Fifty-Five Years with the Alexander Technique in a Musician’s Life

AmSAT ACGM Keynote Speech, June 12, 2015

Nelly Ben-Or


Ruth Kilroy: I would like to introduce our guest master teacher, Nelly Ben-Or. We are so grateful that Nelly agreed to join us and share some of her experience with us. Nelly is a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London where she has taught piano and the Alexander Technique for over 40 years. I will let Nelly describe in her own words how she met the work and progressed with it. So, Nelly. [Applause.]


Nelly Ben-Or: Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to come here. My very first visit to the States was actually to Boston. I happened to go for a lesson to my teacher, Patrick Macdonald and after the lesson mentioned to him, “Oh, we’re going next week to Boston.” [She laughs.]

He immediately took out his address book and said, “You’re going to Boston? Well, there are a number of people who are very interested in the Technique. You must contact them because they want lessons.” It was supposed to be our holiday. [The audience laughs.] But I spent the two weeks of our visit—my husband going around and enjoying himself—and I teaching. [Audience laughs.]

After that, for a number of years I used to come back, teaching in Cambridge. I was then also introduced to Frank Pierce Jones, who was extremely friendly. He started sending pupils to me, not knowing if I was any good at all; I probably wasn’t. But he sent pupils to me.

Therefore, I am very delighted to come back to Boston after many years, because in the meantime, after a few years of coming repeatedly to Boston to teach for periods of one or two weeks, I began to go mainly to New York and have been going there for quite a number of years, until, for family reasons, I had to stop traveling, particularly traveling very far from home. This is my very first visit to the States after seven years of absence.

When I was asked to come and do some workshops (something I do at home as well), it wasn’t a particularly new challenge for me. But then at the last minute I was told, “Yes, you’re going to give this keynote talk.” [Audience laughs.] I said, “Wait a minute; that wasn’t the plan.”

Therefore, I’m afraid I did not write anything down, but I will share with you ad hoc my story of how I came to the Technique and what difference it made to my life and to my work as a professional pianist.

People come to the Alexander Technique, as you all know, for a variety of reasons. Roughly speaking, they come because of some problem with health; they come because they are in the performing professions—whether they are actors, dancers, musicians—performing and encountering difficulties; some come because they have read Alexander’s books or have read books about Alexander and, finding the philosophy of it fascinating, want to learn more about it.

I came to the Tech-nique in a very indirect way. I was born in Poland, and that’s where as a child I spent the Second World War years, miraculously surviving. After the war, in 1950, with my mother (my father had been killed by the Nazis), we emigrated to the then newly-established State of Israel. I must say that I was very upset that we had to go there, because, after the War, I was accepted to one of the finest music schools in Poland, where I began to work very seriously as a young musician. At that high school, I was told that after I completed my studies there, I would be sent to the Moscow Conservatoire as one of a small group of students chosen to further our studies. That was a promise of glory.

As it turned out, my mother firmly decided on us leaving Poland for Israel, even though at the Israeli consulate I was told that I would have to forget about piano playing. That was definitely not needed in Israel then. I was resigned, but very unhappy that I might not continue my musical education.

When we arrived in Israel, my mother went to do some manual work, because neither she nor I knew the language. Mother went to a special course to learn Hebrew, and I picked up the language somehow—from the air, I think. [She laughs.] Being a Jewish mother, my mother didn’t fail to tell everybody that she had this wonder-fully talented daughter [Audience laughs] and that her daughter so much wanted to continue her studies.

Somebody listening to this asked my mother to bring her daughter to be introduced to a person newly arrived from New York, who had recently retired from 35 years of teaching piano at the Juilliard School. Her name was Henrietta Michaelson. My mother was told, “Why don’t we take your daughter to this person? If she assesses her and thinks that she is gifted, maybe she will help in some way.”

At that time, we were living in an immigrants’ camp in Jerusalem, which consisted of disused British army barracks. The British had left the area and left behind these barracks. We were placed there among hundreds of post-war Jewish immigrants from Europe; we came with virtually nothing: the clothes that we stood up in and one or two very basic possessions. We were truly very poor and the idea of training to be a pianist was really a fantasy. [She laughs.] However, my mother was told, “Let this woman hear your daughter, and maybe she will help you in some way.”

Well, I went and was auditioned by her. First of all she asked, “Do you speak English?” I said, “Yes.” Then she said something more, which I could not understand at all. My English vocabulary at the time came from a teacher at my Polish high school who must have been self-taught. [Audience laughs.] She was the English professor. The things we learned from her were a few English songs. So I can certainly sing “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” [Much laughter] and “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” However, I knew that Henrietta Michaelson could speak German, so I said, “Bitte, sprechen Sie Deutsch.” [Audience laughs.] She then spoke German to me and said, “Well, come for a lesson next week.” She absolutely took me on as a pupil, there and then.

I said, “Oh, but I don’t have a piano.” She then asked if I studied music—I had studied music very seriously at the very fine music school in Poland. “Have you studied music theory? Have you learned harmony?” I said, “Yes.” “Oh, then you don’t need a piano.” [Audience laughs.]

I was amazed at that. She suggested a piece of music that I should learn that depended much on the knowledge of theory, the knowledge of music harmony, etc.

She said, “You can learn it away from the piano by reading the score and trying to memorize it.” It was complete news to me; I had no idea that this was possible, because in Poland, we had to practice and sit at the piano, spending hours at it, which I was very happy to do, because I loved it.

Well, I started having lessons with Henrietta Michaelson. She realized our basic situation and began to ask for help from her friends in the States. Parcels of clothes began to arrive from New York for me, because she wrote to all her friends in New York: “I have this émigrée from Poland, this girl”—I was sixteen at the time—“and she doesn’t have anything.” [Laughs.] I was suddenly showered with extraordinary clothes and various other items.

Henrietta was an outstanding teacher who, as I said, had just retired the year before after 35 years teaching the piano at Juilliard; and as I began to have lessons with her, I began to hear of something called the Alexander Technique.

Henrietta had had 12 lessons from FM in New York, during the Second World War after he left London, which was so heavily bombed, and came to New York. I don’t know how long he was in New York, whether a year or two—something like this. And all the aristocracy of New York, the intellectual aristocracy, heard about Alexander. They were all: “Do you go to Alexander?” “Yes, I do.” [Audience laughs.]

Henrietta Michaelson went to Alexander as well. Being a remarkable person and a brilliant musician, she saw the value of his teaching for her work as a pianist and teacher. After having 12 lessons with Alexander, when Alexander left, she continued having lessons with Alma Frank. Each one of her students at Juilliard had to go to Alma Frank for Alexander lessons, because the Juilliard School did not acknowledge the Technique in those days, the 1940s. It is different now, I know.

After Henrietta’s arrival in Israel in 1949, young Israeli music students began to crowd around her; and she took on some new students.

Under the influence and insistence of Henrietta that I must learn English, I began to be able to read English. However Alexander’s books…that was another matter. [Laughter.] Those I could not understand.

Henrietta Michaelson had the great integrity to always say that one needs to learn the Alexander Technique from a trained teacher. She often spoke of Alexander as probably one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th century, always saying, “You must find a way of getting an Alexander-trained teacher to come to Israel or, if you have a chance to go somewhere, to have lessons.”

Shmuel Nelken was the first of the young musicians whom Henrietta Michaelson befriended and told about Alexander. Shmuel actually went out of Israel to study—he played the cello—to study with Paul Tortellier in Paris; and from there, he went to London, and I think had one lesson from FM shortly before Alexander died.

Alexander’s brother then asked Patrick Macdonald to take over his teaching rooms in London. The place was called the Alexander Foundation.

That became Patrick Macdonald’s London teaching address. Shmuel Nelken completed his three-year training with Patrick Macdonald and at that time Shmuel and Ora—who was also having lessons with Mr. Macdonald—were planning to return to Israel and get married. Ora was a very close friend of mine; we both studied the piano with Henrietta Michaelson. Ora wrote to me in Jerusalem, “You must come here. You must have some lessons in the Alexander Technique. It is phenomenal!”

This was very difficult for me at the time, because it was a costly proposition, to go from Israel to England, or anywhere in Europe, for that matter. I was holding this letter from Ora, walking along a street in Jerusalem, when another pianist friend stopped me and started chatting. I mentioned to her, “Oh, you know, Ora is wonderful, but she thinks that I can just get up and go to London.” “Why can’t you?” she asked. I said, “Well, I don’t have the money for a start.” She said, “Well, how much does it cost?”

I told her what would be the cheapest way if I went, as it were, on a student’s fare on a boat. She opened her handbag, there and then in the street, took out her checkbook, wrote down the sum, and handed it to me.


Astonished, I said, “What are you doing? How will I give it back to you?” “Oh, you’ll give it back when you have the money,” she said. That’s how I had the ticket for London in my hand. I then met another friend who said, “I know someone who can arrange for you to be a student.” I was 26 at the time, well past my student days. And so the next person said, “Oh yes, of course, I will arrange for you a student’s card, so you can get an inexpensive student ticket and a visa to go to England.” It all just happened.

I came to England in 1960 with a visa allowing me to stay for six weeks and with very little money, just to have some lessons. Ora had spent the previous year studying with a very famous pianist in London, and Shmuel had completed his training with Patrick Macdonald by then. They were both preparing to go back to Israel, and they invited me to stay with them in a little spare balcony in the room that they had in London as students; so I was staying there, sleeping on this enclosed balcony. I had just about enough money to have three lessons from Patrick Macdonald. Why three? Because the lessons were very expensive.

In 1960 I could live—have food for the whole week, more than enough—for three pounds. A half-hour lesson with Patrick Macdonald cost three pounds and three shillings; it was called three guineas. Well, I had just enough to have three lessons. But after my second lesson, which was an overwhelming, extraordinary experience, Patrick Macdonald happened to mention, “Next month, by the way, I am starting a teacher training course.” (I had had my first lessons in September.) It was going to cost 15 pounds a month. The training class would meet five times a week for three hours every day, with a whole group of people.

My arithmetic calculation was very good! I thought to myself, “That means that for 15 pounds I will have five lessons from him every week. I must stay and go to this course for a whole year, then I will know the Alexander Technique, and then I will go back home.” Well, it stands to reason that if you learn something for a whole year, you should know it. [Audience laughs.]

So I borrowed money for the whole year of study. In my passport, I had a stamp from the British authorities that said “The bearer of this passport will not undertake work, paid or unpaid, while in the United Kingdom.” Officially, as you see, I had absolutely no right to earn a penny.

However, [she laughs] meeting other Israeli students, I heard that people found all sorts of ways to earn a pound here and a pound there. Somebody mentioned to me that the BBC broadcast overseas to a whole variety of countries. Every hour they had a program in a different language, including Hebrew, a Hebrew hour daily broadcast from the BBC. Apparently they were looking for a female voice to read the news in Hebrew. I said to my Israeli colleagues, “Yes, but you know I am not a Hebrew-born person. I have an accent, a Polish accent.” “No, that’s very good,” because my pronunciation of the letter “r” was exactly what they wanted, and as some of you know, people born in Israel don’t pronounce “r” like this. [She laughs.] They had to learn how to pronounce it at the front of their tongue. I was told, “You have the right ‘r.’ Go and have a microphone test.” (Just to tell you what one does when the Alexander Technique hits you….) [Audience laughs.]

I went for an audition. They put me in front of a microphone, gave me a piece of Hebrew newspaper to read, and I read it. The producer came out and said, “You have a perfect radio voice, and your articulation is just what we want, but your Hebrew you know is so-so. [Audience laughs.] We will call you to come read the news, but you have to come half an hour earlier so that you will know what you are reading, and you won’t make any mistakes.”

Each time I was called there, I was paid one and a half pounds—in other words, half of what I needed for a week’s living. They would call me normally about twice a week, and sometimes three times a week. Then I was “in the money.” [Audience laughs.] I had another pound and a half for myself to…I don’t know, to buy a pair of stockings or something.

I had left everything in Israel. I had a class of piano students in the music academy in Jerusalem, so I wrote to the head of the Academy and said that I wanted to stay to study in London for a year. They were very gracious and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get another teacher for your students, and when you come back, they will go back to you. It will be assured; you will be able to come back and work. It’s very good that you should study in London.” So, that was sorted out.

Then I met some old friends of our family from Poland, who, I discovered, were living in London. When they heard that I was in trouble, they said, “Well, we have a little room that you can come and stay in.” So, I had accommodation (from Heaven), I had money from the microphone [laughter]—the Hebrew broadcast—and I borrowed money to pay for my first year of learning the Alexander Technique in a teacher training class.

First of all, I did not intend to be a teacher of it. I was a pianist, full stop. I was teaching the piano, I was performing: I had been giving concerts from the age of thirteen. And why should I be a teacher of the Alexander Technique? I wanted it for myself, particularly as I had heard so many wonders about it from Henrietta Michaelson; and, of course, I had had this extraordinary experience from Patrick Macdonald when he worked with me. I did not know what he was doing, but it was extraordinary. That is why I wanted to have as many lessons from him as possible.

Can you imagine what happened? My one year of study, after which I was going to go back home, came almost to a close, and I had the feeling I hadn’t quite learned the whole thing.... [Audience laughs.]

During that year, somebody had asked me to play a concert at the Wigmore Hall, which is one of the very prestigious concert halls in London. Patrick Macdonald came to that concert, so he would have realized that I really was a serious musician.

Why am I telling you this? Because I came to him and said, “Mr. Macdonald, I very much want to stay for another year, but I have no money to pay for the course. I have a piano in Israel, which I would sell, and that would give enough for me to stay here for the next year.”

When he realized that, as a pianist, I was willing to sell my piano in order to pursue the Technique, he looked at me and said, “Leave it with me for a few days.”

He called me to his office about a week later and said, “Look Nelly, I have arranged for a foundation to pay for the rest of your studies for the next two years, on the under-standing that when you finish and when you start teaching, you will pay back in monthly installments, so somebody else can benefit from it.

I later understood that the foundation was Patrick Macdonald. [Audience laughs.] But I was offered to complete the remaining two-thirds of the training without having to pay for it—all the time knowing that I was not really interested in teaching it. But when I was guided by him while directing a colleague, it interested me, because my hands were transmitting something from me to another person. This is what I do as a pianist. Through my hands, I transmit music. That’s why it interested me. Now, what was the use of my hands? Little did I understand that the hands were, in our work––as in fact, also in the playing—transmitting something that had its source far, far more deeply than in the hands.

That took time to see, to perceive. I could experience from him that he wasn’t doing anything, but when his hands came in contact with me, there was a huge change in my entire condition, in my whole situation.

At the time, I was still set on learning as much of this as I could benefit from as a pianist. When somebody would come to the class and ask, “So where are you going to teach the Technique, Nelly?” I would say, “Oh, I’m not going to teach this.” [She laughs.] Obviously I didn’t know then that if I wanted to learn more about the Technique after I had finished my training, I had to teach, otherwise I wouldn’t have developed further.

So that was the background to my eventually becoming a teacher of the Alexander Technique, and the first experiences in relation to my playing were really extraordinary. Being under Macdonald’s guidance and having the experience of his “directions,” every time I would come to a piano after an Alexander class, it felt so free and so easy to play. I thought, “Well, really, when I complete this course, I don’t have to worry about anything in piano playing if I just play.”

Well, it didn’t; it didn’t just play. [Laughter.] Then I was asked to give a concert, somewhere here, somewhere there. I began to realize that, as soon as I started playing, I knew how to play, and my entire old, habitual knowledge of how to play immediately came to the fore. It became clear to me that I had to rethink and begin to understand quite differently learning music and translating it into living music, into sound, not according to my habitual, automatic ways.

I was then up against the real challenge as a musician. I looked at The Use of the Self, the chapter on the Evolution of the Technique, and saw how Alexander went with such extraordinary patience from one moment to the next paying attention. He didn’t just react, but he found a chosen response, not a reaction.

I began to teach myself like somebody who had never played the piano before. I would sit in front of the keyboard, and I would say to myself, “I’m not going to play the piano. I’m not going to play the piano. I just touch this key. I want to hear the sound. Yes, but, what about this Beethoven sonata in front of you? No. One tone and then another tone, the tone next to it.”

Without calling it inhibition, without realizing that I am inhibiting my established way of playing, I began to inhibit the automatic responses in playing by teaching myself the simplest possible way of producing a sound on the keyboard: It is to release the key down—then, actually, to play the piano is very easy. You just release one key after another, release it down, and you are releasing sound, while continuing to be clearly aware of the whole of your presence.

Then I would try to play a phrase of music; I played it in the old way. This is exactly what we experience in learning something as apparently mundane as sitting down in a chair or getting out of the chair.

I know how to get in and out of a chair, but I don’t know if I could be different while getting in and out of the chair. I did not know that I could be different while releasing these sounds out of the keyboard. I had to really understand and know my music very clearly, because, as I also see with students, they play ahead of them-selves. I played faster than I really knew what I was doing. Or, I was doing more than was necessary. It was a huge challenge. It was like climbing Mt. Everest knowing that there must be a wonderful view on top somewhere.

That was the way I proceeded. And through that, I began to see that it would be useful for me also to start to teach the Technique. And so, the development of whatever understanding I gradually began to acquire was through the piano and through teaching not only the piano, but also the Technique.

First of all, I did a lot of teaching of myself. I became a very difficult pupil, because I was a pupil who knew too much about playing, and that knowledge came out automatically. To say to it, “No, not this” wasn’t easy.

A few months after my training, somebody asked me to give a concert again. I went and played, and I walked off the stage after the concert and said to myself, “Well, this Alexander Technique hasn’t changed my playing, really.” Then a question arose, “But do you really prepare so that you don’t rely on your known way? Do you really, completely? Well, yes…maybe not completely?”

Then it was, as it were, “back to the drawing board.” I went on and on. After a few years of continuing to work in this new way, I remember giving a recital in London. After leaving the stage, I said to my husband, “You know, I didn’t do anything.” I remember it was such a revelatory moment that I played not in the way that I had always played in the past. Something had taken root, something different—a dif-ferent response, because I really prepared it in a different way.

Rika Cohen and I became very close friends when we were in training. Rika joined the training with Macdonald, having done two years with Walter Carrington previously. Then she joined Macdonald’s course as if from the beginning, but of course, she had already quite a bit of preparation.

We used to work—practice with each other quite a lot, and remained close friends for years afterwards. Rika, of course, after her training, went back to Israel to her home. I remained in England because I had married an Englishman. [She laughs.]

Rika would come back to London, and she made a point of coming as often as she could, to have further instruction from Patrick Macdonald. Whenever she would arrive in London, we would both go for lessons on working with each other under his guidance, under his “demolition.” [Laughter.] He was splitting hairs, right, left, and center. “This is bad; that’s not correct. What are you doing?” He used to stand there and say, “What are you trying to do, as if I didn’t know?” This was the most devastating moment. He was standing there, watching us fumbling with each other. “What are you trying to do, as if I didn’t know?” [Audience laughs.]

There was such a convincing honesty in his approach to the work; the ego wasn’t present there. It was a concern about the truth of this work. I am not lying, am I? [Macdonald-trained people respond: “No.”] Yes, all of us, all of us who trained with him, have this sense. And it was truth for himself in relation to himself. He would say, “Oh, I’ve gone wrong there.” Not many teachers would acknowledge this. It’s not—I’ve tried it sometimes—it’s not very easy, to say that I’m going wrong, which of course I do....

Do you have any questions that you would like to fire at me? I always say that I have all the answers! [Audience laughs.] What are your questions? Any questions? No? You must have guessed all my answers by now.


Q: What year did you finish training with Patrick Macdonald? What year were you qualified?


Nelly: I qualified in 1963, but I stayed for another year in the class, although I wasn’t officially a pupil in it, but I did continue for another year in the class. After that, going back for a lesson for myself or with a colleague, particularly with RikaI used to love going back, for him to guide us in how to direct each other.

This went on, really, to the day he died, for 30 years. I came to him in 1960; Patrick Macdonald died in November 1991.

Actually, in the last five or six years, I probably went even more than during some of the previous years, because I understood that he wasn’t going to be with us for much longer; and I wanted to get as much as possible from his understanding, from his experience.

It was never “roses all the way.” In the early years after qualifying, I was frightened to go for a lesson, not for myself, that was fine, but, to show how I worked, I was terrified, because I felt that I ought to know something; and I knew that he was going to show me that I knew less than I thought. [She laughs.] So I didn’t like the idea, but I would go, against my feeling.

In the later years, I went because I wanted to hear what could be better understood, what I was doing. One always received so much from him.

I always say that, after a lesson with Patrick Macdonald, all my pupils the next day were so much easier! [Audience laughs.] Something happens to them. You see how essential is our work on ourselves, in giving us what we are able to communicate to a pupil.

As I was working with somebody, I think it was today in the workshop, I said, “You can’t give the pupil what you don’t have. You can only truly give what you have.” In the moment when you are in contact with the pupil, and you are intending to free his Primary Control, you have to understand what it means in you, to allow a freeing in ourselves of this mysterious thing we call the Primary Control.

By the way, very often I find that people I work with—and I work with quite a number of teachers of course in England as well—talk about the Primary Control as if it was something that Alexander invented. But it is a basic influence on our whole system of functioning with which we are born. However, after early childhood it mostly begins to malfunction, if it is not used to its best possible quality and ability.

It is through the Technique that we are learning how to improve the use of our Primary Control. That is not something Alexander invented, but it is something extremely subtle and lies in the moment-to-moment relationship between the head and spine, basically. Improvement in all other details of functioning arises from the improvement in our Primary Control.

That was the experience—I’m sure my colleagues who were trained with Patrick will acknowledge it. That was the experience we received from Patrick Macdonald. The moment this started working truly freely, everything was working freely. One had these experiences from him again and again and again. I was trying to do it and find it and arrange myself and go into monkey position and put my hands like this and do that—oh my God and I [She laughs] and I couldn’t get this miraculous wholeness and freedom in the whole of myself, which I would experience as soon as Patrick began to direct me. I have been looking, ever since, for that in my own work.

Any more questions?


Q: Have you had to deal with pain?


Nelly: Have I had to deal with pain?


Q: Your own pain.


Nelly: Very much so. Oh, but that’s a story. [Laughter.] If I’m allowed? Yes?

Well, I was taking my little daughter to her violin teacher for a lesson and was driving on the main road. I stopped, waiting and indicating to turn off to the teacher’s house, and within two minutes, there was a god-almighty bang. A car drove into me, probably at about 40 miles per hour. I was stationary. It was miraculous that nothing happened to my daughter, who was sitting in the back. But my glasses flew to the back window, and I was thrown, like this [demonstrates rocking back and forth several times] to the point that, when I came back, I tried to move my head, and I literally, truly, asked myself, “Am I dead, or alive?” A true question. I was between being conscious and not quite conscious.

At that point, the man who drove into me turned up by my side and asked, “Are you all right?” When he said this, I burst into tears.

Well, I took my daughter to the lesson, and I managed somehow to drive back home. I began to feel pains that were excruciating. I could not move from the top of my head to the middle of the body. I could not move, certainly not move a shoulder; it was even difficult to move my arms. I could not turn my head—everything was extremely painful. I had the feeling that probably something was broken.

Naturally, I went to our family doctor, an old friend of the family, a general practitioner. I told him, “This happened, and I think that something is broken, because I’m in so much pain.”

He sent me for an X-ray. I came back with the X-ray, and he said, “No, nothing is broken.” He reached for a surgical collar and was handing it to me, when straight away I said, “Oh, thank you, Dr. Baker. Now I know that nothing is broken, I’ll deal with it through the Alexander Technique.” He looked at me and said, “You and your witchcraft!” [Audience laughs.]

I got home and put myself on my Alexander table. I had just read from Sherrington, a very respected neurophysiologist [British neurophysiologist Sir Charles Scott Sherrington (1857–1952)], who wrote—and it stuck in my memory—“A thought is a physiological happening in the brain.”

It stood to reason, I thought. “If this is true, when I lie there, if I keep telling whatever it is that I have inside me, ‘I wish to allow the neck to be free, to let the head be released for-ward and up, to allow the back in a lengthening and widening direction,’ over and over and over again, then….” But, you know something? It had no effect whatsoever. [Audience laughs.]

I spent six hours on that table the first day: three hours in the morning, at least three hours in the afternoon, repeating these directions. And all the time something in me wanting just to adjust a little bit, but I would say to myself, “Don’t, don’t do anything. If it’s uncomfortable, too bad. Really, leave it, because the directions are supposed to do this.” Something in me believed in this, absolutely. Yet, it had no effect.

Meanwhile, my husband rang the college where I teach to say that I couldn’t come to teach because I had a whiplash injury. I don’t know how long they expected me not to be able to come. In any case, the second day, the same thing. I went on and on, lying there, and paying attention to the words that I was saying. Interestingly, I began to realize, for instance, that the word allow didn’t mean much to me. Something wanted to fiddle about and arrange something, and I began to see this and would say to myself, “No, go on sending the messages. Sherrington says in his article that a thought is a physiological happening; let’s see if it will really prove true.”

Second day, third day, fourth day, fifth day. I was in a state—I was in a spasm in my body. But I went on, absolutely [laughs] on and on, repeating my directions.

On the sixth morning I woke up, sat up in bed, and I moved. I was shocked, because there was absolutely no pain. I was able to do a dance, to do whatever I wanted. It really shook me. I was almost frightened of it. The pain had vanished completely. I went back to college to teach. [She laughs.] When I walked into the corridor, the secretary came out of his room. “Miss Ben-Or, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I have come to teach.”

“But you have a whiplash injury.”

“Yes, but that was last week.” [Audience applause.]


Nelly: Thank you very much. [Audience applause.]


This talk was transcribed by Ruth Rootberg.


Nelly Ben-Or qualified as an Alexander Technique teacher from Patrick Macdonald’s training course in 1963. Since 1975 she has been a member of the Piano Department of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (GSMD) in London, teaching both piano and Alexander Technique. The GSMD awarded her a grant to research the influence of the Alexander Technique on piano playing. Nelly has given many Master Classes in Britain and overseas, often in conjunction with giving concerts. She is acknowledged inter-nationally as a performer, teacher, and expert exponent of the application of the Alexander Technique to piano playing.


© 2015 Nelly Ben-Or. All rights reserved.


Photograph by Tony Day.






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