Neck Has Seized Up Completely

Bill Benham


I came from a musical family and from a very early age used to play the piano. When I was nine I took up the violin as well, which have subsequently caused me a great deal of problems since. I was playing in an orchestra from the age of 12 and at 15 was entering the BBC and the Carl Flesch competitions. Music has become a huge part of my life. When I was 19 I started to feel first neck and then back pain; it started right between my shoulder blades but quickly spread to the lower back. During a tour in Florida, USA with the London Symphony Orchestra my neck has seized up completely and my right wrist has become immovable, but like the majority of other musicians I’ve played through the pain. I was only 22 at the time!

I was very close to giving up the violin altogether and in my desperation I went to see a woman named Jean Gibson who taught an Alexander technique based system of education which did help my condition. She helped me to start thinking half the height of my chin rests and different kinds of chair that did help a little. I also used massage and yoga to alleviate some of the pain, but nevertheless I played for the next five years with the London symphonic Orchestra frequently in pain, but a little bit more under control. When I was 28 I got a job as co-leader with the Newcastle Sinfonia Orchestra and in the audition I had to play with a piece of string around my neck to support my violin in which gave me enough relief from the pain to get me the job. My back and neck pain however and I was advised by one of the horn players in the orchestra to have Alexander lessons with Vivien Mackie who besides being an Alexander teacher had trained with the famous cellist Pablo Casals.

The release of muscle tension that Vivien was able to impart directly helped me to get completely out of pain for the first time in many years. She showed me how I was over-tensing my muscles every time I played and helped me to let go of my habits of trying too hard when playing. She also introduced me to fellow violin player and Alexander teacher Paul Collins who helped me to see how important it was to change the way I held and supported my violin and by doing so I could play with much less tension. Believe it or not this has never been discussed this since I started playing at the age of nine. Through a series of individual and group lessons in the Alexander technique I have been able to play the violin with very little discomfort or pain in my back and neck. It really has enabled me to carry on my very successful musical career for over 30 years performing in concerts, festivals, and for film and TV.