Five Questions with Alexander Technique Teacher Jean McClelland

Jean McClelland by Anastasia Pridlides

[Jean McClelland is teaching a free workshop for ACAT members—"The Flow of Voice, Breath and Body"—on Monday, January 26th, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. To confirm your space in the class, email the ACAT office.]

Q. How long have you been teaching?

A. I was certified by AmSAT and ACAT in 1991, although I have been teaching singing since the late 1970s.

Q. How were you first introduced to the AT?

A. I was introduced to the Technique through a friend of mine at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, where I went in 1972 (after college) to study with the extraordinary singer, artist, and teacher, Olga Averino. My friend Susan had been studying voice since high school but had developed enormous vocal tensions. Susan's teacher at Longy (not Olga) had lived for some years in South Africa and was acquainted with the Technique and felt that Susan would benefit from lessons. There were very few AT teachers in the area at the time, but Susan started lessons with Joe Armstrong. Susan would share with me her experiences in her lessons, and she encouraged me to study with Joe by saying that she thought I would like the AT because it was "very intellectual!" Without knowing a whit about what the Technique was about, I went off for Alexander lessons. Everything in my life changed. I remember so clearly my first lesson, looking at Joe and thinking that he was standing in a very odd fashion. He clearly had a "torso back and up off the legs,"which is what we see in great athletes and musicians, but it was foreign to my eyes and foreign to my body. It was however exactly what Olga meant when she said that a singer must, "stand like a baseball player." At that time, I had little understanding of how to use my body. Indeed, the comment after my first jury in conservatory was, "Musically very intelligent but needs to develop the physical requirements necessary for solo singing."

Q. What made you decide to become a teacher of this work?

A. About six months after I started lessons with Joe Armstrong, my posture changed quite significantly, and about a year after that, I had an experience that was quite revelatory. I was in conversation with someone, and for the first time in my life, I was totally present and spontaneous. I think that experience made me understand the profound nature of the Alexander Technique, even though I was light years away from understanding it. Those early years of study were so transformative to every aspect of my life that it seemed natural to want to share this work with others. I have always loved teaching, and once I started doing more and more voice teaching, it became apparent to me that including Alexander as part of voice study would be ideal. In the late 80s, I began to shift my performing away from musical theater to more concert work, and it became easier for me to commit to the three-year training. I entered ACAT in the spring of 1988.

Q. What most excites you about your upcoming workshop at ACAT?

A. The art of using one's voice in singing and acting can often seem quite mysterious. In her autobiography, "The Inner Voice: the Making of a Singer," the opera singer Renée Fleming asks: "How can I describe a process to you that is mostly unconscious?" And Olga Averino in her book, "Art and Principles of Singing," writes that "the process of good singing is a process of physical and psychological coordination. Physical coordination depends on the alignment of the singer's instrument. In itself, it produces no sound, but it creates the conditions which allow the imagination to produce the sound." As Alexander teachers we guide our singing and acting students to an improved use of their bodies and their coordination, but we must also be able to help them free their imaginations and encourage them to have a curious and improvisational mind. Only then will they truly sing or act freely and expressively.

My main goal for this workshop is for participants to explore how to use their imaginations to stimulate breath and voice, and to understand and how to creatively work with many of the vocal concepts that abound in voice lessons, such as: vocal support; open throat; breath movement; diaphragmatic breathing; grounding; embodied voice, intention, etc.

Q. What is your favorite way to engage with the AT in your daily life right now?

A. It's simply a way of being present in the world, isn't it?

[author] [author_info]JEAN MCCLELLAND received her B.A. from Vassar College, did graduate study at Boston University in opera, and has studied extensively at the Carl Stough Institute, Psychosynthesis Institute of New York, and the Michael Chekhov Studio. As a performer she has appeared in the Broadway production of "Camelot" and has played leading roles in numerous musicals and operas. Jean also performs in concert with her husband, Bill McCelland. Jean is on the faculty of the New York Open Center and has given workshops at New York University, Vassar College, Rutgers University, William Paterson University, Stevens Institute and the Rowe Conference Center. [/author_info] [/author]

Finding What You Need: Collaborating to Create Your Support Structure as an Alexander Technique Teacher

teamworkby Karen Krueger Teaching the Alexander Technique can be lonely. After the structure and camaraderie of training, it can be daunting when we suddenly find ourselves having to create our own schedules, our own ways of self-care, continued learning and practice development.

For me, the answer to this dilemma has involved connecting with other teachers and other professionals. The difficulties of creating a practice as a solo entrepreneur can lead us to view others solely as competitors, rather than potential collaborators. But there are many different models of collaboration being put into practice in our community. This blog post describes some of mine. At the next free member event at ACAT on October 20, we will explore this topic in greater depth. Please come, contribute your voice, and connect with fellow ACAT members.

The Many Benefits of Exchanges

My two weekly exchanges are my most important support. I also enjoy occasional exchanges with others, but there is something very special about the relationships that have developed through consistent, regular interaction with the same people, who are friends as well as colleagues. We share our questions and interests of the moment; experiment with different approaches (everything from where we put our hands to what we think and say); discuss challenges that we are dealing with in teaching; and generally have fun while honing our skills and taking care of ourselves. We also get to see each other, socialize, and support one another in practice development. We share practical information like where to find teaching space and what interesting workshops are coming up. These weekly meetings are a source of joy and well-being for all of us.

We also refer students to one another. I have several students who also work with one or more of my exchange partners. Occasionally we have had lessons with two teachers and one student—which is wonderful for all concerned, though perhaps not practical as a regular teaching model!

Other Collaborations

Many other forms of collaboration, both formal and informal, are possible. We can volunteer at ACAT's monthly free introductions to the Alexander Technique for the general public (the "Hands-On Demonstrations"). We can partner with other teachers to promote our work, or to develop our individual marketing approaches. We can team up with other professionals to reach people who might not otherwise hear of our work. For example, last year I taught a series of small group classes in a physical therapist's studio: she got her patients to enroll, and I showed up and taught. I learned a great deal and enjoyed the class, and several of the class participants went on to take private lessons with me.

Not every such effort bears fruit. I have done many things to promote the Alexander Technique and my own practice that have not resulted in an immediate influx of paying students. I keep making connections, though, because I believe that the more people have heard of our work and have some understanding of what it is and what it can do, the better for all of us.

Free Member Event: Building Your Practice Through Collaboration

If this topic interests you, I hope that you will join Michael Hanko, Anastasia Pridlides, Morgan Rysdon and me on Monday, October 20, 7-9pm, for "Building Your Practice Through Collaboration." We will explore ways to connect with others to create the support structures we need to thrive and grow as teachers. First, we'll hear from the panelists about how their various collaborations with Alexander Technique teachers and others have contributed to their teaching skills and helped them develop their practices. Then, we'll break into smaller groups so you can connect with others looking to support each other in various ways. I hope to see you there.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]KAREN G. KRUEGER became a teacher of the Alexander Technique after 25 years of practicing law at two major New York law firms, receiving her teaching certificate from the American Center for the Alexander Technique in December 2010. Her students include lawyers, business executives, IT professionals and others interested in living with greater ease and skill. Find her at her website: [/author_info] [/author]

Engaging With Play: How Games Can Enhance Your Teaching Practice

children-playing-661064-mby Anastasia Pridlides I attended the "games teachers play" free member event on April 28th ready for fun. I had been looking forward to this event from the moment it went on the calendar, not only because I really enjoy playing, but also because I love working with groups. I'm always looking for new things to put in my group teaching toolbox. We attendees had a fantastic time as Brooke Lieb, Luke Mess and Mark Josephsburg for shared their teaching games with us. Here are some of the things that I took away from the workshop.

What games can accomplish in a group setting

Ice Breaking

Asking a group of strangers to explore their sometimes personal habits together can be kind of intense. One of the best group class experiences I had as a student of the Technique was in a class where all of the participants really gelled. The level of comfort that we developed with one another created a supportive and relaxed learning environment and that enhanced my learning exponentially. Ice Breaker games are a great way to energize your group, to encourage them to tune in to one another and to build a group rapport.

Loosening up

We have all had those moments where we have gotten very serious about our selves and our process as we are learning. I know that in me an overly serious or inwardly focused mindset usually leads to end gaining and when that happens lightening up is exactly what I need. Sometimes a laugh or a smile is just the thing to encourage an "up" in the system.

Skill application

Games can be a really fun way to explore applying the Alexander Technique in an activity. It can help get your students out of their sitting and standing routine and help to bridge the gap between their lessons and their application of the Technique to their everyday life.

Alternative way of exploring abstract concepts

Concepts like inhibition, or faulty kinesthesia can be challenging ideas when they are new. Games that explore or incorporate these concepts can reinforce your students learning process by giving them opportunities to engage them experientially in a variety of different ways.

Incorporating games into your own teaching practice

The first question to ask oneself when planning games for your classes is "what do you find fun and engaging?" If you as the teacher pick something that you find stimulating, your students will pick up on the tone that you are setting for the activity. For instance, I love playing with balls and anything that involves lots of movement. I have a variety of go-to games that are either variations on catch or that encourage my students to move through space in new ways.

Next, decide what it is that you wish the purpose of your game to be in the context of your class. The purpose of an ice breaker game is to build a group dynamic and get your students more comfortable with one another. For that purpose, a game where everyone is standing in a circle and paying attention to the group as a whole, rather than one that breaks people into teams or pairs, might be a better choice. I like games that are forms of catch, whether you are using an actual ball or sending words or energy around the circle. Any name game where the participants get to say the names of others in the group can also help your group class get to know one another.

If however, you are looking for a game that explores a concept, the concept itself is your starting point. Do you want to explore inhibition? Then create a playful activity where taking a moment to a moment to pause or to not respond to a stimulus in an integral part of the game. What is it like to choose not to catch the ball, or not to run when you are tagged? Is faulty kinesthesia the concept you are interested in? How can you demonstrate that what we think we are doing isn't always what we are actually doing in a way that encourages your students to laugh at the discrepancy and be excited to find other places that don't match up? Can you ask them to close their eyes and move a certain way and then open them to see where they actually end up?

I've always thought of games as primarily being a group teaching tool, but these same concepts can be adapted for private lessons as well. I hope this gives you something to think about the next time that you are planning your classes. Do you have a favorite game that you like to teach in your classes, or a favorite game that you like play as a student? Then join the conversation and post it in the comments! I would love to hear about your ideas and experiences.

We have one more free member event coming up this season. Join us at ACAT on May 19th for “The Teacher’s Process, the Student’s Process: The Delicate Interplay of a Lesson” with Brooke Lieb. This workshop is perfect for Teaching Members who would like to get a taste of what it's like to be a trainee again and for Associate Members who are interested in learning more about how one learns to teach this work.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]ANASTASIA PRIDLIDES teaches Alexander Technique, Bellydance and Yoga in New York City.  Studying the Alexander Technique has been a deeply transformative and life changing process for her. Every day she wakes up excited to know that her job is share it with others. You can find her at[/author_info] [/author]