Frederick Matthias Alexander was born about as far from civilisation as it is possible to be: the remotest part of Tasmania, which is the remotest part of Australia, which in 1868 was about the remotest part of the British Empire. That the technique should appear to have such unlikely beginnings is perhaps the reason it is so different from what people expect...
F. M. once said that he 'grew up riding GGs'* - the plain fact is that his mother was a midwife in this rough terrain and many times she had to gallop across the hills with the baby F. M. strapped to her back.
*'GG' — colloquial term for a horse!
From this unlikely beginning, F. M. chose an even unlikelier career path. He loved Shakespeare and acting, and would give recitals at the various variety performances that took place in 19th century Victoria and New South Wales, Australia.
It was through this occupation that he began to be beset by an ailment: he kept losing his voice mid performance. This setback persisted for some years, and after trying all the help he could find from Doctors to exercise experts and no doubt some of the less tested cures of the day, he tried to rest his voice by not even speaking for several weeks.
At the end of this experiment he gave another performance and promptly lost his voice again within half an hour.
With distress he turned to his Doctor and said to him: "When I talk I don't lose my voice, but when I recite I do. I must deduce from this that there is something I am doing when reciting which I don't do when talking normally." The Doctor agreed this was logical. Alexander then asked, "What is it I am doing when reciting?" and the Doctor responded,
"I have no idea"
Thus faced with only himself to solve his problem, F. M. turned to the principle that was a foundation of life as an outback Tasmanian - if there was no one to help, you simply set to and fixed the problem yourself. A leaky roof or laryngitis were no strangers.
F. M. settled down to observe his use in mirrors, spending some years at it and eventually emerged with a concept of use which was to transform his voice, his acting and create an entire career. As people observed him on stage, his presence had become commanding without effort, and acting students started to apply to him for instruction.
The first attempts to get students to observe themselves in the mirror were not successful; Alexander had been luckily gifted with an acute degree of observation which is not shared by many, so over the next 20 years a technique was developed that uses the hands and verbal feedback in place of the mirror.