MU member Michelle Saacks is a long-time admirer of Moshé Feldenkrais and the Feldenkrais Method, and attends the free weekly MU Feldenkrais sessions led by Emma Alter. Here she shares her Feldenkrais journey, what Emma’s sessions are like, and the impact that Feldenkrais has had on her life and her music career.
A little about Moshé
Moshé Feldenkrais and I go back some thirty years. Well to tell the truth it was Frederick Schjang some thirty years ago, and a small exercise studio in New York City, and about twenty students aged between 20 and about 65. But first a little about Moshé, and more about Frederick later.
Moshé Feldenkrais received degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering before earning his D.Sc in Physics at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was physically active, playing Soccer and gaining a black belt in Judo.
A chronic knee injury led him to research body mechanics, neurology, psychology and body mechanics, which led to the birth of the Feldenkrais Method. He trained about 300 Feldkenkrais practitioners during his lifetime. Today there over ten thousand Feldenkrais practitioners worldwide.
“My purpose is to allow people to move closer to actually being creatures of free choice, to genuinely reflect individual creativity and emotion, freeing the body of habitual tensions and wired-patterns of behaviour so that it may respond without inhibition to do what the person wants.” Moshé Feldenkrais
Feeling like a more functional body by the end of the class
Of course I had not studied any of this when I first met Frederick Schjang, it was just a class offered at my local gym on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I was living and working as a pianist and piano teacher.
And I was in my thirties and in pretty good Shape, so not so many aches and pains bar over exercising, but the Feldenkrais Method spoke to me on so many levels. Or it may have been Frederick’s wonderfully deep voice and slow jam delivery of the prompts, as with Feldenkrais there is no demonstration, just a voice suggesting you move some part of your body a little, not a lot.
My favourite was the initial “feel how much of your body is touching your mat” at the beginning and when one got to the end, amazingly more of one touched the floor; not like a spreading inkblot, but a somehow more functional body. And the amazing thing was, how good everyone in the class felt by the end. Lots of happy people surrounded Frederick on his way into the class and after on his way out. He was and is true Feldenkrais Royalty.
Frederick has developed his lifelong love of Feldenkrais into an annual brilliant Feldenkrais Festival available online. Fast forward and I am now living in Cornwall far from the madding crowd, but amazingly the Musicians’ Union offers weekly Zoom Feldenkrais taught by the wonderful Emma Alter.
Feldenkrais has changed my whole method of teaching
So here I am, many years later and on a different continent starting my Feldenkrais education again. Still over exercising my body and now over time with aches and pains and postural stuff that pianists will understand. A weekly class with Emma is just the ticket.
My first Feldenkrais teacher wasn’t a musician although he does love Jazz. Emma is a musician so she brings to the Feldenkrais Method an angle specific to us musician types that is absolutely amazing at helping with everything from stage fright to posture to using one’s fingers with more ease.
I wasn’t aware how much Moshé Feldenkrais’s teachings had taught me until recently after a class with Emma. I realise now that my whole method of teaching piano has changed due to the Feldenkrais method.
Emma is a wonderful, nurturing and kind teacher as well as really knowing her stuff. It is a Zoom class but if you are comfortable with your video on, Emma will make suggestions to aid each students’ understanding and movements without ever saying your name so you have the best of both worlds, her practiced eye and anonymity and weekly classes that are specifically designed for musicians.
Every human will experience Moshé’s lessons differently
It is really interesting having experienced Feldenkrais first as a youngling (or thereabouts, jury is out over whether I am actually an adult yet) and now as a woman of a few more years. And Fredericks’ classes are a long time ago.
I remember the wonderful timbre of his speaking voice and feeling the subway trains going up Broadway under my mat as our gym was next to the Broadway Line and the lessons were downstairs in the gym. One felt enveloped in a warm hug throughout his classes. Emma’s lessons through Zoom manage to feel warm and cuddly even through the screen.
Audio cues are so effective. And that is the point, every human will experience Moshé’s lessons differently based on their life experience, body injuries, even personalities. Emma takes Moshé’s lessons and makes them her own. And like the image of Moshé at the beginning of this blog, Emma often wheels her skeleton onto the screen so she can point something out.
So what happens in an Emma Feldenkrais for Musicians class? An email arrives the night before with an overview of what we are working on. Most recently we have been working on fingers but it could be working on shoulders, the back or neck etc.
We start the class playing our instruments or singing or both and it is quite lovely seeing all the windows filled with musicians playing. Then we may lie down if the class is in lying and Emma gives us cues to move the shoulder a tad for example. The class is usually an hour and at the end we get back up and at our instruments again to see what has changed.
A phenomenal shared feeling of difference in one’s own body
And it is quite amazing. The last week of the month there is an extended three-hour class available but people can bop out after an hour or even after two hours if they wish. At the end there is time for us to share how the class movements have changed our bodies and it is quite phenomenal hearing fellow musicians with their comments as well as feeling the difference in one’s own body.
I am an unadulterated fan of Moshé Feldenkrais, Frederick Schjang and Emma Alter and celebrate hugely the Feldenkrais Method and the MU for making it available to us.
“Can you see that my lessons are [...] improvised, yet they are improvised with a method. [...] It's all the time improvisation but it has a method in it, therefore it's jazz. […] It's playing music on certain notes, making variations on a theme, and therefore it's a real learning. It's a lived thing.” Moshé Feldenkrais
Find out more about the Feldenkrais sessions available for MU members and book your place.