The Process of Change

Several friends and colleagues were puzzled when I told them I was planning to rewrite my first book, Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique. They were fond of it and seemed a little afraid I might spoil it by changing something that, in their view, didn’t need changing.

Indirect Procedures was published in 1997. Its conception, however, dates from much earlier. In 1985, when I was training to become a teacher, I obtained a research scholarship from a foundation in my native Brazil. I wrote a paper at the end of my studies, and several of its ideas and formulations found their way into Indirect Procedures.

Fast forward to 2013, twenty-eight years later. Naturally enough, I learned many things over the decades, in good part thanks to those friends and colleagues I met following the book’s publication. My musical horizons expanded tremendously. I also gained experience by writing several other books, culminating with Integrated Practice: Coordination, Rhythm & Sound, which the Oxford University Press published in the summer of 2011.

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Given my expanded horizons, I wanted to revisit Indirect Procedures and see if I could open it up, too. Most important, I wanted Indirect Procedures and Integrated Practice to become companion volumes, so that a reader might study both together in a coherent fashion. The older book, however, would need to “catch up” to the new one. Off to work I went.

I retained part of the book’s structure but shifted many sections around. In the end I amalgamated the original 23 chapters and four appendixes into 18 chapters, with no appendixes. I added exercises and concepts throughout. The original version contained several chapters that included music examples. In the new version I regrouped everything with music examples into a single chapter. This may be helpful to non-musicians who’d like to read Indirect Procedures, because now they only need to ignore that one chapter in the whole book.

Some chapters might appear unchanged at first glance, but a close reading will reveal dozens of tweaks on every page. Part of it is what writers call wordsmithing: choosing specific words for their connotation, deciding where to put a comma and where to delete a semicolon, breaking up a long sentence into two or three shorter sentences. Part of it, however, goes well beyond simple copyediting: finding gaps in the reasoning behind a paragraph, deciding what passages are too verbose and which too laconic, getting rid of extraneous information that confuses the reader. It’s quite difficult to cast an objective eye on your own writing. Today you write something that you find brilliant, but tomorrow you look at it afresh and you see an inelegant mess. Rereading Indirect Procedures more than two decades after I first composed it, I felt that my old writing style was dense, awkward, and overblown—or at least denser, more awkward, and more overblown than my current style.

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I spent two or three years rewriting the book. As time passed, each chapter I tackled got transformed more deeply than the chapter before. At first I hesitated to rewrite too much, as if “I didn’t have the right to do so.” Little by little I shed my unjustified scruples, and I started expressing myself more freely. Revision gave way to rewriting, and rewriting gave way to writing pure and simple—that is, writing new pages to express new ideas, as if Indirect Procedures had never existed in the first place.

The old version had many quotes from multiple sources, including the writings of F. M. Alexander and other authorities. Although the quotes were pertinent and useful, their sheer number indicated that I myself didn’t have that much to say. For better or for worse, I’ve decided to use fewer quotes and share more of myself with my readers. Chapter 1, “The Use of the Self,” contained 24 quotes in the original version; now it has 17. Chapter 2, “The Primary Control,” originally included 12 quotes; now it has six. The chapter on imitation (renumbered from 22 to 15) used to have six quotes; now it has one.

Quotes serve many purposes in writing, and their role varies from book to book and from writer to writer. If you’re writing a scholarly work on a subject’s primary and secondary sources, quotes are central to the book’s subject matter. Sometimes, though, writers use quotes for lesser reasons. A writer might use a lot of quotes in a bid to impress her readers It’s a form of one-upmanship, because the writer then seems better educated and more in control than her readers. Or a writer might use a lot of quotes because she feels insecure about her mastery of the subject, and she leans on other people’s authority instead. I’d call it “authority by proxy,” and I consider it irresponsible, literally—you’re not responsible for these opinions, since they were issued by someone else. I think in my original version I used quotes for all these reasons: because the primary and secondary sources were important; because, as a young teacher, I wanted to show that I had read widely; and because, also as a young teacher, I wasn’t quite ready for the prime time—that is, I actually lacked knowledge, experience, insight, and tools of my own. I might still lack insight, but now I prefer to present my own ideas as much as possible, rather than partly digested ideas from other people.

To some degree, the old Indirect Procedures was a compendium of quotes from F. M. Alexander’s writings—a good one, to the extent that the quotes were well chosen and nicely strung together. But perhaps readers are better served by reading Alexander’s books themselves and “finding their own way inside the maze.” Realistically, the only person who could present Alexander’s ideas in an authentic manner was F. M. himself. I’ve come to believe that each of us teaches our own personal technique, inspired by Alexander, by everyone else we’ve met, and by all the experiences we’ve had in life. I inevitably teach the Alcantara Technique; you too teach your personal technique, as does everyone else. I might as well write about what I teach, using my own words to express my own thoughts. If in fifteen years I were to write yet another version of Indirect Procedures, I’d aim to use no quotes whatsoever. For now I’ve settled on a compromise, still quoting F. M. but roughly 60% less than in the first version.


There’s another reason not to use many quotes. If a writer’s work is protected by copyright laws, you have to pay for the privilege of quoting the work. And usually you’ll pay out of your pocket, since publishing houses are extremely stingy when it comes to paying your expenses, however vital they may be for your book. Sir Colin Davis generously wrote a preface for my original book, but he quoted eleven lines of a poem by W. B. Yeats. I had to pay a not inconsequential amount for the right to reproduce those lines, the equivalent of what I’d receive in royalties from the sales of about a hundred copies of Indirect Procedures. I paid a goodly amount to the estate of F. M. Alexander to quote from his books, and also to the publisher of Patrick Macdonald’s book, The Alexander Technique as I See It. I think it’s absolutely right that a writer be paid when his or her work is appropriated. I don’t have any qualms with the estate of F. M. Alexander for having charged me. I’m only saying that it costs money to quote from published work, and every writer must make decisions also on financial grounds whether or not to quote.

In my youth I liked using the words “always, never, should, must.” It wasn’t only a matter of vocabulary, but of convictions as well. To give just an example, I might have said, “You should always direct your primary control.” This is prescriptive and potentially judgmental. I think differently now. What happens when you direct your primary control? What happens when you don’t direct it? How much choice do you have on the matter? What would you like to do about it? “Should” implies the absence of choice, as do “always” and “never.” In rewriting my book I tried as much as possible to catch rigid, absolute, prescriptive, and judgmental statements that don’t represent my way of thinking anymore and that, in my opinion, run counter to the very principles of the Alexander Technique. (I believe F. M. himself could be rigid and dogmatic, but there’s no reason why we must be like him.)


Over the years some people have told me that they liked my book’s clarity, and by that they meant the unequivocal statements about what you should do or not do. A young Alexander teacher, for instance, told me that she was in inner turmoil during her teacher training, and my book was a kind of oasis, since it was clearer than other things going on all around her. The search for clarity, however, may be an attempt to deal with messy contradictions by sweeping them under the rug. Ultimately this will turn out against you. Some readers who used to appreciate the clarity of my old Indirect Procedures might dislike the apparent lack of clarity in the new version, but I think the new version addresses more constructively the issues that we confront in our lives. An astute student of mine once said, “Sometimes lack of clarity is the clarity.”

In the original version I repeatedly warned readers about the impossibility of learning the Alexander Technique from a book, as opposed to one-on-one lessons with a teacher. I’ve come to think that I was actually trying to discourage my readers from reading my own book. You can’t learn singing, enlightenment, Arabic, or anything else from a book—or exclusively from a book, as opposed to a multilayered learning experience that includes one or more books as well as human interactions with teachers, colleagues, experts, and so on. If we, Alexander teachers, need to stick warnings on our books, all other writers ought to do the same. This seems downright silly to me. Imagine a sticker on the back cover of the Bible: “Warning! You need to consult a priest or pastor if you want to know what this book is about!”

A book offers an interactive experience, in that the reader collaborates with the writer to bring the book alive—in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. Oftentimes students or people I meet in my travels tell me, “You say this and that in your book.” And what they relate doesn’t correspond in the least with what I wrote down. In fact, they’re telling me what they had wanted to get from the book, not what I wrote in it. One day an amateur singer with big ambitions and big misapprehensions about herself took a workshop with me and bought the book. A few days later she came for a private lesson, in which she declared, “Your book told me to get rid of all my inhibitions.”


The old Indirect Procedures was a sort of one-way communication from me to the reader, with me trying to predetermine what the reader would do with the book. I think all writers need to let go of their books once they’re published, and let readers do what they will with the information contained in the books. In the case of Indirect Procedures this may or my not entail the reader’s taking lessons, and if the reader takes lessons, he or she may do so with me or with someone else—perhaps a teacher I myself would consider incompetent, or at least unsuited to the task. I’d have to attach two warnings to my book: “Take lessons.” “Avoid lousy teachers.” In fact I’d have to attach dozens of different warnings covering all the risks and dangers of reading my book. (I hasten to add that some students over the years have been very unhappy with lessons and workshops they took with me, making me one of those lousy teachers I’d have to issue warnings about.)

In the new version I removed the figure of the teacher altogether. The old version said, more or less, “Your teacher will use her hands to help you learn—and you can’t do it without her.” Statements in this spirit peppered the book. The new version says, more or less, “Exploring, figuring things out, and, making choices are all up to you. Here are some ideas. Suit yourself.”

The old version had a chapter called “The Lesson,” which contained any number of prescriptions. In the new version that chapter is gone, replaced by a chapter called “The Learning Experience.” Lessons may or may not be part of a reader’s learning experience. And, at any rate, what our students retain from our lessons is so varied and personal that to prescribe a single lesson format for all students is to misunderstand the nature of the learning experience—and, perhaps, the nature of human psychology altogether. Not to mention that no two Alexander teachers have ever worked in the same exact way. Diversity is the name of the game.

For readers familiar with the old Indirect Procedures it’d be interesting to choose any one of its chapters, re-read it, and then read the same chapter in the new version. (Because of the structural changes I’ve made, certain chapters don’t exist independently anymore. For instance, I’ve folded the chapter on breathing into the chapter on the whispered “ah.”) See what has changed, then make up your mind about it. Ostensibly you’ll be looking at someone else’s thoughts and opinions. In reality, you’ll be looking at your own thoughts and opinions through your comparison of these two books and the process of change that they represent. In other words, forget Indirect Procedures. How do you feel about change?

The reborn Indirect Procedures will be christened by the Oxford University Press on May 31, 2013, almost 30 years after I started pondering it. If you prefer the old version, used copies will most likely remain available for sale on the Internet for the foreseeable future. You and your students are therefore safe. And if you prefer the new version, welcome to the club!

To get you started on your comparative reading, here are excerpts from the old and new versions. I chose the opening of the chapter “Stage Fright” (numbered 23 in the old version and 18 in the new one). Rereading it now, I think that the old version is confusing and unsympathetic; it appears that I’m calling my readers “stupid” and “foolish” and “indulgent.” I go too quickly into a list of what causes stage fright, without defining stage fright to begin with. And I use two quotes, one of them barely after having started the chapter.

Stage Fright (chapter 23 in the old version)

Remember Alexander’s words on the nature of his work: ‘You are not here to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always put you wrong and to learn to deal with it.’ (F. M. Alexander, Aphorisms, 9) Stage fright merits two approaches. The first is to learn its causes and find a permanent remedy for it. The second is to consider it ‘a stimulus that puts you wrong,’ and ‘learn to deal with it’: that is, perform successfully despite stage fright. I believe the Alexander Technique offers all musicians effective ways of eliminating stage fright and of dealing with it when it is there. Before we read what Alexander has to say about stage fright, let us consider some of its more immediate causes.

1. Technical and Musical Insufficiency. A musician whose technique and musicianship is inadequate to the task at hand may well suffer from stage fright. Perhaps he has chosen too difficult a piece, or hasn’t given it adequate preparation. Let us call this warranted stage fright. It is only natural to be afraid of performing, in exceptional circumstances, something you can’t play in normal circumstances. (On rare occasions, exceptional circumstances lead people to overcome their inadequacies as if by miracle, but it would be foolish for an unprepared performer to count on this happening.) Before a musician can give some thought to stage fright as such, he needs first to acquire sufficient skill and polish. This is not to say that only accomplished performers ought to go on stage; obviously every musician has to go through an apprenticeship that entails performing as an inexperienced beginner. My argument about insufficient or inadequate preparation as a source of stage fright applies equally to a concert artist playing a major work and to a beginner playing a simple piece.

2. Stupidity in Living. Stage fright sometimes comes about if a musician, well prepared that he may be technically and musically, neglects some of the aspects of concert preparation that are not directly related to music making. A night badly slept, a heavy meal, the intake of alcohol and coffee, arriving late to the concert hall can all hinder a musician’s ability to focus on the performance. Heinrich Neuhaus wrote:

When, after a concert or a number of concerts, I sometimes considered why the concert was as it was and not different, I could very easily establish a connection between the quality of the concert and the mode of life that preceded it. (...) ([Alfred] Cortot used to say that for a concert pianist on tour the most important thing is sound sleep and a good digestion.) (H. Neuhaus, op. cit., 208).

Good sense dictates a number of rules regarding the daily life of a performing artist. Not to follow them is simply unintelligent, and the Alexander Technique goes only so far in compensating for stupidity. (Interestingly enough, the long-term study of the Alexander Technique may lead to many changes in life style. Drinking, smoking, or eating heavily may cause you to lose your upward and outward orientation. In time you’ll come to prefer being up to being down, and you’ll lose the desire to indulge yourself.)


The new version of the same chapter starts in a different vein, with completely new materials. I decided to put stage fright in a psychological and philosophical context to begin with; if you have a broad view of your problems, they’re easier to handle. I kept in check the “scolding authority” that seeped into the old Indirect Procedures, and I attempted to write instead as someone who’s looking with some uncertainty at complex issues.

Stage Fright (chapter 17 in the new version)

Bhuddist tradition lists five great fears that we all have to deal with: fear of dying, fear of illness, fear of dementia, fear of loss of livelihood, and fear of public speaking. The last element on the list may surprise you, as it doesn’t seem to be on the same level of urgency as the fear of losing your mind or dying. In truth, however, there are many people who will tell you they’d rather die than speak in public—and they really mean it.

There are different ways of interpreting what the Buddhists call fear of public speaking. Literally, it’s the fear of giving a business presentation, a toast at a wedding, or a valedictorian address in high school. Less literally, it’s the fear of expressing yourself in public, subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of others, having your own opinion and being responsible for it, or facing up to authority and possibly being punished for it.

We all live in two spheres: the private and the public. In the private sphere we do as we please. We have our own thoughts, we make our little decisions, we get up late in the morning (or not), we practice without worrying about how we sound (or not), and so on. In the public sphere we interact with other people, with varying degrees of intimacy and commitment. Going to a café and ordering an omelet is a public act. For an intensely private person, it can be an uncomfortable interaction: Getting the waiter’s attention is hard work, telling the waiter what you chose is hard work, and eating your omelet while other people look at you is hard work.

To go to lessons and rehearsals entails being in the public sphere. Auditions, competitions, and concerts all happen in the public sphere. Everything in the public sphere potentially triggers the fear of speaking in public—from the most banal interaction with a waiter to the most demanding solo concert performance in front of thousands of people. We might rephrase the fear and call it the fear of passing from the private to the public sphere.

Just as intensely private people find it difficult to “go public,” there exist people who are more comfortable in the public sphere and who find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts. Who knows what might lurk deep inside the imagination of a happy extrovert? The extrovert might not fear the public sphere, but like everyone else he or she needs to face the challenge of passing smoothly from the private to the public, and back again, every day as needed.

If you suffer from stage fright, most likely you’re suffering the existential fear of passing from the private to the public sphere. You’re in good company, since every human being has to make the passage and be comfortable with it, and few people manage a perfect voyage every time. The Buddhists are right: The fear of speaking in public, like the fear of dying, goes deep and determines many of our behaviors.

Some musicians, writers, and thinkers have ditched the expression “stage fright” and have adopted “performance anxiety” instead, considering it a more helpful description of the issue in question. I think stage fright has a nice ring to it: two little syllables that tell the whole story. Vocabulary, however, is personal. If you prefer, take a red pen to this chapter and change “stage fright” to “performance anxiety,” or “the public sphere,” or “the fear,” or “the thing.”