The Music of Movement — by Selma Gokcen

The Music of Movement — by Selma Gokcen

It is a great pleasure to tickle your screens from across The Pond, as they call the Atlantic Ocean here in Great Britain.  I am honoured to be invited to add a few views to what is already a splendid site for cellists and a fruitful educational resource.  The London Cello Society is an important part of my work, and as a nurturer of the cello world in the United Kingdom, I always celebrate a new addition to the Cello Cloud from which we can benefit. Our members are just getting to know CelloBello and they will no doubt enjoy and learn from it.

It is said that the best things to write about are those you love. Therefore it makes sense in this first blog to introduce my passion for the Alexander Technique. As a cellist I have played for over thirty years and love music more than almost anything I can think of, except for roses and the sunshine, and swimming in the deep blue sea. Coming across the Alexander Technique some twenty years ago, I fell in love for a second time.  I knew I had stumbled onto one of the great discoveries of humankind and music had to move over to make space.

Why is the Alexander Technique so rewarding to explore?  Because it is about us…about our habits, our reactions, about how, from one moment to the next, we think and move in the way that we do. As musicians, we express ourselves through our instrument, and as players we hold it close to ourselves.  It becomes, in time, a part of us and we enter into a relationship with it.  The Alexander Technique is a framework within which to look at that relationship, its quirks, its habits, its good and not-so-good aspects. How many of us can say that we are in harmony with our instruments, that we can allow the music to be spoken fully in the moment?  That we enjoy playing and do so with ease?

F. M. Alexander, a Shakespearean reciter and actor, spent the better part of nine years observing himself, formulating and refining his Technique, which he referred to as the “use of the self.” He was led to his discoveries by the loss of his stage voice, caused by his poor habits of reciting and moving. He eventually recovered and established a discipline which has helped thousands of musicians, actors, dancers and others on their path to self-knowledge.

What are the fundamentals of the Alexander Technique?  That the relationship between the head, neck and spine must be allowed to function freely without interference. This freedom can, in most cases, be recovered through conscious application and study of the principles of the Technique.

Just as we work on our intonation continuously at the cello, the Alexander Technique re-educates our sensory awareness and our inner “pitch.” We become re-tuned through lessons, more sensitive to how we move and how our attention is directed.  It is a rediscovery of what Nature intended for us, on a conscious level.

In future blogs I look forward to speaking about the importance of these core principles to cello playing.  It is an adventure into the unknown to take a look inward at ourselves as the “first instrument.”

About the Author:

Selma Gokcen

Selma Gokcen, born in America of Turkish parentage, has received critical acclaim for her imaginative programming.   Along with Bernard Greenhouse and Jonathan Kramer, she presented a programme at London’s South Bank Centre, in New York and at the Kennedy Center entitled Pablo Casals: Artist of Conscience, celebrating the life and music of the legendary cellist.

Ms. Gokcen has performed with L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Presidential Symphony in Ankara, the Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, and the Aspen Philharmonia, among others. Her recital appearances have taken her to such cities as Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Palm Beach, Charleston, S.C., and to Belgium, Italy and Turkey. In South America, she has toured under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. She has concertized in Australia and New Zealand, and given master classes in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

In addition to solo appearances, she is an accomplished chamber musician and has participated in the Chamber Music West Festival in San Francisco, the Southeastern Music Festival, the Hindemith Festival in Oregon, and the Accademia Chigiana in Siena.

Ms. Gokcen holds the Doctorate of Musical Arts, as well as a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from the Juilliard School, where her teachers included Leonard Rose, Channing Robbins, William Lincer and Robert Mann. She was awarded a First Prize from the Geneva Conservatory of Music as a pupil of Guy Fallot, and also studied privately with Pierre Fournier. In 1999 she was chosen by one of Spain’s greatest composers, Xavier Montsalvatge, to record his complete works for cello. She has also recorded Songs and Dances in Switzerland for the Gallo label.

In 1988, Ms. Gokcen became interested in the Alexander Technique, prompted by a lifelong fascination with the roots of habits and the difficulties of modifying them.  Students often entered her cello studio seeking changes but unable to resolve their problems.

Eventually her reading brought her to the Alexander Technique, a discipline described by its founder as “learning to do consciously what nature intended”.  She came to London in 1994 and enrolled in a teacher training program at the Centre for the Alexander Technique.

Ms Gokcen was qualified as a fully-fledged teacher by the Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique in 1998.  In September 2000 she was appointed to the faculty of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she is also a professor of cello. She works with string, wind and brass players, singers and composers. She also incorporates her Alexander Technique teaching as part of her cello studio.

The Alexander Technique embraces what is today called holistic thinking–an indivisibility of the mind-body connection and the awakening of awareness of what  Alexander called the “use of the whole self”, which affects our functioning in all our activities, especially  the highly complex skill of music-making.  It is particularly useful in addressing breathing, coordination, and muscle tensions. Most importantly, the quality of attention developed through the practice of the Technique can transform a musician’s relationship with their instrument and their audience.

Selma Gokcen is also the co-founder and Co-Chair of the London Cello Society.