“Indirect Procedures” book review

Indirect Procedures by Pedro de Alcantara
Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique (1997)  by Pedro de Alcantara

Term 4

Reading about the technique is an integral part of our training, sometimes aloud with others, at other times by ourselves at home.  Recently I’ve been absorbed in a book I borrowed from our training school library – Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique by Pedro de Alcantara, published in 1997.

For a niche area of bodywork, albeit with wide applications, there are a surprising number of contemporary books about the Alexander Technique.  Some are self-published or produced by specialist presses.  Some, such as this one, have reached a wider audience, with a revised edition in 2013.  I’ve avoided reading it until now as the subtitle suggested it wasn’t for me – but I was quite wrong.

Pedro de Alcantara, a widely travelled musician, writer and Alexander teacher based in Paris, has an engaging and elegant style.  He explains the book’s title as follows:

“A good Alexander teacher does not aim to treat or cure illness.  Indeed, she veers you away from even wishing to solve a specific problem directly.  Instead she leads you through a series of indirect procedures that address not specific ills but a state of total co-ordination or use of the self.”

In line with its theme, there are three ‘movements’ to the book :

  • The Principles
  • The Procedures
  • The Applications

He uses clear musical examples throughout, together with photos of musicians in action, in a way that is enlightening and useful.  As a non-musician I paid least attention to the Applications section, since it covers technical and practical aspects of musicianship. However I would return to this as a valuable reference if working with a musician or singer.

Both the original and the revised editions are still available, and Pedro de Alcantara has written a short essay on his website outlining the differences between the two.  He conceived the original while training to be an Alexander teacher in the 1980s, though it was not published until 1997.  In the 2013 edition he has simplified the book’s structure, and put the musical examples into one chapter only, making it more accessible to the non-specialist.  And, with more experience and confidence as a teacher and writer, he has changed some of the language, using more of his own words and cutting the quotes from FM Alexander and other key figures, as these are available elsewhere.

It’s not an introductory book for complete beginners, but would be invaluable for musicians or others who have had lessons and want to deepen their understanding of Alexander work. So far I’ve only read the 1997 edition, but will be buying the revised version for my bookshelf.  I want to read more of his insights and see what my response is to the question he poses:

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?