Actors and Musicians

Lorna McGhee (Musician, Principal Flute, Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra)

Most musicians are under the illusion that they only have to think an idea and it will automatically be expressed in their playing. This is indeed the case when the body is free and open, but for most of us, it is wishful thinking. The body is so often a storehouse of tension, memories of past failures, which we try to defend against, and plain old bad habits that don't serve us very well.

Even when one can achieve a state of physical freedom, the mind can interfere with all sorts of negative self-talk when we find ourselves in high-stakes performance situations. Alexander Technique offers us constructive tools to deal with. For a musician, this greatly increases the expressive possibilities and also greatly decreases the stress on the body.

I first had Alexander Technique lessons as a student in London at the Royal Academy of Music. I credit those lessons as being equally important to my flute lessons in terms of my own development. Many years later, in Vancouver, I started to have Alexander lessons again as a result of problems with my left hand. My earlier Alexander Technique experience allowed me to consider that my patterns of behaviour could have something to do with this problem. I started having lessons with Gaby and in a very short time, the problem with my left hand disappeared. Now my hand works better than ever, but more than that, the new-found physical freedom overall improves my playing and especially my sound, dramatically. After a lesson with Gaby, I automatically sound better, even without practising. What a bonus!

This has led me into a whole new line of enquiry in my own playing and teaching, in which I can apply what I learn and experience in the Alexander lessons to my own work as a flute player and teacher, finding better and better ways to approach things and finding the lightest of balance points between effort and effortlessness at any given moment. It offers a wonderful, life-long exploration that has greatly informed and enriched my life as a musician.

Gaby is a wonderful, trustworthy, caring and fun teacher. She is also very deep and dedicated to the work. She brings her experience with opera singers and actors into her work with instrumentalists, helping us tap into our communicative abilities as best we can. She has "magic" hands that help your body remember its natural integrity and spaciousness. Lessons are often full of laughter as well as new possibilities!

Panda X (Software Engineer and amateur pianist)

I studied the Alexander technique with Gaby for three months, and these lessons were lifechanging. These lessons were immensely helpful: I learned how to improve my head-neck-body relationship and as a result relieve my shoulder and wrist pain and stiffness, that brought me to take the lessons in the first place. But the most valuable lesson that I learned from the Alexander Technique lessons with Gaby is to not end gain.

When I practiced difficult passages on the piano, I focused a lot of my energy on getting the notes correctly. The more I wanted to play the right note in my head, the more hesitant I was when I attacked the keys and thus it made it difficult to gain the confidence it required to actually learn the notes. Gaby taught me to enjoy and analyze each wrong note as an observer, and now I am able to practice playing the piano with more efficiency.

This principle of end-gaining, surprisingly benefits me in many other aspects of my life, including sports, piano performance, and even some of my work as a software engineer. When I have a strong desire to get something done, to correct some mistake or to learn some skills, I now remind myself not to end gain, and this often makes the process more efficient. I really enjoyed my lessons with Gaby and I would undoubtedly recommend her to anyone who wants to study the Alexander Technique.

Nisha Foerstner (Entrepreneur, actor, teacher)

What I got from Alexander Technique is a sense of freedom of movement but equally, a sense of integration. I felt that my life was not integrated and not flowing. As a matter of fact, I felt everything was in conflict! Not two weeks ago, I was still feeling scattered and completely frustrated. I felt I was a few blotches of paint in this corner of the canvas with another blotch here and another one there. There was no connection between the attempts but the canvas itself.

But I was told not to worry. "It all comes together." And so, I relaxed as much as I could. I remained aware of Alexander Technique principles, meditated every day and took baby steps. My biggest challenge was pulling myself away from the negative and focusing on what is effective. And now, "poof", I am beginning to feel the pieces of the puzzle fitting together - the painting is taking shape. What a lovely feeling! And I'm mostly happy. Excited. It's a nice place to be.

Jennifer Condie (Piano Instructor)

Through Alexander lessons with Gaby, I have developed more awareness of mind/body unity, and more ability to choose how I sit, stand, walk, and play the piano. Competing tensions are gradually being replaced by a sense of balance. In observing my piano students, and in playing piano, I am becoming more attuned to the relationship between the whole body and the instrument. Gaby is a warm, encouraging, and persistent teacher. She lends me books that enhance my understanding of Alexandrian concepts and process. She willingly responds to any questions or concerns. I can highly recommend Alexander lessons to any person looking to improve self awareness and health. I particularly recommend Gaby, an expert teacher who makes learning a joy.

Sandra Head (Singer, Actor, Composer, Musical Director and Singing Teacher)

I felt that my singing voice, stamina, energy had been given a new "lease on life". I met Dr. Minnes Brandes in 1995 as I was preparing to write my Masters paper in Music Education at the university of British Columbia. She was the second reader for that paper entitled, "How the Alexander Technique Informs the Teaching of Singing". The paper is now distributed by AmSAT Books and copies of it are available in post secondary institutions in North America. My lessons in the Alexander Technique began in 1994 when I was suffering from inordinate head/neck/back tension which was seriously affecting my ability to sing and hence my ability to demonstrate what I taught. After experimenting with many kinds of therapy, far too numerous to detail here, I found that the Alexander Technique provided me with exactly the kind of help I needed. After three months of lessons, highly noticeable ease began to return to my posture and my singing. I felt that my singing voice, stamina, energy had been given a new "lease on life". Since 1995, Dr. Minnes Brandes has been my Alexander Technique teacher, and I still take lessons periodically. I find her to be a remarkable teacher and an invaluable colleague. What she and the Alexander Technique have to offer is of great value to singers.

Caroline Cave (Actor, Fitness Trainer, Pilates Instructor)

It was my privilege to meet Gaby in the spring of 2007, when I performed at The Vancouver Playhouse, in a one-woman play called The Syringa Tree. It is a particularly demanding piece in which I portray twenty-four characters of varying race, age and gender. I adjust my physicality, most specifically my posture, I make large jumps in my vocal register, and I also sing. I perform for an hour and forty-five minutes, and the emotional and athletic demands of the piece are great. Gaby came to the rescue, as it were, the night before opening, when I was physically drained, and nervous about my growing vocal fatigue and some vocal loss. I had studied Alexander at theatre school, at The Shaw Festival, in Toronto, and in London, England, and yet I had never before felt such an immediate connection to a teacher. Gaby's touch is truly perceptive and clear and her work had an immediate impact upon me in our first hour together. We did some table work, at my request, and Gaby helped me to once again find my alignment, my breath, and to release tension of which I was not aware due to the stress if opening week. We then progressed into character work and movement from the play, and Gaby was obviously invigorated by the specific demands of my shifting, as completely as possible, between characters. Ultimately, her work brought me to a state of relaxation, and of being present, which I carried on to the stage that night and to the next, my opening. Her knowledge of the voice, both as a speaking and singing instrument, is extensive. I found her approach to the voice direct and refined, and I reconnected most efficiently and effectively with an easy and supported breath and sound. Gaby greatly respects the performer and live performance, which I believe, enhances her facility and curiosity for the performer's specific challenges and for their artistic and technical aspirations. I feel my work in The Syringa Tree moved to a richer and freer place with Gaby's help. My experience in front of the audience was always more joyful, more present and more inventive after our sessions. And most rewardingly, my voice became more flexible and I was able to breathe more fully and with much greater ease. Further, I was able to perform and then recover quickly, from tiring two-show days, because of our twice weekly appointments throughout the run. She is a master of the art of pedagogy. Her instruction is affirmative, her directions positive, and she has an assured and caring manner. She emphasizes intention and exploration rather than inhibition and restriction, which I feel further sets her apart in her field. I was moved and impressed by Gaby's level of concern for my experience on stage, and the attention and thought with which she prepared for our lessons together. I plan to continue to study with Gaby whenever I'm in Vancouver and I believe our relationship has just begun. Our work together had a greatly positive impact upon me and I hold her and her practice in the highest respect. Aspiring artists would be in the best of hands under Gaby's instruction, and I will continue to recommend her to colleagues and to students alike.

Mark Vasak (Musician)

Before I began studying with Gaby I was at a point of constant discomfort in all my activities. I was half way through a bachelor of music and unable to use my left arm without pain for simple actions such as opening doors or washing my hair, much less practicing the hours required for my studies. My troubles were compounded by the frustration of seeing numerous doctors, physiotherapists, specialists, and everything in between with no lasting results. As with many musicians I entered the technique as a last resort. I have since graduated and am currently performing and teaching guitar professionally with no re occurrence of pain and with confidence in my physical health no matter the stress or demands of my activities. Use of the Alexander Technique when playing the guitar not only supports and builds my physical ability to play my instrument; it also continually improves the mental ease through which I play. I find this has given me more space to create and react in musical situations, as I am more aware of the mental state I am in when playing my instrument. This awareness helps me be present in performance, bringing choice and breath to moments that were previously determined solely through muscle memory. Apart from playing music, lessons with Gaby have also improved the quality of movement in my daily life allowing me to perform activities such as running, swimming, and sitting with continually evolving refinement and interest. Beginning my first lesson, the Technique has been a tool that has brought enjoyment, and purpose to my actions. Through continued study with Gaby towards application of the technique in both music and my daily life, I've found these benefits progressively develop, bringing an emerging confidence and clarity to each new day. I could ask for no more and would highly recommend study of the technique with Gaby to anyone, musician or otherwise.

Ian Attewell (Actor)

Over the past eighteen months, I have studied the Alexander Technique under the excellent tutelage of Gabriella Minnes Brandes. This work has helped me immeasurably in my chosen profession of an actor, helping me to understand efficient and organic use of my body and breath making me more present in my work than ever before. Through understanding the use of my body and through releasing held areas of tension, I have noticed strong improvements in my voice and diction along with the ability to feel comfortable in my own skin in all situations, professional and personal. When I walk into an audition room or onto the stage, I am able to feel and appear relaxed, confident and above all "present". I can think of no other form of training that has helped me or given me as much value as the Alexander Technique has and would recommend it unreservedly to anyone.

Domagoj Ivanovic (Violinist)

I have recently finished my studies, graduating with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Violin Performance with a minor in Musicology. I was able to benefit from the Alexander Technique in many ways, both as a professional violinist and a person in general. Due to the nature of our instrument, we are often bringing our bodies into extremely unnatural positions which we start considering normal after a while. The Technique has helped me realize this does not have to be the case and has enabled me to synchronize my playing technique with a more efficient use of my entire body. Also, it has helped me become aware of my bad habits and change them in a very efficient and well-controlled manner. Furthermore, these new habits have become a part of both my playing and everyday life. I am extremely grateful to have become acquainted with the Alexander Technique at this point in my life: I believe I will continue to draw benefits from it for many years to come.

Ariel Kasler (Guitarist and Pianist)

Ariel Kasler is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, and currently a student at the Toronto School of Alexander Technique. He took lessons in Alexander Technique with Gabriella Minnes Brandes during the summer of 2006. "I have been very fortunate in having the chance to study with some great musicians who are also great teachers, but there is one thing that even these extraordinary people could not teach me. They could not teach me how to use my body while playing my instrument. Meeting so many musicians who's careers have been held back, or even destroyed by use related injuries, and also feeling helpless in dealing with my own rigidity, I started taking Alexander Technique lessons, and now I am training to become a teacher of Alexander Technique. Alexander Technique offers me a way out of pain, excessive tension, rigidity, and fear of injury, enabling me to gradually see more and more where I am going wrong, and giving me the tools to go right."

Laura Schulkind (Flutist)

During the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Gabriella Minnes Brandes. During the course of the week, I was able to learn how to use my body to support my musical and artistic goals through alignment and using my body as part of the instrument. Dr. Brandes was able to guide me to be able to continue the work on my own after the retreat which resulted in continued improvement. My work with her has resulted in many positive, healthy changes in my posture that have not only impacted my flute performance but my general health as well. My improved posture and breathing has resulted in a deeper, richer tone with better projection and the ability to use that tone for improved musical communication. Thank you, Dr. Brandes!

Evie Chen (Violinist)

I was preparing for a doctoral degree recital that occurred two days ago. It was the first time I felt like my nervous energy didn't interfere with the musical conception and story-line that I wished to convey. My parents, who came, also noticed there was a change from the last time they heard me perform, which was back in November of 2012.

When my family or friends ask what I have to give thanks for, my first thought is Alexander Technique and the journey I've been so honoured and grateful to take with you. It sounds like such an exaggeration when I tell them that AT changed my life, but it is completely true. I am so happy and satisfied with the direction my life has taken, and I'm optimistic that more doors will continue to open as I continue to maintain awareness. Thank you so much for leading me here.

Gregory Samek (Drummer)

I want to thank you for helping me become reconnected with my body. Your techniques are simple but quite life changing and provide deep reflection with physical results.

Bridget Pei (Flutist)

Dear Gaby,

I wanted to reach out and thank you for everything you brought to us at Pender Island Flute Retreat! I learned so much about myself and am so much more aware of my body and breath now. The change has been amazing, and a little unbelievable actually. I just came back from a masterclass at Orford in Quebec, and when I listened to my playing versus the playing from the same festival one year ago I was almost moved to tears because it was the greatest change I’ve heard and felt in my playing. I feel like I’m finally beginning to access my instrument in the way I’ve been wanting to for so long.

I suffered injuries when I was younger that resulted in broken ribs, etc. and dislocated/pulled shoulders/muscles etc. and never regained my posture since those injuries were during the developmental years where I formed my day-to-day bodily habits. I never got out of the habit of breathing as if I was in pain from the ribs, and with our work together I am finally now becoming very aware of that and allowing myself to let go of that and in doing so, some involuntarily fear that I didn’t even know was there is released as well.

Again, thanks for everything.