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Jennifer Roig-Francolí and Adam Kent performing at New York's Carnegie Hall

Life, Music and the Art of Freedom with Jennifer Roig-Francolí

Sitting in the CCM Starbucks, Jennifer Roig-Francolí is the picture of relaxation: calm, energetic and full of smiles. According to her, her experience in learning and teaching Alexander Technique is to thank for this, helping her overcome various physical and mental roadblocks in her performing career.

“I really became a different person,” Roig-Francolí says. “I have so much energy now, it’s unbelievable. Whereas I always used to need a long nap in the afternoon and I would be tired all the time, now… I have this endless energy, and I’m just wanting creative outlets for it, and it’s exciting!”

It is this positive, life-changing experience that has led her to spread—both in Cincinnati and internationally—the teachings of Alexander Technique. As adjunct professor of the training at CCM, she works with the college’s students. Outside of CCM, she also teaches lessons regularly, most notably at the nearby Clifton Cultural Arts Center with pupils ranging from college-aged through senior citizens; furthermore, she presents various workshops and conference lectures.

“It’s become the love of my life,” she states happily.

Jennifer Roig-Francolí

Jennifer Roig-Francolí

Music has always surrounded Roig-Francolí. She began playing violin at age four after her parents discovered the Suzuki Method (though she states she had wanted to perform on the instrument since she was two), and as she moved into her teens and early adulthood, she began to gear herself for a career as a concert soloist. For college, she began at the Cleveland Institute of Music before transferring to Indiana University to complete her undergraduate studies. Since then, she has maintained an active career as a soloist and member of Apollo’s Fire: The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, a group that performs on period instruments and equipment and uses period tuning and intonation. She is also a member of the period duo Adastra, alongside harpsichordist Vivian Montgomery.

Oddly, however, it was another aspect of her life that led her to giving Alexander lessons a try.

“I did start taking [them] because my neck was hurting, but it was not directly related to playing violin…I had just had two children,” she says. “I think carrying them around on my hip in a lopsided way contributed to the neck pain.”

She first consulted a doctor, followed by sessions with a chiropractor. Neither was able to relieve her pain. Then a friend suggested consulting with an Alexander Technique teacher, an idea that she was hesitant to explore at first. “I had actually tried it many years before,” she admits, “and I didn’t like it.” However, her friend insisted she give it another go, stating that she needed to just find the right teacher to make it work.

She did, and it did. It also pointed her career in a new, unexpected direction.

“My neck pain was gone after just a few lessons, but the overall improvement in my well-being was so dramatic that I wanted to continue taking lessons, so I took lessons twice a week for a series of about 30 lessons, and I was improving so much in so many ways that I wanted to understand the Technique better. I didn’t want to teach it; I just wanted to understand it better for myself, and the only way I was going to understand it was to do the teacher training.”

As the intensive (1,600 hours over three years, meeting four days a week for four hours at a time) courses continued, however, she grew to love the idea of teaching Alexander Technique, which she immediately began to do after completing the certification.

“Alexander Technique is helping you deal with stress,” Roig-Francolí says. “A lot of it is psycho-physical issues… we tend to think of thoughts as very abstract things, but actually there are physical neurons firing… and then it gets transferred into your nerves. It’s really a subtraction technique: you’re learning how to stop doing things that are getting in your way. You’re learning to do things less…we as a society are not good at doing this. If you learn how to sit peacefully and mindfully, you can actually become incredibly alert and get a lot done. You’re not carrying around all of this residual tension.”

To this end, in 2014, Jennifer Roig-Francolí created The Art of Freedom, a program meant to use the scientifically backed Technique in a more all-encompassing, holistic manner to reconcile various, compartmentalized aspects of one’s life; in Roig-Francolí’s case, this includes her roles as mother, teacher, Alexander student, and modern and Baroque violinist. “Over the last few years, I’ve worked hard to integrate [all these aspects], so I’m really applying the Alexander Technique… so that I feel whole. It all comes together in The Art of Freedom, in which I specialize in helping musicians to really be themselves in the best way possible: mind, body, soul and spirit united on stage and everywhere else.”

That “everywhere else” also includes helping non-musicians, most notably her studies between 2009 and 2010 with surgeons at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, teaching them “an intensive, eight-day program of Alexander Technique to help them with their ergonomics [they use] while they engage in minimally invasive surgery.” Her work with Children’s was also the focus of a study and paper published in the Journal of Urology.

“They loved it,” she said. “They learned a lot and they had a lot less pain. Their skills improved. What they’re doing is very minute and detailed skills for many hours, and they’re looking at a computer screen for what they’re actually doing. So there’s a lot of back pain, and a lot of surgeons need to retire early. Just like musicians, a lot of careers are cut short... so part of my job is to help prevent all of that pain from coming up in the first place and then [figure out] how you manage it and deal with it when you’re already there.”

But Roig-Francolí also continues to use the technique to manage her own pain, especially since her concert and travel schedule for 2015 has been what she describes as “unusually very busy:”

  • First annual "non-performance” of her Art of Freedom and CCM Alexander Technique students, called "Music in the Raw!" on April 26;
  • A two-week trip to Japan to teach The Art of Freedom and Alexander Technique workshops for musicians at BodyChance in April and May, followed by a workshop presentation at the American Society for the Alexander Technique annual conference in Boston in June;
  • Performances at the Boston Early Music Festival with Adastra in March, with CSO musicians at the Linton Series in May, and with Apollo's Fire at Tanglewood Music Festival in early July.

The rest of the calendar year to now has been just as hectic. A workshop presentation at the International Congress for the Alexander Technique in Limerick, Ireland, in August followed by another workshop this fall in Cincinnati for the Cincinnati Harp Society filled out the late summer/early autumn portion of her appointment book. Needless to say, such a schedule can take its toll, but the Technique “absolutely” helps her deal with the stress and wear of travel and performing, according to Roig-Francolí.

It’s hard to disagree. The day after this interview was conducted, she was scheduled to take off again for another event, but she looks as though her previous and upcoming travel engagements have not affected her in the slightest; there appears to be no fatigue at all in how she speaks or holds herself. In the end, this may not only be due to her use of the Technique, but her desire and zeal to spread it and make more people aware of its potential benefit.

“I’m really just wanting to share these ideas with the musical community in Cincinnati,” she summarizes. “It’s this incredibly magical well-kept secret that people don’t know about, and almost without exception, the work I’m doing is helping people transform their lives so that they feel better physically, they’re happier, they become more successful, their skills and technique improve… it almost sounds too good to be true, but it’s just a wonderful, wonderful thing, and we have a lot of fun in the classes.”

 - Story by Kevin Norton