amazing practitioner!). The bodily concepts of identifying and relieving habitual tension based on trauma or learned patterns are very similar. Thanks for your comment!

  2. KT Coordination has some principals that are similar superficially to Alexander Technique but a lot of the substance is left for the student to discover on one’s own which is why I trained to be an Alexander teacher after studying viola with KT students for many years. One doesn’t replace the other although if you have good use in the Alexander sense you will do many of the gestures taught in coordination naturally. KT’s Coordination, I believe, was much more than most of her students could grasp and what’s left being taught now is a watered down version. Granted it’s better than other approches to playing viola and its a huge topic that goes far beyond music and basic body machnics and requires becoming familiar with a number of topics not typically studied as a music major.

  3. Some of the physical aspects of Karen Tuttle’s approach do overlap with the goals and awareness taught by some Alexander teachers – likewise Feldenkrais, some Yoga practices, Qigong, and many other forms of bodywork or physical awareness/freedom of motion practices. So much depends on the teacher, the student, and physical habits, training, and attitudes of all parties involved – as with so many things! While I admire the fact that Mr. Austin has developed his AT practice, I must disagree with the sweeping pronouncement that “what’s left being taught now is a watered down version” [of Karen Tuttle’s teaching approach], and point out that the ultimate goal of Karen’s approach was certainly never to “do” gestures.
    Of course any tradition that is passed on from teacher to students will certainly not be identical for each student – especially in the case of Karen Tuttle, who recognized and addressed each student’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs with endlessly varied approaches – and obviously the further one gets from “the source”, well — that’s self-explanatory. But she also felt a responsibility to pass on her legacy and invested an enormous amount of time, energy, and personal attention in her involvement with some of her long-time students and teaching assistants to make sure we “got it”, and would carry on her teachings in ways she thoroughly approved.
    In addition to one aspect of her teaching that she called “Coordination” (which means so much more than most people understand the word to signify), Karen addressed one’s physical relationship with the instrument; every conceivable aspect of playing technique, practicing, learning, interpreting, sharing, and experiencing music; mental and psychological aspects and implications of the work involved; teaching strategies; and so much more – including how this all translates into our relationship with the world around us. I studied with her in weekly lessons for about a decade, and met with her between most of my own lessons to discuss the work I did as her assistant, and then for decades afterward, I visited regularly and continued the exploration. I’m honored and humbled to share concepts of Karen’s teaching in annual Karen Tuttle Viola Workshops along with my colleagues Shiela Browne, Susan Dubois, Jeffrey Irvine, Kim Kashkashian, Lynne Ramsay, Karen Ritscher, and Carol Rodland. Karen Tuttle herself attended, taught, and observed each of us (until she became too ill too attend) with a twinkle in her eye, many smiles, nods, and spontaneous outbursts of “That’s it!”, and was reassured that what we taught was not “watered down”. She celebrated the fact that we each had our own vocabulary for teaching the concepts we had studied with her, had found new ways to demonstrate and explain, and had found new tools and related practices that could help our own students. Not every student is open to or able to re-examine their relationships with the instrument, with music-making, and with the world in such a multi-faceted and profound way, nor should we expect this of all of them (neither did Karen Tuttle). But when a wonderful, talented, and serious student like Sam Kelder comes my way and embraces so much of this tradition that is central to my playing and teaching, I feel an enormous amount of satisfaction – and, yes, find myself nodding and smiling and saying “That’s it!” as we explore – knowing that Karen Tuttle would be pleased with what he has accomplished too.

    1. What I meant by watered down is that I often see coordination taught as body mechanics and/or some sort of relaxation technique along with a number of gestures (over the bow, going under, repull, etc.). This is a trap for Alexander teachers too of course, missing the forest for the trees in a way. In my humble opinion the relaxation bit is overdone but maybe this is because most people are too tense. I would question why we do those particular gestures, and if they should be done consciously or if they just happen naturally when someone is “coordinated.” It seems to me that players that have a natural coordination do these things automatically and you can skip imposing those things on yourself. So it’s an open question, if you just learn how to use yourself well by studying the Alexander work or something else in the same vein would you even need to learn those things.

  4. If you’re interested in what I mean by watered-down invite me to teach a class at BU, I’d be happy to talk about my discoveries and show how to reproduce them. There are a lot of misconceptions in the pedagogy about how to use one’s self that you wouldn’t know if you didn’t extensively train in the Alexander work. Most notably with the setup of the instrument and the nonsense about filling in all the space with sponges and such. I went through years of that (and the resulting shoulder a pain) with most the teachers mentioned above before I learned how to use my shoulder girdle properly in the Alexander training and threw away my shoulder rest.

  5. Wow! I have always seen violin as just another instrument for music. I didn’t even know that those who play it often encounter challenges to an extent that it has been given a name!
    I often get intrigued whenever I watch violists play because of their body movement and yes! The beautiful sounds from a violin kept echoing in my head while I read this post.

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