[Originally published in the June 2012 Exchange Journal of Alexander Technique International. Reprinted with permission.]
By MaryJean Allen
~David Nesmith is a certified Alexander Technique teacher who completed his training via apprentice style. A licensed Body Mapping teacher, horn teacher, and a professional hornist, David describes himself as an enthusiastic musician, hiker, and salsa dancer. David created several fabulous audio guides to facilitate Constructive Rest. David’s “means whereby” to create his audio guides is the focus of this article.
During 2000, I corresponded with David on the Andover Educator’s Body Mapping list serve, since I was completing my training and Andover Educator certification with Barbara Conable. Also, David had recently become a certified Alexander Technique teacher. I stayed at David’s home in order to attend one of the first Andover Educator Meetings and take some lessons with Barbara Conable, which David observed. So I got to know David as a person a little during that time, and later, I enjoyed emailing David, and talking to him and learning from him at two different Andover Educator Summer Conferences.
Ten years later, I was trying to decide if I wanted to train to become an Alexander Technique teacher. As a full-time voice teacher and Body Mapping teacher, even a part-time AT training school seemed daunting. So I emailed David, and his advice and enthusiasm about his own Alexander Technique training experiences convinced me to go for it. It has also been a real pleasure getting to know David Nesmith further as I interviewed him for this article.
First, I asked David what inspired him to train to become an Alexander Technique teacher. Like many performing artists, David didn’t begin his training in order to teach, he dove into his Alexander Technique training in order to become a better musician:
I sensed my limitation and tension, though I didn’t know the depth of it – I wasn’t breathing well, but I didn’t actually know it. I just knew something wasn’t right. My work in the music business was steady, but I didn’t think I sounded good. I had the sense that things could be a lot better. I hadn’t been injured, but at that point I was just tense and stressed. So I took a year to figure it out. I said a prayer: “show me what I need.” I didn’t know to seek out The Alexander Technique; rather it came to find me through discussions with many musicians, both professional and amateur. In March of 1995, I went to Chicago to have a horn lesson with Gail Williams who, at that time, was associate principal hornist of the Chicago Symphony. About every 10 minutes in the lesson, she would quietly say: “I think the Alexander Technique could really help you.” Her encouragement was the final nudge that led me to begin lessons.
I returned to Columbus and began lessons with Lucy Venable, an ATI teacher. Right away I had a very positive feeling about it, ultimately having 3 months of lessons with Lucy. During that time, I took a workshop with Bill Conable, which led to a workshop with Barbara Conable. I experienced a good blend of The Alexander Technique and Body Mapping. Barbara Conable became my next private Alexander Technique teacher. Over the next year, it dawned on me: oh, these people teach, and maybe there’s a training program for this.
I visited five different training schools. As a professional free- lance musician in Columbus, I was hesitant to move to a major city and perhaps have to wait tables and scrounge for money in order to live and train.
Here’s a fun story. About this time, a friend of mine was trying to set me up with a woman in Santa Cruz, California. We talked on the phone and wrote letters. (This was before I had email!) This situation had a resonance of possibility, so I flew to Santa Cruz. However, when we met I instantly realized it was as wrong as wrong could be. But I hung out for a couple of days visiting with this woman, sightseeing together.
I was aware that Frank Ottiwell’s Alexander Technique teacher training was in San Francisco, so I made excuses and apologies to her and went to visit Frank’s school. Once there, I knew I was in the right place, meaning I knew training was for me. I would have attended Frank’s training if I’d been able to afford it, but I couldn’t. This adventure to California, and my ultimate realization of the definite desire to train, was an interesting experience of indirect process: “God drawing straight with crooked lines.”
I came back to Columbus, and Barbara Conable mentioned to several of us taking lessons with her, “well, there are five of you who want to train, why don’t you form your own school?” Our group of five consisted of a flutist, singer, violinist, a psychotherapist, and me. We brainstormed and Barbara helped us figure out what should be in a curriculum for training: anatomy, ethics, hands on, etc. We created a big mind map of this plan. Between the five of us we decided the other teachers we wanted to invite to be a part of our training. So in addition to working with Barbara, we invited Tommy Thompson and Anne Waxman.
We organized training weekends that eventually included a few students who were completely new to the technique and would attend and pay for workshop time, which helped offset our costs.
This went on for a year and a half and training events occurred about every four to six weeks. In between the scheduled workshops we would observe each other’s lessons with Barbara and get together among ourselves for discussion and practice. Dale Beaver, another Columbus ATI teacher, also became involved as one of our local trainers.
At the same time we were training, Barbara Conable was creating her Body Mapping course “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” so our training was heavily steeped in that. Then one of our class members had to move out of state, another had to drop out for personal reasons, and the remaining three of us couldn’t afford to sustain those kinds of weekend training events on our own. So we split off and did our own thing. (Each of us eventually qualified to teach.) I started flying to New York, D.C., and Boston to take private lessons with Anne Waxman, Don Zuckerman and Tommy Thompson.
I also spent time in Tommy’s training course. With Tommy’s recommendation and encouragement, I took advantage of two trips to Paris to work at a training school run by Christine Hardy. I also worked with Marie-Françoise Le Foll. Christine Hardy became one of my sponsors.
Nearing the benchmark of three years in training, I began seeking sponsors but Tommy didn’t think I was ready. Not granting me his sponsorship at that time was one of the best things that could have happened. It was a strong move. After a few more months of training I experienced a growth spurt in my ability. Tommy eventually became my third sponsor. Looking back, I can see there was a layer of end gaining that dropped away during the extra time focused on training. (A persistent need for approval.)
I hadn’t started my training expecting to teach, but only to immerse myself in as much AT as I could. Eventually I realized there wasn’t a day that went by when I wasn’t talking about the Alexander Technique with somebody. Near the end of my training, I was interviewing to become the horn teacher at Denison University. I mentioned that I was near to finishing my AT training.
Their next question was: “How would you like to teach an Alexander Technique class?” I began teaching classes and private lessons in the Alexander Technique at Denison in January of 2000, the same month I received my ATI certificate. I am continually grateful for the synchronicity and blessing of how it all evolved.
In recent years, I have sought out continuing education/professional development opportunities. I’ve enjoyed working with John Nicholls, participating twice in his workshop series: The Carrington Way of Working. I’ve also attended Barbara Kent’s NYC workshop, Progress Not Perfection. Elisabeth Walker continues to be a powerful influence. I worked with her at Sweetbriar and I have traveled to Oxford, England twice to work with her. Last August, I participated in a 5-day Cincinnati workshop with Yehuda Kuperman, a master teacher who lives in Jerusalem.
He’s returning to Cincinnati at the end of June for another 5-day workshop I will attend. I consider Yehuda to be a very powerful current influence. I am fortunate to have significant eclectic influences in my Alexander Technique training and continuing development.
At Denison University, David teaches three classes of Alexander Technique Workshop, with a maximum of ten students in each class. So each week of each semester, he teaches three AT classes, which are open to all university students. Two classes are one hour and 20 minutes, meeting once a week. The third class is 50-minutes and meets twice a week. David’s classes comprise a cross-section of music, dance, theatre, and several final semester seniors. David also teaches about 20 private students, 25-minute or 50-minute lessons. Outside of Denison University in his Columbus office, David teaches about 6 to 9 ongoing private AT students.
I asked David what inspired him to create and launch his Constructive Rest audio guide series:
It was an expressed need from my students. I’d guide them verbally in Constructive Rest at the beginning of each class, but the students frequently reported that when they got back to their room they wouldn’t remember what to do or what to think. The idea dawned on me: why don’t I create a thoughtful audio guide? Barbara Conable had written a teaching article for Andover Educators called, “The Five Tasks of Constructive Rest.” Her article had already been a strong influence on my approach to Constructive Rest. Using her five tasks as a starting point, I expanded to eight intentions for my audio guide. So the Constructive Rest project was a response to the students, wanting them to have something meaningful to listen to in their dorm room or at home.
I asked David to tell us about the creation of the different texts:
The scripts for the “Guide for Everyone” and the AT editions took about six months. I chose the first person perspective in the script so the person listening to it could take it as his/her own. Instead of me saying, “Free your neck,” I realized it was much more powerful for the students if I shifted it to “I free my neck” or “I notice my exhalation.” I also didn’t want to name the intentions directly but to direct the intention in the words. I envisioned recordings that were not a teaching tutorial, but rather a guide where the intentions were all blended in. That took a good deal of testing, refinement, and trial recordings. Overall, my Alexander Technique students were a big part of the refining process. Their feedback on the test recordings was invaluable.
Coincident with the idea for this project, I was listening frequently to a spiritual podcast produced by the British Jesuits called PrayAsYouGo.
I liked one of the readers’ voices in particular. It began to occur to me that since England and Australia have large communities of Alexander teachers and students, it might make sense to produce a recording that included American and British English versions. After several months, I eventually succeeded in contacting the Pray As You Go reader I liked and found out that her name is Fran. Up to that point, she’d had no experience with The Alexander Technique, but she agreed to work with me on the Constructive Rest project. I’d been planning a trip to England to visit Elisabeth Walker and arranged to have a recording session with Fran during that trip. After an overnight flight from Columbus, I immediately went to meet Fran in person for the first time. That morning we recorded the first three audio guide versions at the British Jesuits’ Central London office, inside their makeshift podcast studio, a walk-in closet!
Later that week, I listened to the takes we did, realizing I could hear a London Tube train passing underground every now and then in the background. Not so good for Constructive Rest!
On my final day in England, Fran and I managed to re-record certain sections allowing for edits later without the train rumble. It was a bit of an editing job but we got it. It was a huge learning experience in the recording process. After that experience I made the choice to use an actual recording studio for future sessions!
Finding a recording studio to work with me in Columbus is another interesting story of synchronicity. The first few studios I contacted weren’t working out for a variety of reasons, but then I called Magnetic Studios, securing an appointment the very next day with John Fippin, the owner. I described the project indicating there was editing to do on Fran’s versions, plus future recordings individually for Fran and I. I thought it curious that John didn’t ask me to explain The Alexander Technique so I asked him if he knew about it. He said: “I recorded the audio version of Barbara Conable’s book How to Learn the Alexander Technique.” I knew I was in the right place!
This past March we recorded the Constructive Rest On Airplanes edition. I recorded my version of the script in Columbus. This time with Fran we used a high-speed broadband studio linkup between Columbus and a studio in Soho London using integrated recording studio software. Very cool!
I asked David how he came up with the cover art for his recordings.
It was a very interesting process. Since my Alexander Technique classes were helping me refine scripts, I mentioned that I was open to design ideas for cover art. One of my artistically inclined students came up with some sketches, which were a nice starting point, but we didn’t end up using her ideas. I tried three more artist collaborations yielding several not so catchy ideas. I lost a little money but learned a lot!
I was inspired to contact another former Denison student of mine, Kristine Aman, who’d been a studio art and creative writing major. After a couple of discussion/brainstorming sessions, we decided to try collaborating on the art. She came up with the basic design we ultimately used, while I contributed what I envisioned for colors and fonts. Kristine also designed my SmartPoise logo: Fern Rising, and some of the illustrations in my book The Breathing Book for Horn.
We worked from January 2011 through the end of November 2011 on the first three audio guide editions: The Guide for Everyone and the two Alexander Technique editions. At a certain point, maybe by June, the idea for an additional five editions came to mind. It’s an interesting observation that there are eight intentions and eight editions, but that wasn’t planned consciously. The editions to come are three with various Body Mapping foci and one guiding better sleep.
My original plan was to produce only digital downloads, being completely “green.” However, I was encouraged to have physical copies, too, because some folks aren’t iPod savvy and might prefer a CD. I’ve also found it useful to have CD’s on hand when teaching workshops. So instead of saying, “go check iTunes,” I could make a sale on the spot. For the CD packaging, I chose the smallest carbon footprint option available, using recycled cardboard. By the way, the CD’s don’t have “liner notes.” I consider the Constructive Rest website to be those and the website also provides additional resources.
The process of working together with Fran and John on the recordings and Kristine on the artwork has taught me, once again, that it’s important to be open to giving projects the time they take. Forcing may cause tension, distress, and extra expense. No big surprise in the end!
I asked David how he decided to price his audio guides:
The Guide for Everyone and the two Alexander Technique editions cost $29.99. My thinking has been that for less than half of the cost of an Alexander Technique lesson, students can reap continuous rewards with repeated listening. For the Constructive Rest On Airplanes edition, I decided to go with the more standard iTunes album price of $9.99, but left off the instructional track about the eight intentions. The On Airplanes edition has been getting positive feedback.
I’d like to say a word or two about the eight intentions and the various editions. Here are the eight intentions, the teaching foundation of the guides:
- Cultivate an Overall Integrated Body Awareness
- Encourage Muscular Freedom Now (beginning with the neck muscles)
- Facilitate Breathing Integrity
- Promote an Accurate, Adequate Body Map
- Renew a Healthy Relationship with Space
- Think F. M. Alexander’s Directions
- Play with the Whispered Ah
- Nurture Healthy Non-Doing, also known as Inhibition
On all but the On Airplanes edition, there is an extended audio track explaining each intention in detail.
The Guide for Everyone focuses on intentions 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8. There’s no special Alexander Technique or Body Mapping language, just thoughtful words designed to bring the listener into greater connection with themselves, their neck, breathing, and environment. It’s very effective for slowing down in a busy day!
The Alexander Technique Edition: Directions adds standard and creative versions of F. M.’s famous directions, “neck free, head forward and away, back to lengthen and widen.” Here I offer the listener deepening experience interwoven with The Guide for Everyone.
Next comes The Alexander Technique Edition: Whispered Ah. Imagine the two editions just described with periodic invitations to whisper ah.
The On Airplanes edition incorporates all the intentions except number 4, but tailored for sitting upright in a confined airplane seat. Based on my own flight tests and that of my testers, it IS possible to be more comfortable flying!
The intention Promote an Adequate, Accurate Body Map will be realized in later editions.
I asked David if there was anything about the Constructive Rest project that surprised him.
No matter how excited I was about how the recordings sounded or looked, or how powerful I thought they could be for people, in the end, any recipient of the recordings needed to be “ready” for it. I can’t force someone to benefit from an Alexander lesson. Just because someone has my Constructive Rest guides, they won’t be beneficial until they’ve made a practice of using the guides. I also realize the guides won’t necessarily be for everyone, anyway. This is not an answer to your question, because it’s really no surprise!
Here is my own review of David’s audio guides. I currently have David’s first three audio guides:
The Guide for Everyone
The Alexander Technique Edition: Directions
The Alexander Technique Edition: The Whispered Ah
As a classical singer and voice teacher, I am highly sensitive to the tone quality, pitch, and musical flow of people’s voices. I also own and use many audio recordings that help me relax or get to sleep.
So the first thing that struck me as I listened to David’s audio guides was his flowing, mellifluous voice. The amount of content was great – I did not feel overwhelmed. Also, the content was clear and easy to absorb, and David’s delivery and deliberate, multiple pauses allowed the perfect amount of time to embody the information.
I really liked David’s use of first person. For example: “My eyes are open for now, but I may close them later.” Next, as a new Alexander Technique teacher, as I listened I kept thinking, “Oh wow, I will really benefit from these guides, and so will all of my AT students!”
Fran’s voice is excellent, too, and it’s easy to understand why David was so drawn to her speaking voice when he first heard it on the Pray As You Go podcasts. I like being able to have the choice to listen to either Fran or David. Also, I’ve found it highly beneficial to listen to each of them on different days. Due to their unique personalities, they each have varied inflections and pauses, and I have found that I absorb the information in a new way according to who I am listening to each time.
Congratulations to my friend and colleague David Nesmith for creating these beneficial audio guides!
To purchase David’s audio guides, click the link below:
And finally, David has created an excellent blog of Constructive Rest resources. To view the blog, click the link below: