Air Alight project – Alexander Murray

Day 20/126
While we’re waiting for Robert to send us the music, I thought this would be a good time to talk about Alexander Murray, the whole reason why this concert is happening!

Alexander Murray is the former principal flute of the London Symphony Orchestra.  He is Professor Emeritus of Flute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).  Since 1959 he has been interested in the architecture of the Boehm system flute and how it relates to our hand structure.  His work with flutemakers Albert Cooper and Jack Moore has resulted in the “Murray system” flute, which several performers will be using in his tribute concert at the convention.  His most recent flute invention is a quarter-tone flute, created in 1998.  After working with Walter Carrington, principal assistant to Alexander Technique creator F.M. Alexander, Murray began working with students to help them understand how their actions while playing instruments can be unwittingly hurting them and preventing them from progressing with their studies.  Today he and his wife run a center dedicated to training disciples to become certified Alexander Technique teachers.

I had the incredibly good fortune to study with Alex while I was in graduate school at UIUC .  I was there studying Ethnomusicology, and I had every intent on furthering my flute studies as well.  My Ethnomusicology advisors were not keen with this idea, they felt it would be a distraction from my research.  But I had heard such wonderful things about Alex that I went to talk to him, and ask if he had openings in his studio.  He couldn’t have been nicer, and accepted me for private lessons.  The only problem?  His office was right next door to one of my Ethnomusicology advisors who had been very vocally opposed to my lessons!  So we worked out a deal: I kept the lessons off my transcript so there would be no evidence of my supposed dalliances.   At my appointed time each week I would simply walk into his office, without knocking(!), so there was no risk of being seen waiting in the hallway with my flute out.  During the course of my lessons we discovered that you could hear everything through the wall my two professors shared, so Alex even stopped using my name during our lessons!   All this may seem very silly now, but at the time it was very serious.  I know now that my joint studies of both the flute and the shakuhachi have enhanced my learning and understanding of both instruments, but as a young 20-something graduate student, alone for the first time at a prestigious, enormous school in the Midwest, I was not eager to rock the boat.

My lessons with Alex were really wonderful, full of creativity and exploration.  He was fantastic at empowering his students to use the knowledge they already possessed to further themselves.  I remember playing a Bach Sonata for him one day and being told that he had nothing further he could teach me on it, that the remaining work had to come from within.   Although I never asked him explicitly for Alexander Technique lessons, it permeated everything we covered.  Some of the lessons were apparent at the time, and others only became clear years later.  I will always be grateful that he took a chance on me.

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