F. M. Alexander
Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) was born in Tasmania. He embarked on a promising career as an actor and reciter in Australia, but early on developed severe voice problems, which could not be helped by medicine or any other approach. He faced having to give up a profession he was passionate about and decided to find a solution himself.
Through thorough and lengthy self-observation he was able to determine that the source of his problems was the way he was using himself, something he was doing while he was reciting. He realized that whenever he was about to start to recite he would pull his head back and down, thus shortening his own stature, he would also depress his larynx and gasp in air audibly. This would cause a hoarseness and loss of voice that could only be alleviated by completely refraining from reciting. Through further experiments he developed a method that allowed him to stop his harmful habits and he was able to continue with a successful acting career. He discovered that the relationship of the head, neck and back was of particular importance to the coordination and functioning of the whole organism.
The changes he brought about in himself – not only affecting his voice but his overall health and well-being – were so impressive that others sought his advice, and eventually he dedicated himself fully to teaching what is now known as the Alexander Technique.
Alexander moved to London in 1904 where he had great success in introducing his technique to the acting community and in medical circles. Alexander’s pupils included Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, Leonard Woolf, Sir Stafford Cripps, The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Earl of Lytton and doctors, scientists and performers. During the period 1914–24 he also taught regularly in New York and Boston where John Dewey became his pupil and supporter.
In 1931 Alexander started a 3-year course in London, training teachers in his technique, which ensured its survival and continual expansion. He also encouraged and oversaw the establishment of a small school where children were taught with attention to the “means-whereby” in contrast to the “end-gaining” mentality which neglects the “how” in every activity. He wrote 4 books and several pamphlets (reproduced in his Articles and Lectures).
In 1947, Alexander suffered a stroke which paralysed his left side. He used his technique to fully recover from his stroke and continued to teach to within a few days of his death.