Interview With Pasadena Alexander Technique Teacher Bill Plake

Bill Plake blogs about what led him to the Alexander Technique:

All had been going well by this principle until I reached the age of about forty. I very gradually began to notice that my performing and practicing were becoming inconsistent in quality. This was caused mainly by an intermittent lack of coordination and functioning in my left hand. Though this was somewhat frustrating, I reasoned that all I needed to do to solve this problem was to work harder. It seemed to me that some of my problems were because I was somehow losing some of the strength in my left hand.

I began to do exercises to strengthen the muscles involved with my left hand. At the same time I began to practice music more hours, working a great deal on fingering exercises. Not only did this not help my condition, it actually seemed to make it rather worse.

Prior to this, I had no noticeable pain when I played music. Now, not only was the coordination of my left hand getting worse, I was beginning to feel quite a bit of pain in other places in my body, most notably in my hips, back, neck and shoulders.

Playing music became more and more unsatisfying, filled with great discomfort and frustration. Yet regardless of this, I began to work even harder. The loss of coordination had been very gradual in my left hand, but suddenly things began to rapidly change for the worse.

In a matter of just a few weeks, I began to experience a very serious lack of coordination in my left hand. Other elements of my musical coordination were also beginning to noticeably suffer. My sense of time, my ability to consistently produce the sound I wanted, and my general dexterity all seemed to be coming apart at the seams. At this point, I was afraid to take any work as a musician, or to even rehearse for that matter.

I interview Bill (who graduated in 2006 from the Alexander Technique Institute of Los Angeles) by phone Tuesday night.

Bill: “It’s not my nature to do marketing. I don’t put myself out there that much. I wait for the work to come to me. I made exceptions for the Alexander Technique. First of all, many people do not even know what the work is. I realized early on that I needed to get active with my marketing.

“I put up a website immediately. I got a beautiful brochure. I got out into the community to do seminars. I went to physical therapy offices and chiropractic offices and personal trainers, pilates teachers, who might have clients who might be interested in this work. I taught at the YMCA. That’s how I got several private students. Their friends were telling their friends. Even now, more than 90% of my clients come from word of mouth… More than half of my students are musicians.”

Luke: “What advice do you have for a new Alexander teacher setting up a practice?”

Bill: “We live in this digital age. It’s important to get the work known and yourself known. Get a website up. Use social media. Networking if you’re comfortable. Responding on other people’s blogs. One thing that has led a lot of students my way is that I started blogging. I’m getting lots of musicians now because I have a blog written specifically about the Alexander Technique and music.”

“Think about what your interest is in the Technique and speak to that interest. Go to meetings. Don’t be afraid to talk to pilates teachers, physical therapists, and other modalities where you might have people interested in what you do.”

“As I go on in the Alexander Technique, it’s not so much that I become more confident in my teaching ability as I become more confident in the work itself. If you work the principles, you get good results.”

“When I go speak, I remind myself, be confident in the work because the work works. The principles apply to every person and to every situation.”

Luke: “What are your biggest challenges when you teach the Technique?”

Bill: “To contain myself.”

Luke: “Do you find yourself getting bored teaching the Technique?”

Bill: “Not for one moment.”

Luke: “What’s it like teaching over Skype?”

Bill: “It’s interesting. At first I was reluctant to do it. The only thing I’ll offer on Skype is a one-hour Alexander/movement assessment for musicians. I’ll watch you play for an hour and I’ll give you a lot of detailed feedback about what some of your habits are and how these habits are interfering with your balance and perhaps making playing more difficult. But that’s as far as I’ll go. I’ll say, you clearly need the hands-on work with a teacher. But as you know, there are some people not served by a teacher. They’re hundreds of miles from a teacher. What I do offer regularly are music lessons via Skype through the lens of the Alexander Technique.”

“One of my students in Austria already has an Alexander Technique teacher. He’s just interested in saxophone lessons via Skype because he wants to understand how these Alexander ideas come into playing the saxophone.”

“Everybody I’ve worked with can change. The only person who can’t change is the person who doesn’t want to change or do the necessary work to change. If someone doesn’t want to pay attention or just doesn’t care. I’ve had mothers bring their 15-year old daughters to my class at the YMCA. She hates her daughter’s posture. She’s slouching all the time. I graciously work as much as I can but I see the same thing over and over. These daughters have no interest in changing. It’s not their need. So they typically don’t change.”

“I’ve had some bright people come in who had a hard time changing and I’ve had some not-bright people come in who could change easily.”

Luke: “Do you notice any male-female differences?”

Bill: “No.”

Luke: “How popular do you think the Technique can be with the general public? Can it ever be akin to yoga?”

Bill: “I don’t believe it ever will until there’s a radical shift in consciousness in the human race.

“The main reason why I don’t think this will ever be wildly popular is that this demands a responsibility and vigilance that most people are unwilling to adhere to.

“I’d heard of the Alexander Technique 20 years before I took my first lesson. When I took my first lessons, I knew that if I had done this at 28, I would never have gone back to my second lesson. I would’ve said, there is no way I’m going to pay attention like this. I just don’t care.”

“Vigilance was easier for me when I came to it at an older age because I was feeling desperate. I was willing to do anything to keep playing my instrument.”

“Many people just don’t want to do the work. Many of these people don’t mind going to a yoga place. I see them where I teach at the YMCA and I see 20-30 people go into a giant yoga class and they come hobbling out with the same old crippled use that they had going in. But they feel good about it. ‘I went to yoga. My posture is going to be good. And life’s going to be good because I did my yoga.’ Many people don’t mind doing that one-hour yoga class two or three times a week. It’s like taking a pill. You do your yoga or you do your pilates or you go to your physical therapist or you go to your chiropractor and then you feel good about it.”

Luke: “Is there anything I should ask you about that I haven’t asked you about?”

Bill: “No. You’ve asked a thorough interview. Many interesting questions. Many of the things you asked I’ve never sat down and thought about. So it was nice to think about those things in the moment.”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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