The LIVING Memory - 2012 F.M. Alexander Memorial Address

F.M. Alexander Memorial Address given June 3, 2012 at the 2012 AmSAT Annual Conference and General Meeting in New York City. This article was originally published in AmSAT Journal, Issue No. 2, Fall 2012. The entire Fall 2012 issue of AmSAT Journal is available in the Bookstore.

 

Pamela Blancby Pamela Blanc

 

The 25th Anniversary of the founding of AmSAT!

I consider it an honor to give the F.M. Alexander Memorial Address this year. The F.M. Alexander Memorial Address! On AmSAT’s 25th Anniversary!

I do consider it an honor as well as a challenge to deliver the memorial address this year––it is a challenge to stand before this esteemed community of Alexander teachers to pay tribute to Frederick Matthias Alexander and his work.

I met this challenge by asking the question: What is a MEMORIAL ADDRESS? What PURPOSE is the F.M. Alexander Memorial Address supposed to serve?

F. M. Alexander

I contacted STAT to ask the origin and purpose of the F.M. Alexander Memorial Address in their society. While waiting for a reply, I googled “What is a Memorial Address?” The FIRST search item to show up was the title of an EP by a Japanese recording artist.

The second item listed was Lincoln’s Memorial Address––in case you're interested it’s Independence Avenue SW in Washington DC!!!!!

I started laughing. I was sitting at my computer laughing that I should be so focused on a “memorial address” being a talk! I was thinking “Hmmm….I know Lincoln gave a Gettysburg Address, but when did he give a memorial address? I don’t know my American History!”

Does that mean that F.M.’s Memorial Address is––say it with me––16 Ashley Place, Westminster, London?!

 16 AP became my Working Title.

However, Remembrance of F.M. Alexander seemed like a more reasonable answer to the question of the purpose served by a memorial address––better than his last known teaching address.

But––I never met the man. And I was asked to give this Memorial Address!

I LOVE THIS WORK SO MUCH! It has guided my life both professionally and personally. I love teaching this work, and I have met some of my closest friends through this work and this organization.

But I never met the man. This work, known as the F.M. Alexander Technique, has raised my consciousness and the standard of my health and general well-being. But––I never met F.M. Alexander. And I was asked to give this Memorial Address!

 

 

So I made the decision to re-read his four books…in order. I had read them before but never in order.

Man’s Supreme Inheritance—1910, Age 41

Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual—1923, Age 54

The Use of the Self—1932, Age 63

The Universal Constant in Living—1941, Age 72

Frederick Matthias (F.M.) Alexander, 1869-1955, Notice his left knee going forward...and away.Take note of the year and his age when he wrote the books. I found this quite fascinating. He was 41 when he wrote Man’s Supreme Inheritance and 72 when he wrote The Universal Constant in Living.

STAT’s reply arrived via e-mail. I’d like to share it with you.

Soon after the revival of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, in December 1960 a new category of membership was proposed––that of Associate Members consisting of students, teachers and interested pupils of the Technique. In 1961, the first F.M. Alexander Memorial Address was given at the Medical Society of London by the renowned eye surgeon Andrew Rugg Gunn, a pupil possibly of F.M.’s and certainly of the Barlows.  It was well received and became something of an institution.  Most of the first generation teachers, Irene Tasker, Dr. and Mrs. Barlow, Patrick Macdonald, Walter Carrington, and Eric de Peyer gave the lectures.  Nikolaas Tinbergen (the Nobel prize winner and ecologist), Joyce Wodeman (Bird), John Nicholls, Michael McCallion, Adam Nott, Yehuda Kuperman, John Hunter, Misha Magidov and many others.  Originally the Memorial Address stood alone, but more recently it has been linked to the STAT Annual Conference—presumably because of economic considerations.

Over the years most of their lectures have been reprinted in The Alexander Journal and form an interesting record of the varied ways in which the Technique has been applied.

The original purpose was to remember and pay homage to the work of F.M. Alexander and to indicate to outsiders the incredible benefits the practice of his work has brought to the world.  So it continues today.1

Okay! I got my answer from STAT: to pay homage to F.M.’s work and “to indicate to outsiders the incredible benefits the practice of his work has brought to the world.”

Yes, I re-read his four books, and I am paying homage to his work, to borrow a phrase, “As I See It.”

I’d like to invite you to go on a meandering journey with me, a journey paying homage to the work of F.M. through my eyes. And, since this is the 25th anniversary of AmSAT, let’s take a little stroll through recent history… from a West Coast point of view.

I, Pamela Blanc, was born in 1949! Why is it relevant that I was born in 1949? We are not here to pay homage to me! … But this homage is through my perspective––and as F.M., I’m sure, would agree––my perspective is perceived through the manner of my use of my self.

Yes. I was born in 1949; that makes me 63 years old as of this past February.

Our founder did NOT begin training teachers until he was 63 years old. Except for A.R. Imagine that. And I began training teachers when I was barely 40 years old. I was ahead of F.M. WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!

FYI: I trained teachers for nine years and then I stepped down from actively training, but I continue to be one of the owners of The Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles (ATI-LA) overseeing Continuing Education there, and I am at Lyn Charlsen Klein’s beck and call. ATI-LA was founded in 1987 by eight teachers: Frank Ottiwell, Michael Frederick, Sydney Laurel Harris, Jean-Louis Rodrigue, Lyn Charlsen Klein, Babette Markus, Judith Stransky and me. At this point in time, both Frank and Judith have retired from ownership and we have brought Frances Marsden on board. Lyn is our acting director. The school is going strong and is founded on the belief that there are many parts to the elephant, all of which are relevant.

And that brings me to the HEART of this address. ALL PARTS OF THE ELEPHANT ARE RELEVANT!

If there is one person I have to thank for the foundation of my understanding of the Alexander Technique––and I know there are many––but if there were one person, it would be Mr. Frank Ottiwell! Frank was my FIRST teacher, and he taught me that there are many ways to understand this work. He was trained by Judith Leibowitz right here in New York City.

I would like to pay homage to Judith Leibowitz, who trained many of you. If you were trained by Judith Leibowitz, would you please stand up. It was Judith who brought the Alexander Technique to Juilliard. And I’d like to acknowledge other Alexander Teachers who followed in Judith’s footsteps: Carolyn Serota who teaches now in the Drama Division followed in Judith’s footsteps; Lorna Faraldi and Ron Dennis were the first to teach the Alexander Technique in the Music Division, followed by Lori Schiff who teaches there now; Jane Kosminsky in the Dance Division; Jaye Miller Dougherty in the Drama Division; and Tom Vasiliades in the Evening Division. The Alexander Technique has a strong presence here at Juilliard thanks to Judith Leibowitz.

Frank completed his training with Judith in 1959. He was not able to make the trip to England to study with F.M. before F.M. died. There was a short window of opportunity; and Frank, in his youth, thought that window would be open much longer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Frank shared this with me and encouraged me to pursue my course of study with as many teachers as possible.

Not only that, Frank became a student before my very eyes by demonstrating a willingness and a desire to learn from others. Frank and Giora Pinkas became students in our classroom when Patrick Macdonald visited. Frank invited Marjorie Barstow to San Francisco. He became a student of hers and traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska in the summers to study with her. In the evenings, he and Kelly McEvenue and I would meet in a motel room and talk about how Marj had worked with us that day, and we’d work with each other in those Lincoln motel rooms. Frank was our teacher, but he was also a student with us.

Frank opened his school, his home, and his heart to Walter and Dilys Carrington. He continued to learn alongside us. I have Frank to thank for teaching me that ALL PARTS OF THE ELEPHANT ARE RELEVANT TO THE WHOLE ELEPHANT.

Take a look around this room. This is the American Elephant! Attend an International Congress and you see the Alexander Elephant of the World. By the way, I want to take my hat off to Michael Frederick and his first wife, Lena Frederick, for lighting the fire that 26 years ago ignited the First International Congress of Teachers of the Alexander Technique.

What a gift that was and continues to be! It is a place, a meeting ground, where the ELEPHANT can EXIST and TRUMPET.

Frank Ottiwell was my first teacher, Giora Pinkas was the next teacher I studied with; they were co-directors of ACAT-SF.

In this photo, am I in startle or am I excited? I am 30 years old, and I have the undying love of my two teachers on either side of me as I receive my certificate in 1979. Frank was 50 and Giora was 41 at the time. Look at the love and admiration in Giora’s eyes.

I met and studied with Patrick Macdonald on his annual visits to California before, during, and after my training. In addition, I learned from my colleagues in the training: Bob Britton, Jean-Louis Rodrigue, Kelly McEvenue, Ari Gil, and Larry Ball, to name just a few. While still in training, we met Marjorie Barstow! What a game changer that was!

Now, here’s an interesting part for you East Coasters. In 1977–78, when I was still in training, we started ACAT-WEST. In fact, I was the president of it at one stage, as were Jean-Louis Rodrigue, Sydney Harris, and Babette Markus. It was a terrific organization. We met regularly to discuss ways to inform the public about the Technique. We met even more frequently to exchange work with each other and improve our own understanding. We had annual retreats at Asilomar, a conference center on the Monterey peninsula, and in Cambria, California. At that time there were 20–30 of us teaching in California, giving energy to the development of this work. We were an active community in our youth, full of optimism, respect, and love of this work.

This young group of California Alexander Technique teachers, with Frank’s encouragement, would continue to work with Patrick Macdonald during his visits, would host the Carringtons and Marjorie Barstow. I would travel up and down the state to work with them, as I had moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, back to San Francisco, and back again to LA.

Here is a photo of a few of us who were in negotiation with East Coast
teachers in the process of forming NASTAT, in Boston, 1986.

In front: Sydney Harris. In back, from left to right: Pamela Blanc,
Michael Frederick, Jean-Louis Rodrigue, Joan Schirle, Lyn Charlsen Klein.

 

The year I completed my training, 1979, Michael and Lena Frederick moved to Ojai, California from London, where they had done their training with Walter and Dilys Carrington a couple of years earlier. Straight away Michael began inviting the Carringtons to California. Frank welcomed them to San Francisco with open arms. I remember we had a dinner party for them at Frank’s house. Jean-Louis was our chef extraordinaire, Kelly and I were sous chefs, and Frank stirred the gin and tonic. We had such fun entertaining them.


By 1980 Michael was organizing the first of many Alexander Technique residential courses in Ojai, California. He invited me as a young teacher to teach on the first course. That was when I first met John Nicholls.

Ojai faculty (Front row: Robin Möckli-Cowper, Bridget Belgrave, Elisabeth Atkinson,
Erwin Möckli. Back row: Michael Johnson-Chase, Frank Ottiwell, Lena Frederick,
John Nicholls, Pamela Blanc, Michael Frederick, Rome Roberts Earle

The First International Congress of the F.M. Alexander Technique, held in Stony Brook, New York in 1986––Michael asked me if I’d be willing to chauffeur Dr. and Mrs. Barlow. I said YES! However, I knew Marjorie Barstow better, and I wanted to be with her. But June Ekman got to be with Marjorie Barstow during that Congress. As it turned out, I had never met Dr. and Mrs. Barlow before, and driving them was an exquisite opportunity to get to know them. I rented a Lincoln Town Car, and I picked them up at the airport, drove them to and from their hotel, which was a good 30-minute ride from the venue of the Congress, and we talked. So I got to know them, and that is when my relationship with them began.

Teachers at 1986 Congress (Front Row: Dilys Carrington, Marjory Barlow,
Marjorie Barstow, Shoshana Kaminitz; Back Row: Dr. Wilfred Barlow,
Walter Carrington, Patrick Macdonald)

Everyone comes to this work with his or her own experiences. We now have over 3000 Alexander Technique teachers: 3000 individuals teaching the principles of the Alexander Technique worldwide––from their own perspective––and over 600 in training.

I once heard Walter Carrington say, “If you want to learn to do something really well, observe others doing that thing. If you want to learn to be a great tennis player, look at the great tennis players.  Don’t look for what is different; look for what is the same.”

What is the SAME?

WHAT WAS F.M. TEACHING?

In 1966, Marjory Barlow wrote a review of Lulie Westfeldt’s book, F. Mathias Alexander; The Man and His Work.  She wrote the review for the Alexander Journal (STAT, Summer 1966, Issue no. 5) p. 30–31. In her review, she recalled some of the things Alexander said to the students in his teacher-training course:

He [Alexander] was realistic enough to know that much remained to be discovered in extending the scope and application of the work. ‘Remember that we are only on the fringe of this new knowledge,’ he would say. He emphasized the need for a teacher to develop his own way of passing on the Technique. Very often he would warn us: ‘Don’t copy me. I don’t want a lot of monkeys imitating me. Watch what I do and understand why I do it, then you will find your own method of achieving the result.’ He knew that wide variation in teaching method was inevitable and desirable so long as the essence of his discoveries was not abandoned. He expected us to show initiative and make discoveries for ourselves and would not ‘spoon-feed’ us. 3 

"Human activity is primarily a process of reacting unceasingly to stimuli received from within or without the self." - F.M. AlexanderEveryone comes to this work with his or her own experiences, and we each teach from our own understanding and interest. I came to it… and I remember writing on my application to Frank and Giora’s training school in 1976 that I was interested in “Human Potential.”  I was 27 years old and I was seeking consciousness.

Consciousness!

Fast-forward to the 2011 International Congress. Max Velmans spoke to us about “Links between awareness, thinking and perception.” I was fascinated by his talk. His bio said that he had written an outstanding review of theories of consciousness, “Understanding Consciousness,” and that in his talk (listen closely now), we would explore some ways of understanding the causal links between consciousness and the embodied brain, viewed as a psychophysical unity. The bio also said, “Max is interested in further discussion with Alexander Teachers following his talk.” So, not immediately following his talk, but at some point after, I saw Max in the lobby of the Congress Center in Lugano, and I got up the courage to approach him. After small talk and telling him I appreciated his presentation, I told him I thought the Alexander Technique enhances consciousness. Would he agree? (I was fishing! I wanted this man to agree with me.) He said, as a philosopher might, “It depends on what you mean by the word ...” and here there was a long pause. I thought he was going to complete the sentence with the word consciousness. BUT NO!!! He said, “It depends on what you mean by the word enhance!!!”

I just cracked up. I started laughing and said, “Oh, come on. At some point, we have to figure out that we agree on the meanings of some words in order to communicate on a verbal level, don’t we?”  We had a nice exchange and laughter, and I’m afraid it didn’t go anywhere. :)

So I come to the work on a path for enhancing human potential, enhancing consciousness in the ordinary, everyday individual––Conscious Guidance and Control of the Individual as a plane to be reached.

In 1966, Walter Carrington wrote the Foreword to the sixth edition of Man’s Supreme Inheritance in which he refers to F.M.’s thesis that conscious guidance and control need to be cultivated by us all.

I pay homage to F.M.’s work––as I SEE IT. Yes, I’ve read his writings; I’ve worked with people he trained; I know I do NOT have the whole elephant, but neither did they and neither do you––AND, DARE I SAY, neither did F.M. He was “only on the fringe of this new knowledge.” He learned from people he met and people he taught: doctors, actors, authors, scientists, politicians, educators. And yes! I think he continued to grow in his understanding of his discovery and the work evolved.

I pay homage to F.M.’s work: He had a problem to solve with his voice. When no doctor could help him, he took matters into his own hands and he OBSERVED himself.

Eighteen years after F.M.’s death, Nikolaas Tinbergen dedicated half of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Alexander’s process of discovery. Tinbergen said:

We [his wife, his daughter, and himself] discovered that the therapy is based on exceptionally sophisticated observation, not only by means of vision but also to a surprising extent by using the sense of touch. 5 

… the old method ... of ‘watching and wondering’ about behavior ... can indeed contribute to the relief of human suffering - in particular of suffering caused by stress. 6 

In The Universal Constant in Living, F.M. wrote, “I was concerned with a technique for dealing with the working of the living human organism as a whole....” 7

“Inhibition is a human potentiality of the utmost value in any attempt to make changes in the human self....”8

I pay homage to F.M.’s work:

• Enhancing consciousness;

• Developing the skill of watching and wondering; self observation;

• Handling stress by controlling human reaction;

• Health in living.

THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE IS THE STUDY OF HOW WE USE OURSELVES.

 

“You translate everything, whether physical, mental
or spiritual, into muscular tension.”9

By way of the process of exceptionally sophisticated self-observation, we begin to see how we do interfere with the best working of our organism. Observation leads to awareness. From there we have a choice. We cannot consciously choose what we do not know.

I am still interested in personal growth, consciousness, human potential.

I teach private lessons in a music conservatory to talented young adults; my private practice in Los Angeles has a large number of singers, musicians, and actors. But, I have also worked, as many of you have, with individuals with back pain, emphysema, bronchitis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, strokes, thoracic outlet syndrome, and on and on.

But those are the conditions…and WE ARE WORKING WITH THE INDIVIDUALS, NOT THEIR CONDITIONS. As individuals they may be employed as computer programmers, writers, financial advisors, aerospace technicians, engineers, puppeteers, professional athletes, office managers, psychiatrists, psychologists, monks, teachers, children, parents, set designers, dialect coaches, gardeners, newscasters, shall I go on?! They are individuals gaining conscious guidance and control of themselves, for their art form, to manage their pain, for their life.

In The Universal Constant in Living, Alexander wrote, “Health in living...may be defined as the best possible reaction of the organism to the stimuli of living as manifested in its use and functioning.” 10 In our breakout group the other day, I read this quote and it was very quickly realized that “Health in Living––The Alexander Technique” is a great slogan. Feel free to borrow it from F.M: “Health in Living.”

I pay homage to F.M.’s work and my understanding of it in hopes of enhancing consciousness.

And LET US NOT FORGET that this work is passed down through the sense of TOUCH; it is kinesthetic re-education. It is passed down through touch and through our own understanding.

We all understand and respond differently. Who knows what F.M.’s teaching was really like? Just about everyone who ever worked with him has passed away. Our dear Rome Roberts Earle is one of the few individuals who is still with us; she had first hand experience with F.M. First HAND! Yes, this work is passed down through the sense of touch!!!

This is one of my favorite photos of F.M. I love the clarity of what his hands are doing: the forward, the up, the back.

And, here is one of my favorite quotes. I use it a lot in my promotional material.

“...the most valuable knowledge we can possess is that of the use and functioning of the self, and of the means whereby the human individual may progressively raise the standard of his health and general  well-being.”11

It’s no wonder that Frank Ottiwell teaches differently than Giora Pinkas; and Patrick Macdonald taught differently than Walter Carrington; Walter taught differently than Marjorie Barstow who taught differently than Marjory Barlow who taught differently than her husband, Dr. Barlow, who taught differently than Peggy Williams, who taught differently than Elisabeth Walker, who taught differently than Dilys Carrington. We all teach differently.

We are individuals engaging in Constructive Conscious Control of our individual SELVES!!! We teach what we know; we teach what we understand; we teach from and through our experiences and our interests.

WE ARE DIFFERENT!

I CELEBRATE OUR INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES!!!

I CELEBRATE YOU!

I pay homage to this work passing through us.

We are each going to teach differently than each other. We must. We have to. There is no other way to teach this work except through our own individual understanding and experience and embodiment.

The Alexander Technique is a big body of work. No one has the corner on the market of what this work is and what it can do.  It is based on Principles that run deep. We can keep growing, evolving in our understanding of these principles. 

BUT––I beg of us––let’s NOT water down the principles. EVOLVE yes––water down NO!

F.M.’s work evolved. He evolved. We can view his evolution as we read through his four books. And, thanks to Jean Fischer publishing Articles and Lectures, we have a collection of his early writings and reproductions of his early flyers promoting Respiratory Education in 1906 and Kinesthetic Re-Education in 1908. He learned from people he met and people he taught: doctors, actors, authors, scientists, politicians, educators. And, yes! His understanding of this new knowledge evolved.

Today I remember and honor F.M. and, perhaps more importantly, I honor US.

Jessica Wolf’s work “The Art of Breathing,” re-educated my respiratory system in a profound way. Every one of you who has ever put hands on me has re-educated my kinesthetic sense.

I honor us! You and me; we who teach his work; we who teach the F.M. Alexander Technique; we are THE LIVING MEMORY!

We have evolved his work. We have met and learned from other Alexander Technique teachers, YES! My generation met and learned from teachers F.M. trained. And, this next generation is learning from the teachers they trained. And we are all taking each other farther in understanding the psychophysical unity of the working of the human organism.

My point in all of this is just to say: IN THE BEGINNING there was F.M., then A.R., the First Training Program, the Second, the Third… the Next Generation, the Next….

And NOW there is ALL OF US!

What an amazing educational lineage WE have had.

Through all these teachers, and others whom I haven’t named, one to the other and on to you and me. One candle lighting another…

We are individuals!

WE ARE DIFFERENT!

I CELEBRATE OUR INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES!

And I SEE WHAT IS THE SAME.

I CELEBRATE US!

Stick to Principle––YES!

But, perhaps, more importantly, explore what the principles mean to you. Embody the principles. Work the principles. Teach the principles. Reap the benefits of sticking to principles.

Giving people the experience of the benefits of the principles without teaching them the principles is a little like giving someone a fish dinner but not teaching them that there are fish in the river.

      There’s a lifetime to work this work, your lifetime and mine. It’s about Constructive Conscious Control of each of us Individually. Marj Barstow used to say, “Put on your Constructive Thinking Cap.” And, truth be known, it is brain activity. It is work.

      I’d like to end by repeating what Marjory Barlow wrote in 1966:

      He [Alexander] emphasized the need for a teacher to develop his own way of passing on the Technique. Very often he would warn us: ‘Don’t copy me. I don’t want a lot of monkeys imitating me. Watch what I do and understand why I do it, then you will find your own method of achieving the result.’ He knew that wide variation in teaching method was inevitable and desirable so long as the essence of his discoveries was not abandoned. He expected us to show initiative and make discoveries for ourselves and would not ‘spoon-feed’ us. 12 

So, I invite you to SHOW INITIATIVE and MAKE DISCOVERIES OF YOUR SELF, FOR YOUR SELF—and TRUMPET! 

 

 

Endnotes

1. E-mail from STAT to Pamela Blanc, March 5, 2012.

2. F.M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living (London: Mouritz, 2000), 88.

3. Marjory Barlow, “Review of F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work” in Lulie Westfeldt, F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work, 2nd ed. (London: Mouritz, 1998),  170.

4. F. M. Alexander, The Use of the Self (Long Beach, California: Centerline Press, 1984), 42.

5. Nikolaas Tinbergen, Nobel Lecture: “Ethology and Stress Diseases,” www.nobelprize.org.

6. Ibid.

7. F. M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, 104.

8. F.M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living,  87.

9. F.M. Alexander, Articles and Lectures (London: Mouritz, 1995), 207.

10. F.M. Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living, 65.

11. F.M. Alexander, “Preface to the New Edition,” The Use of the Self, ix.

12. Marjory Barlow, “Review of F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and His Work,” 170.

Pamela Blanc graduated in 1979 from the American Center for the Alexander Technique, San Francisco (ACAT-West). She teaches privately in Los Angeles and also at the Music Conservatory of Chapman University; and she presents master classes in music schools and conservatories throughout Southern California. Pamela was a featured teacher at the 2011 International Congress of the F.M. Alexander Technique. She oversees the Continuing Education Programs for The Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles (ATI-LA) of which she is a Founder and a Member of the Board of Directors.

© 2012 Pamela Blanc. All rights reserved.

Photographs of F.M. Alexander  ©  1997 The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, London.
Additional photographs courtesy of Pamela Blanc.

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