Awhile back, I was interviewed by clarinetist Cara Gray for The Well-Musician, a website for musicians which is unfortunately no longer in service. I’ve decided to re-publish the transcript of that interview here so that it can still be accessed. Many thanks to Cara Gray for her kind interest in my work!
A Well Musician Chat with Jennifer Roig-Francoli, Violinist and Alexander Technique Practitioner and Teacher
(Interview published by Cara Gray in 2014)
While interviewing Jennifer Roig-Francoli, I have the feeling I’ve found the ultimate “Well Musician”. Jennifer is a violinist, performing this week with Apollo’s Fire a baroque orchestra based in Cleveland, and a teacher of her version of Alexander Technique which she calls the Art of Freedom. As we begin our Skype chat, I feel my tension melt away just talking to her.
TWM: Tell us how you got started with your interesting career?
JRF: I’ve been a certified Alexander Technique teacher since 2007 and I’ve been practicing meditation all my life. Just in 2013, I finally was able to integrate everything I do – teaching, meditation, plus my violin performance career (I’ve also been a violinist my whole life). I have continued to perform professionally, on both modern and baroque violin. But it’s taken me years and lots of soul searching and investigation and practice and experience to bring all of these elements, plus my spiritual life and my philosophy together in one thing and the result of that is what I call the Art of Freedom for Musicians.
I use The Art of Freedom to keep it kind of open because I also work with surgeons, but right now I am focusing on Musicians.
TWM: What is The Art of Freedom?
JRF: It is Alexander Technique, but it is my own personal take on Alexander Technique and how to learn it. I’ve expanded it – it’s like Alexander Technique Plus!
TWM: So, how would you describe core Alexander Technique and how does your take on it change?
JRF: Alexander Technique is notoriously difficult to describe because it is something that is so different from everything else. It’s not a therapy. It’s not a treatment. But it has so many things in common with those, mostly yoga… but it’s not exercise. It’s a mind/body technique to help people with stress relief, tension, chronic pain – to help people change their habits and thinking and their movement. Alexander Technique helps people with so much that it’s very hard to specifically describe.
TWM: Is it physical in any way?
JRF: Traditional Alexander Technique is a hands-on experience for the most part. There are teachers who believe it is essential to have the hands-on and if you are not using hands, it’s not Alexander Technique. I do not see it so black and white. And I find that in my teaching, what I do most is talk to the person about what they are thinking and look at their thinking patterns.
What you think is what you get in your body and in your life – so I’m helping people to discover what their thinking habits are. What is getting in the way of achieving whatever they want and then helping them learn how to stop thinking that way (that’s the key). I give them alternative ways to think. These ways are going to help them with their lives – mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually – everything that you are can be improved if you change your thinking.
TWM: Alexander Technique could be used for many different people in many different professions.
JRF: Yes, but what I bring to Art of Freedom is specifically applying all of this to music and musicians.
One of my specialties is performance anxiety. People come to me with lots of performance anxiety – and I’ve been there! I actually didn’t have performance anxiety for much of my life – even when performing for large groups as a soloist, but when I changed direction and made music a lower priority in my life and started playing the sections in orchestras I started getting anxiety, which didn’t make any sense!
So I started using Alexander Technique myself to learn about what I was doing to get in my own way. I’ve overcome my fear of flying, my stage fright – my life has improved so much! I actually came to Alexander Technique for neck pain in the first place and it solved so much more.
TWM: How did you learn Alexander Technique?
JRF: I was one of those lucky people who had a dramatic, very fast improvement in like two lessons. My neck pain was gone (which had been there for months and months). So I fell in love with Alexander Technique but I couldn’t understand it. So I decided to go and do the teacher training course, not because I wanted to become a teacher (in fact, I really didn’t want to), but to learn what this technique is about. It’s a 3 year training of 1600 hours. I took 4, 4 hour classes a week. Half-way through the training I realized I was absolutely going to love teaching, so immediately after graduating I set up my practice and had a full practice built within a year.
TWM: How is the demand for Alexander Technique, and do you think it is growing?
JRF: It is a challenge because it is so difficult to describe and it’s not really in the mainstream yet. It was in Oprah Magazine and there have been major medical studies done that prove Alexander Technique helps with back pain, for instance, so that helps. Since it’s usually taught one-one-one and most of the practitioners are artists – musicians, actors, dancers – and our type tends to not be very practically business-minded, so we come out of Alexander Technique training not having a clue how to market or spread what we do and we have this thing called Alexander Technique that no one understands.
TWM: So how did you go about growing your business and getting clients?
JRF: The most important thing was that I had a very strong belief I could do it! I practice what I preach and I made a very clear goal – I wanted 15 students a week within two years. Then I figured out the steps it was going to take. And one of the steps was to do workshops. I did introductory workshops at mostly music schools. I would offer my services at the workshops and typically 10-20% of the workshop participants would want to work with me. I also launched my website and did lots of word of mouth. And whoever I talk to, I end up telling them what I do in a way they can relate to, then they are interested and very often they come and take a lesson. And within one year, I had 20 students per week!
TWM: Since your version of Alexander Technique focuses more on talking than touching, do you teach virtually as well?
JRF: Yes, I teach via Skype. Most of my practice is hands-on – and I don’t want to eliminate that from my teaching – but I am not excluding the ability for me to teach without my hands. Of course it opens up a much larger client base as well.
TWM: Any final words of thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?
JRF: Three amazing things have happened through my work with Alexander Technique:
- My violin playing has changed dramatically. To be honest, I hardly every practice any more. I go for literally months without touching my violin, then I have a performance, like last year in Carnegie Hall. And when I don’t practice, I actually sound better when I pick it up again. It is rather miraculous.
- I used to be the shyest person you can imagine. And now I love teaching workshops to hundreds of people and I love public speaking. All of those fears are gone. And it didn’t work on it. It was a side-effect of Alexander Technique.
- I want to feel at home when I am on stage. You sound better at home when you play for yourself. And I don’t wear shoes at home, so I decided not to wear shoes on stage… I played in Carnegie Hall barefoot! It was one of the best experiences to be myself on stage and I loved it.
TWM: What is your advice to get started with Alexander Technique?
JRF: If you want to try Alexander Technique lessons, think of it the same way as you would look for a music teacher. You might not like the first violin teacher you go to, so you look for another one. You might try two or three before you find the right teacher for you. Everyone is different.
TWM: What’s on the horizon for you?
JRF: I recently started teaching a certification course. It’s a series of classes in modules of six-week sessions. If you do the first four modules, you can receive an Art of Freedom Level 1 Certificate. These are currently offered in Cincinnati, but hopefully I will be able to offer them online and on-location in the future.
Two FREE E-Courses with expert tips for you
All Musicians: sign up here: http://jenniferrf1_1.gr8.com
String Players: sign up here: https://artoffreedom.leadpages.co/freestringsecourse/
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