F. M. Alexander called it inhibition, not his most creative choice of words. It has the smell of negativity: No! Nyet! Nein sagen. Teachers and students of the technique flaunt the word like a weapon. Mess up moderately, vent a little, and you’ll hear it. “You need to inhibit.” If it weren’t so grim, it would be funny. Okay, it’s funny anyway. Inhibition, waiting, can be wondrous, as my good colleague, Imogen Ragone, asserted only yesterday. Do you know who proves that every day and in every performance? Singers. They are exemplars of inhibition. Let me tell you how.
Now, there are some singers who lurch into action, into a phrase, before they have internalized the sense of what they’re about to sing. They begin out of synch and seldom recover. But the great majority of singers – all the fine ones – hear before they sing. Their singing comes from stillness. They hear a pitch and a vowel and when they do – before they have uttered a sound – the vocal folds begin to vibrate. Before the singer sings, he is singing. Famed British neurologist Barry Wyke called it “pre-phonatory tuning.” Had he called it inhibition, the world might not have noticed. When a singer waits, when he hears, the singing system, the vocal tract is tuned and toned. The singer has only to blend his breath with his thinking and that vocal miracle we call singing unfolds.
Waiting, thinking before you act, is both ways and means of the Alexander Technique, the means whereby the greatest benefits of the work are accomplished. The concomitant of inhibition is elegant, economical, cost-free action. Today, right now, you can put it into practice.
Some may doubt inhibition’s efficacy. Wyke, loosely quoted, called it the “most complex action in which a human being can engage, involving a kaleidoscopic array of neuro-muscular responses.” Or, in simple words, as near a miracle as a human being can come in their everyday life. It is an endowment you can bring to the artful or the mundane, in the way you sing an aria or reach for the baking powder.
Inhibition is a lousy name for all these possibilities, but by any other name – pre-phonatory tuning, predictive co-ordination, or Frederick’s fancy – each would smell as sweet insomuch as it is made practical in our daily walk and conversation. How much better our experience might be, if at least once today, in response to the stimulus to speak or act, we practiced mindful waiting. Can you imagine?
What a wonderful post, Alan. Thank you. It reminds me to be grateful that I had parents who kept telling me to “Stop and think” before acting.
Jennifer, thank you so much. Look forward to seeing and hearing you at Carnegie Hall, no less. Best in that. Envying your participation in the February workshop. Fun times.