Read the many letters that have been sent to the Golandsky Institute expressing high praise and gratitude for their work with the Taubman Approach.
Being small-built with hands that just about reach an octave, I used to believe that diligent practice would make up for my physical limitations at the keyboard. My teachers in music school concluded that I had weak fingers and poor technique; my arms and body mass were too slight, my bone structure too fine. Virtuosic repertoire, double octaves and big chords were to be avoided at the risk of injury.
So I practiced technical and finger exercises, stretched my hands daily, and continued to labor away at the keyboard. All I got for my efforts was pain: my shoulders and back ached after being at the piano for half an hour, bruises routinely formed on my wrists, and virtuosity seemed an impossible goal.
After much research, I chanced upon the Taubman approach and participated in the Golandsky Institute’s 2011 Summer Symposium. There, I found the answers I had been searching for. I got to know Ms Therese Milanovic and learned of her own miracle story at the piano. After returning to Singapore, I began regular Skype lessons with her. I found myself surpassing what I had previously dismissed as natural limitations: I played chords that I ‘should not’ have played, at a volume that I ‘should not’ have achieved, and with such ease and comfort that I could hardly believe I was the same person. Almost immediately, the back pain and shoulder aches ceased, and the bruises on my wrists (which I later realized were the results of stretching my small hands) never came back.
Together, we have tackled etudes and virtuosic works by Liszt, Messiaen, Mendelssohn and Chopin, among others. Every technical problem that I have presented to Therese appears to have no lack of solutions, and I am constantly surprised by how effortless piano playing can be.
Instead of being intimidated by the ‘unplayable’ works in piano literature, I am now enthusiastically seeking out these masterpieces to add to my personal repertoire. There is much joy in being able to play a piece of music so securely and with such ease that the mind can be wholly occupied with the artistry of music making. My learning philosophy, and more importantly, my teaching philosophy, has never been the same since.
My name is Jeremy Chan and I'm from Sydney, Australia. I started playing the piano when I was 5 and decided to pursue a Bachelor of Music in piano performance at University of South Wales after finishing high school. Prior to this I had won piano competitions, performed on national radio, and had performed all over Australia.
As I was practicing for more competitions, there was a passage in a Stravinsky etude that I found particularly awkward, and I would often feel tired after practicing it. The feeling of tiredness did not go away, and it got to a point where my left forearm was in pain and my fingers felt weaker despite practicing the passage over and over again. I persisted and continued to practice this passage, determined to get it right, until the pain in my forearm became unbearable. Everyday activities became almost impossible to do without feeling pain: turning on taps, holding a glass of water, using utensils like chopsticks - and so on.
I was told to give up playing the piano, but this wasn't an option I was willing to take until I had sought all the help I could find. I saw physical therapists, doctors, a hand surgeon, massage therapists and acupuncturists. I also started studying the Alexander Technique. For the next 18 months, I received treatments that helped to relieve my symptoms, but when it came to playing the piano, the problems did not go away.
At that point, I discovered the Taubman Approach, and I contacted Dr. Therese Milanovic in Brisbane, who was at the time recently made a Certified Instructor in the Taubman Approach at the Golandsky Institute in New York. I flew up for a series of intensive lessons over 3 days, and immediately felt a major reduction in my symptoms and began to understand what the source of my piano-related problems were. I felt like I had finally found the answers to my problems. I flew up to Brisbane from Sydney, every month for intensive lessons, for a period of a year. After a year of re-training with Dr. Milanovic, I had reached a point where I was ready to audition for schools in the US. I was playing Chopin and Ligeti etudes and the Brahms Handel Variations.
I was admitted to Queens College, in New York City where I had the opportunity to study with Edna Golandsky, who is an Adjunct Faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music. Things were going extremely well and I noticed my technique getting better and better. I was starting to work on not only how to move correctly at the keyboard, but how to control sound.
Out of the blue, while in my 2nd semester at Queens College, I felt a slight heaviness in my left forearm, and noticed that it was becoming difficult to play with that hand. The feeling did not go away despite resting it for a while. To my surprise I discovered that the source of the pain was not from the piano, but from my handwriting. I later read that Shostakovich had to give up his career as a solo pianist due to a writing injury. After coming to the realization that the source of the problem was from handwriting, my next few lessons with Edna were focused on my handwriting. I realized through my lessons:
- the fingers were contorted around the pen/pencil
- wrist was low and disconnected from the rest of the forearm which made me control the pen from my fingers and through flicks of the wrist
- being left handed and using right-handed desks at school also made it uncomfortable to write and resulted in upper arm getting involved causing a feeling of fatigue and heaviness.
- the fear of smudging the paper meant that I resorted to using the upper arm, which made my neck and shoulders tight and sore. I often had to shake out the wrist.
I now make sure that whenever I write, I:
- sit at the correct height
- use a fatter pen (makes it possible not to 'squeeze' and curl my fingers)
- initiate my motions from the forearm
- not the upper arm, fingers, or wrist
- position the paper where it feels comfortable.
Since adjusting my handwriting, the symptoms went away and have never re-surfaced. I also felt more at ease at the piano, having removed the residual tension from handwriting that I had become so accustomed to that I did not realize was there.
I recently graduated from Queens College, and was admitted to graduate programs at Mannes, Manhattan School of Music and New England Conservatory.
Val-d’Or, Québec, Canada
May 3, 2010
Greetings Ms. Golandsky
I wish to tell you how thrilled we were about the workshop given by Mrs. Mariko Sato at the Val-d’Or Music Conservatory last january, 2010.
I am a piano-accompanist at the music conservatory and 5 years ago, I developed tendonitis in both my forearms. The pain worsened from week to week, and I feared that this condition was the result of my work as an accompanist. I love my work and I couldn’t imagine a situation where I’d no longer be able to play, teach, or function as an accompanist.
Another pianist happened to speak to me about “The Taubman approach” and, because of this, I began taking courses with Mariko Sato in Montreal. Later Mariko presented me to Mrs. Mary Moran and since then, I’ve taken courses with both Mariko and Mary, when she is coming in Montreal.
I spent two marvelously enriching weeks in Princeton during the past two summers and I hope to return there in 2 years: unfortunately, I can’t be there this summer. This piano method has quickly enabled me to heal and I play better, as well. I’ve also shared what I’ve learned about the technique with other pianists and music teachers of my region.
To my great joy, the director of the Val-d’Or Music Conservatory agreed to invite Mariko to join us for a weekend workshop last january. Six piano teachers from the region participated in the session: they were all very impressed with Mariko’s superb preparation. She introduced us to the “Taubman approach” in a manner which proved to be very rewarding. First, Mariko spoke to us of her own journey, then of The Taubman method itself, its overall ideas and principles, finally, she provided us with numerous examples. During the afternoon session, students of the Music Conservatory presented various selections from their repertoires which Mariko was able to use in order to explain ways the Taubman approach could help them better execute their various musical selections. We were all thrilled with the day-long workshop, the music teachers and the students alike. However, it was a lot of information to absorb in a single day; It was suggested that another workshop be held to better assimilate the basic rudiments of the technic Taubman. A seed has been planted and it should be encouraged to grow to fruition.
Bravo and many thanks to Mrs. Mariko Sato. A very special “tip-of-the-hat” to the entire team at the Golandsky Institute for its magnificent work.
Father Sean [Duggan]: I am so grateful that I was able to study with you these past two years. Thank you for your patience, kindness, and understanding. I have grown so much as a pianist and musician. I truly believe God brought me to your studio and allowed me to study Taubman, the adaptation that enabled me to play this recital. I am confident that if it was not for learning the Taubman technique I would not be playing. Thank you for that gift! I look forward to using its insights when teaching students and clients in the future.
My story is a fortunate one. Upon commencing my undergraduate studies, I was very inspired to improve and to work hard. With an important exam looming, I increased my practice from two to seven or eight hours a day. Unaware of the existence of playing-related injury or the severity of the consequences, I played for the exam in pain and was diagnosed later with tendonitis in my right thumb. Six weeks of no practice seemed like an eternity. A cortisone injection was presented as the only option, and after the injection I went back to practicing as much as my hands would allow.
In retrospect, the reoccurrence of injury was inevitable. With the knowledge I have now, I now understand that I was sitting too low, curling and playing from the fingers, breaking the wrist, stretching including legato octaves with 1-4 . Of course this created a large amount of tension, so I added relaxation to the mix as a desperate antidote. When my injury reoccurred I was told the only solution was surgery, which was subsequently performed.
This was not the end of my troubles. I struggled throughout my undergraduate studies with continued problems, a very limited technique and large periods of not being able to practice. In my final year my pain became a vague condition which could not be diagnosed, affecting my entire right hand and forearm. Also suffering from glandular fever at the time, the pain jumped limbs, despite the fact I was not playing at all, to affect both hands and forearms. Seeking every treatment I could find, I had innumerable sessions of physiotherapy, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, Reiki and massage, but to no avail. Not being able to type, I dictated my Honours thesis. As I could not play the piano, I prepared for my final practical exam largely through mental practice. After completing my Bachelor degree, the glandular fever developed into chronic fatigue. Staying awake was difficult, as were day-to-day tasks using my hands, let alone work. My spirits were extremely low.
At the end of nearly five years of forced rest from the piano, and seriously having to consider an alternative occupation which did not involve use of my hands, I was told of the Taubman Approach. A friend studying in the US had seen a masterclass with Edna Golandsky, and was convinced that I should somehow come to the US, to give this technique one last chance. In 2003 I attended two intensive Taubman courses in the USA and Italy, with borrowed money in my pocket, and the hope of being able to play the piano again.
After an intensive month, which included innumerable hours of observation and study but only about seven hours of individual lessons with Teresa Dybvig, I returned to Australia and commenced a Masters degree in performance, receiving a High Distinction for my final recital two years later. Writing a Masters thesis on students’ experiences of the Taubman Approach helped keep what I had learned in the forefront of my mind. Despite nearly nine years of struggle with pain, one month of study of the Taubman Approach helped me reclaim the possibility of a career in music, and a solid understanding of how to stay far away from injury.
From that time onwards, I had no problems at all with my hands and arms, and my playing and teaching went from strength to strength, building a strong performance profile, attracting high-level students, and a teaching position at Young Conservatorium Griffith University.
In July 2007, I returned to the US with the help of funding from Arts Queensland, and attended another intensive month of courses, including the Golandsky Institute. My lessons with Edna transcended my initial understanding of the work, and opened up my playing and teaching to new levels of security, colour, virtuosity and inspiration. Nearly two years of planning, grant-writing and fundraising later, I travelled to New York in April 09 to undertake a condensed three-month program of lessons and observation towards certification as a Taubman teacher, studying primarily with Edna Golandsky, and also John Bloomfield. This would not have been possible without the support of the Dame Joan Sutherland Fund, my family, and the generosity of many individual donors through ABAF.
At this point I run out of superlatives. My hands have never felt so good. Edna has helped me comfortably play larger chords and repertoire which I had thought impossible. She has even cured fifteen years of cold hands, a circulatory issue left over from years of protecting my injured limbs. As my understanding of the Taubman Approach deepens, so does my understanding of the indivisible relationship between artistry and the physical know-how behind compelling music-making.
The Taubman Approach has undoubtedly transformed my life and my music-making. With continued training, I hope to become a highly skilled Taubman teacher and to help pianists across Australia searching for healthy virtuosity.
MMus and BMus (Hons), Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University
(From the East Cobber Magazine, Marietta, Georgia)
In 1996, at age 40, pianist/composer Charlotte Williams was faced with two options: she could continue to play piano professionally and endure the ever-increasing pain of tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, or she could set out to find a new career. With over 34 years invested in the study of piano, however, neither option seemed quite right.
“I had reached a real crisis point,” explained Ms. Williams, “because I was literally in pain 24 hours a day.” One evening, during a performance at the Swisôtel in Buckhead, I felt something snap in my forearm, and the pain was astounding. Fortunately, I was referred by a friend to Dr. Hugh McCleod, who took the time to educate me about the movements in my wrists that were contributing to my injury. Unfortunately, those movements are advocated and encouraged by most traditional piano teachers, and I had been taught from the beginning that they were an essential part of piano technique. Thinking that my arms and wrists were simply not strong enough to endure the demands of piano playing, I literally set out to find a new career.”
Luckily, a casual conversation with an amateur pianist later that week led Ms. Williams to the work of Dorothy Taubman, an innovative teacher in New York who, in the late 1960’s, had developed a healthy approach to piano technique. Charlotte discovered that the Taubman Approach is labeled “controversial” because of the fact that Mrs. Taubman questioned many elements of traditional teaching that clearly limit or injure pianists. After traveling to New York for lessons with Edna Golandsky, the leading exponent of Ms. Taubman’s work, and continuing studies with John Bloomfield and Ms. Golandsky, Charlotte slowly began to learn another way to play the piano.
“Today, I guess I’d have to describe myself as a ‘staunch supporter of the controversial common-sense approach to piano playing!’ After a few beginning lessons in the Taubman Approach, I realized that it would be possible to recover, retrain, and play again pain-free by learning how to avoid those movements Dr. McCleod had identified. The bad news was that I could not continue to perform while I was starting over, since it takes time to learn to replace old habits with new ones. That’s when I decided to turn my attention to teaching while I continued my retraining, in hopes that I could help young pianists get a healthy start. After a few months of practicing this technique, I was completely free of pain in my arms and hands; and with more years of practice, I found that I was playing faster, more accurately, and with better sound than I ever dreamed possible, thanks to Ms. Golandsky’s and Mr. Bloomfield’s teaching.”
“Today, I have come to realize that even for pianists who are not in pain, this work is essential. Since it employs the natural, most efficient movements of the hands and arms working as a unit at the keyboard, it allows a pianist to reach his or her greatest potential. That’s why this work is promoted at top conservatories such as Julliard.”
Charlotte’s students have benefited greatly from the Taubman Approach to piano. In the past years, her students have won 2004 First Place Medal (Prelude and Fugue,) and 2006 Outstanding Performer (French Suite) in the North DeKalb Music Teacher’s Bi-annual Bach Competition, Second Place in the Margaret Guthman National High School Jazz Competition, First and Second Place in the State Junior Composition Competition (sponsored by Warner Brothers Music,) Top Medals and Outstanding Ratings in the GMTA local and state auditions, and scholarships from the GMMTA and the University of Miami Frost School of Music, Redovian Foundation, and Georgia Governor’s Honors Program.
“I am so proud of my students’ accomplishments, but I am more thrilled by the fact that they are continuing an important tradition that will help shape their future. The study of piano is a lifetime pursuit that I plan to continue, and I hope I can help a new crop of pianists find the joy in playing while avoiding the pitfalls I encountered. Although I consider it a tragedy that I, along with many other pianists, experienced so many physical problems as a result of the way I was taught to play, I am extremely fortunate to have finally found help, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share what I have learned with others.”
Charlotte currently teaches at DeKalb School of the Arts and privately in East Cobb.
Dear Professor Golandsky:
You don’t know me, but since I bought the complete video series of The Taubman Techniques a few years ago and watched them hundreds of time, I “know you” very well.
You and Dorothy Taubman are very important figures in my life, even if I’ve never met you. Without any doubt you are the best teachers I’ve ever had.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to tell everybody that “I studied” with you (I wish I had). I’m not a piano teacher or a conservatory student. What I do is simply to suggest, in a very kind way, to everyone who plays the piano badly (99% of the pianists I know) that they should consider the idea of studying with you (unfortunately Italian conservatory students – and teachers – usually think that they don’t need a better technique, even if the pieces that they are trying to play would surely have a different opinion about their needs).
When I received your videos I was badly injured. Playing the piano has always been very painful for me. Years of traditional training destroyed completely my coordination, but it took me only few weeks of “rotational” training to completely eliminate the pain from my forearm and from my hands.
Of course, without a teacher, the retraining process is very slow, difficult and uncertain: you have to be the doctor and the patient at the same time. And what makes the thing worse is that you aren’t an experienced doctor.
So, as you could imagine, I still don’t play the piano well. And even if I’m old for being a piano student (I’m 27), I’m not going to give up. I simply can’t, because playing the piano is the most important thing in my life. I started to study the piano quite old (14), because in my family there was no musical tradition. And for a long time I’ve only learned how things don’t work. Maybe it’s for this reason that I suffer so much when I listen to pianists that play without coordination and without technique, complaining of their lack of talent. I know too well what it means. And what makes me feel worse is that I can’t help them. Maybe one day I’ll find the way to attend a complete Taubman training, and I’ll become a Taubman teacher!
I’ve been on the piano faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland since 1979. In 1990 I hurt my right hand, an injury that caused almost constant pain in my hand, arm, elbow, shoulders and back. The injury occurred away from the piano, but in retrospect I suspect that it was made possible by years of misuse at the piano. Most everyday activities became difficult and painful, including washing dishes, ironing, carrying and lifting, turning a key in a lock, etc. I was unable to play the piano at all for over a year. Even the oom-pah-pah teacher accompaniments in my son’s beginner piano book caused me pain. Because the pain was so widespread it was difficult to tell where it originated, and because the pain was so constant, it was hard to identify the movements and activities that aggravated it.
I went to several doctors, including a physical medicine specialist who suggested that I had just been playing the piano too long and needed to stop for awhile, even though the injury hadn’t occurred at the piano and staying away from the piano for several months hadn’t helped. He then offered me a choice of two or three treatments, despite the fact that he didn’t know what was wrong. I tried one, but it didn’t make any difference. I finally got the diagnosis at a musicians’ clinic in Ontario—a torn opponens pollicis , the thumb muscle that brings the thumb under the hand. I was given some stretching exercises for the neck and shoulders and was shown how to apply pressure to trigger points. Knowing what the injury was made it a little easier to avoid things that aggravated it, but I was still experiencing quite a lot of pain.
I had heard about the Taubman work several years earlier and had seen the video Choreography of the Hands. It seemed to make sense to me, so I decided to attend the Taubman Institute at Amherst College in 1991. While there, I worked with Edna Golandsky for 10-15 minutes each day for two weeks. We started retraining from the beginning, dropping on one finger at a time, then learning the 5-finger pattern and finally starting the C major scale. For the first time in over a year, I could play without pain. While at the Institute, I also heard some of the faculty perform and was impressed with the quality of sound they got at the piano. I decided that I wanted that sound, and that fall I started taking lessons with Edna, flying to New York about once a month. Two years later, in fall of 1993, I gave a solo recital that included the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
I have continued to study with Edna ever since, flying to New York as often as I can. During the 1990’s I held an administrative position at the university, so I couldn’t always practice and take lessons as regularly as I should have. Nonetheless, I continued to make progress and perform regularly, both solo and chamber music. In the last three years, piano has again become my top priority, and I have been taking lessons more consistently, working to refine the technique and explore its full potential for musical expression. I now play repertoire that I had never considered doing before I worked with Edna. I love playing Mozart, Haydn and Schubert, which I avoided in the past — they’re no fun to play if scales don’t feel good. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody is another work that I never would have dared to play before I retrained.
Although I don’t consider myself a fully qualified “Taubman teacher”, the work has dramatically changed my teaching. I can now find solutions to students’ technical problems where before I would have had to throw up my hands. Lessons can be productive problem-solving sessions instead of exercises in bewilderment and frustration. I have always believed that there is no such thing as an unmusical student; what we call “unmusical” is actually a result of physical incoordination. Now I have tools to put that belief into practice, and it is really exciting to see the improvement in my students. That makes teaching a lot of fun.
Professor, School of Music, Memorial University of Newfoundland
BM, University of Regina (Canada); MM, Juilliard; DMA, Indiana University
My earliest technical training was in the tradition of the finger independence and stretching exercises that are far too familiar to most pianists. However, I eventually studied with a teacher who encouraged a technique that resulted in less stress to the body. This approach involved much relaxation and was a welcome change from the finger isolation of my earlier playing. For a number of years, I believed that this relaxed approach would prevent future injury and satisfy my needs as a pianist.
Unfortunately, as years passed I became less satisfied with my tone production. My sound often seemed uncentered, particularly in passages of extreme speed. As a result of this dissatisfaction, I started making a transition back toward finger isolation.
Though this change provided a partial solution to the problem — extremely fast passages sounded much more precise — it also brought unwelcome side effects. My sound became rather harsh. I became aware that the lefthand's tone sounded much thinner than my right hand’s. I also noted that the fourth and fifth fingers of both hands could not match the resonance of the other “stronger” fingers. Like many other pianists, I began to use even more finger force to compensate for these deficiencies.
In March 2000, I was busy, but not unusually so, learning pieces for composers and accompanying instrumentalists. I generally spent between eight and ten hours at the piano each day. One week, I began learning a piece with many intervals of tenths and even a few elevenths, many of which also included a third note in the middle. (At that time, I naively took pride in not needing to arpeggiate the large intervals). Within the first few days, I began to experience an unusual pain in my left thumb. Focused on upcoming performances, I denied the pain until one morning when the pain woke me after only a few hours of sleep. I reluctantly postponed some rehearsals while continuing to play others that seemed too pressing to cancel. But, within a few more days, the throbbing, which now spread throughout my entire left hand. After a few cycles of resting for a few days and returning to playing, which always resulted in more pain than the previous cycle, I decided that I would have to stop playing completely — at the time I thought I might need a few weeks or a month.
I was devastated. As a fast reader who often substituted for other troubled pianists on short notice, I now found myself unsuccessfully looking for people to replace me. I felt extremely sad about the many cancellations I made, especially in the cases of friends who I felt were counting on me to perform their compositions or accompany their college degree recitals during the following days and weeks. Thankfully, most were very supportive during that troubling time.
By December 2000, I was also beginning to experience pain in my right hand. After nearly nine months of frustration with the constant cycle of weeks of rest followed by failed attempts to play again without pain, I began to think I would simply never be able to survive as a pianist again.
One of the composers whose performance I canceled in March asked another pianist he knew if she could recommend anyone to help me. I spoke with her. Sarah Cahill gave me the phone number of Edna Golandsky. At the time, I did not know the significance this phone number would have for me. Later, while reading some injured pianist forums on the internet, I found a compelling testimonial to work Edna had done for the injury of Amy McLelland. I became very interested and searched for more information. After reading more about the work, my feeling was that I wished I knew about this work from the beginning of my playing life. The fundamental concepts made so much sense; I immediately believed this work not only would have prevented my injury, but also would have given me the tools necessary to play as I wished. I called Edna Golandsky.
At the first lesson, although I was only playing one note at a time, I was amazed — not only was there no pain while playing the keyboard, but the sound of all ten fingers was equal. Instantly, there were no “weak” fingers. I could barely believe it. The sound was fuller and more centered than I ever remembered producing before.
Now, after two years of studying with Edna, I find myself looking forward to each lesson with the same excitement I felt at those first lessons when it became evident that I would be able to play again. I am still continually amazed how perceptive Edna is to my movements. Sometimes I find it hard to believe the subtle level at which she is able to observe by simply watching and listening; it seems as if she is able to “feel” my movements better than I can. Also, when she demonstrates at the piano, she is somehow able to project the feeling of the movements such that I almost feel I am playing them myself. I have talked to many who agree with this when witnessing her lectures and master classes. One simply has to experience her work to believe it!
At this stage of my study of this work, I am playing more complicated passages with an ease of execution I would not have imagined before my injury. The sound is resonant, clear and even, though it doesn't feel as if I am physically “working” at all. Having seen Edna in numerous lectures and master classes, I eagerly anticipate working on entire works with her. It is not only that her knowledge of musical structure is equal to her knowledge of technique, but that, in her teaching, the two ultimately become inseparable, joining to yield a clear, expressive realization of compositions, unimpeded by limitation.
Although solutions to problems have not always been fast, I always feel encouraged by Edna’s presence. Her limitless patience and her own enthusiasm for this work are utterly contagious. Even though it was my injury that led me to find her, I feel an indescribable sense of gratitude for the whole sequence of events. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be involved with the work of this incredibly special person.
My mother keeps a picture of me reaching for the piano before I could even walk. Sound was a delight to me. Even when confined to my highchair I would shake crackers to see if they made noise. I remember crawling about the house opening drawers in order to hear the hollow closing. Nothing ever made the same sound twice. I was elated when my parents asked me if I wanted to take music lessons because an instrument meant instant sound—sound I could make myself, whenever I wanted.
I fell in love with the piano. I played everything I came across. At the age of six, I would wait for the commercial breaks in order to pick out jingles. In junior high my teacher placed me in guilds and small competitions, which I loved. During high school I worked in order to send myself to music festivals. I availed myself of every opportunity to hear performances. I spent time with other people who loved music as well, learning theory and music history together. This gave me a taste of what I thought would be conservatory life and I set my heart on it. I remember collecting conservatory catalogs and pouring over the glossy pages. That would be me there on the front cover— the hardest working, best pianist they had.
I was not quite seventeen when I began to experience pain in my left shoulder. I was practicing six to seven hours each day at that juncture and was busily preparing for auditions. I took a month off at the advice of my teacher. The pain only worsened, so I developed my own regimen. I bought a strap and two ice packs and tethered them to my shoulder. I practiced this way for two more months. In that time, I lost a great deal of speed and accuracy and in return, gained headaches, occasional nausea, and numb fingers.
The next year did not unfold at all as I had planned. Instead of visiting Eastman for auditions, I went for an MRI; instead of auditioning at Juilliard, I visited a neurologist. I did physical therapy and tried anti-inflammatory medications. Then I saw an osteopath and went to a chiropractor for adjustments. I flew to the Cleveland Clinic for Dancers and Musicians with the thought that perhaps a specialist might see something definitive. When he did not, I went for weekly cortisone shots. At least then I experienced some relief and could sleep at night. The last trip to my general practitioner resulted in a statement I will never forget: “Elizabeth…you’re simply not built for competitive music.”
What was wrong with me? I watched as my friends won scholarships and excitedly moved away to school. Meanwhile I shoved my glossy conservatory dreams far under my bed and packed my CD’s in a box. Reality was beginning to set in and my girlhood dreams needed to be put aside. One more month of rest wasn’t going to change a thing. This was my fault, as far as I was concerned. I hadn’t been able to figure out what my problem was and I couldn’t practice my way through it. I decided that if my arm was numb, I could make myself numb too.
After a year of calculus and chemistry I found myself in a studio with Edna Golandsky. (I am not sure which of these classes made me realize that my heart was still in music, but I am certain it was one of them.) I came with a head full of reservations. I had seen multiple physicians over the past two years. How was I to develop any sort of new technique with a numb hand and an aching shoulder? Despite my doubts and fears, I began studying with Edna two years ago. By incorporating the proper movements into playing, I experience therapy. I also learned that it is possible to undertake a specific, exact study of virtuoso playing. This technique has been and is more than simply my road to recovery. It is my vehicle for making music at the piano. Today we are busily picking out new repertoire and I am well on my way to becoming exactly what I wanted to be—someone who can produce music herself, just the way she wants it.
Student in Piano Performance, Hunter College, City University of New York
Like so many pianists, I began my love affair with music at an early age, learning quickly and negotiating my way around the keyboard with a rather natural technique. And also like so many pianists, I began to experience difficulties when I moved into the advanced repertoire. The holding/stretching/finger independence exercises required by my college training proved disastrous to my hands, exacerbating the compensatory movements I acquired to handle the advanced literature, resulting in extreme tension and fatigue in my forearms, plus tendonitis in my right thumb and wrist. The symptoms were so extreme that I felt pain even listening to someone else play the pieces that hurt my hands and arms.
The end of my college training seemed to be the end of my career as a pianist, so I went to plan B and studied theory in graduate school. Theory was fun, but it was a severe disappointment to give up playing difficult solo and chamber pieces. I also hated the very idea of teaching piano (I now know that it was because I had no idea how), so I worked toward a teaching career in theory and humanities.
Fast forward several years to my discovery of the Taubman Approach: an intriguing pedagogy of coordinate movement that provided some hope for my pained hands and aching heart. The door to this fascinating world was opened for me by Joseph Gurt at Eastern Michigan University, and as it turned out, my hope grew as my technique improved. Several years later I began working with Edna Golandsky in New York. My course of improvement was slowed somewhat by the distance between Livonia, Michigan and New York City, but I would not have had it any other way. Without a doubt, I am playing again because of Edna’s insights and talents as a Taubman teacher. But I am not just playing again - I am performing much more difficult music than I had imagined was possible for me.
Edna has taught me to play without fatigue, pain, and tension, but . . . with an ease and proficiency that is a delight to my hands and heart. I have also discovered my tone growing in strength and color. I now see that the Taubman approach is not just a technique for healing the body - it is a proven pedagogical method that has something for every pianist: increased facility, ease at the keyboard, an infinite variety of tone, and more.
I am impressed by the constantly evolving methodology of this technique - somewhat of a rarity among piano pedagogies. The principles have remained the same but the pedagogy has changed with time - and that is a hallmark of knowledge and wisdom. My journey began in 1976, and I am still committed to this approach to piano technique. I discovered a love for teaching along the way, too, so I share this with my students who now benefit from the Taubman approach.
I will always be deeply grateful to Dorothy Taubman and Edna Golandsky for their gifts of perseverance, intelligence, and passion for music. It is not an empty superlative to say that they changed my life - they truly have provided a path to joy.
Linette A. Popoff-Parks
Professor and Chair, Music Department Madonna University Livonia, Michigan
My Personal Experience with the Taubman Approach
The doctor, in his starched white coat, intoned without empathy, “Why do you have to play music anyway? There are plenty of other jobs out there.”
I am a pianist for whom music is the only choice, and that was the lowest point in my pilgrimage from injury back to health. Truthfully, I was never aware how important music was to me until I could no longer play. I had always played — and thought I always would. Even before my parents enrolled me in formal lessons, I would play my older sisters’ pieces by ear and bang wild improvisations at the piano for hours. Having always been a regular winner in piano competitions, I took music for granted. It was the one thing in my life that was easy and not a burden.
Therefore, I was horrified to awaken one Sunday morning in October 1994 with numb hands and arms. I couldn’t feel my fingers. I couldn’t hold my coffee mug or spoon — with either hand. Disregarding my problems, I played for Sunday church choir rehearsal and continued to try and teach throughout the following week. By mid-week, the pain was tremendous and I was forced to cancel 35 recitals.
My injury involved pain on the inside of both elbows. This pain would travel up and down my arm into my hands, shoulders, neck, and back. Symptoms included aching, tenderness, tingling, soreness — in short, constant pain. The acute tendinitis was causing an ulnar neuropathy and there was a constant nerve aggravation in my elbows which, at its worst, felt as if someone were taking a razor and sliding it along the nerve — a horrible, raw feeling. I couldn’t sleep well at night. It was difficult to dress myself, write, type, dial a phone, open a door or cook. It was nearly impossible to do things like lift clothes out of the washing machine, wash my hair, hold a gallon of milk, or even hold my eyeshadow brush or a piece of paper. Forget about trying to play the piano. Simply putting down one key was virtually impossible.
I had experienced short-term periods of pain in previous years, but never to this degree. For example, after graduating from college, I traveled through Europe for two months. Not having been able to play the piano during this time, I immediately jumped into the literature from my bachelor’s recital upon my arrival home and soon experienced pain in my forearm. However, after a few doses of anti-inflammatory medication the pain was relieved. In my mind, this pain was the result of having not practiced for two months. In retrospect, I realize that my body was simply not capable of handling the unhealthy, incoordinate motions that were part of my technique at that time.
Later, in graduate school, I often experienced shoulder and neck pain, which I attributed to the long hours of studying, hunched over books in the library. I would practice with heating pads on my neck to help alleviate the pain. I never associated this pain with my piano playing. Additionally, I experienced forearm pain once again after pounding out Prokofiev on an upright practice room piano while preparing for my final master’s recital and the MTNA Collegiate Artist competition. Again, in my mind, it was not my playing that caused this pain, but the fact that I practiced on an upright rather than a grand piano.
In each of these cases, however, the pain had subsided within a few days or weeks. October 1994 was a different situation, and I knew it as soon as I opened my eyes. The next day I struggled to hold my fork during the President’s Banquet at the college where my husband and I taught. As soon as the banquet ended, I rushed to the overnight clinic, and thus began my long stint of visits with many doctors and specialists. Over the course of two years, I consulted seven doctors, ranging from orthopedic surgeons and internists, to rheumatologists, neurologists and numerous physical and occupational therapists.
The first orthopedic surgeon was highly recommended by another pianist who had suffered from injuries for years. Without hearing a word he told me I needed to see a neurologist. I traveled to another state to consult with a neurologist who administered a nerve conduction test. He then referred me to a rheumatologist who said, “It’s bound to happen to every musician eventually. Not much you can do — you also look like you’ll probably get arthritis in the future.”
I received cortisone shots in the elbow, other types of tests, and x-rays, paraffin baths, magnet therapy and other alternative treatments. Special splints were made for both wrists, and the therapists taught me many extreme range-of-motion stretches. They showed me how to tie towels around my arms to prevent my elbows from bending while I slept, and they taught me a host of “strengthening” exercises such as squeezing wet towels, stretching large rubber bands and pressing my fingers individually into a soft ball of putty. They gave me pads to wear on my elbows to prevent the constant nerve aggravation that would result from my elbows touching anything.
Unfortunately, none of these treatments was helping, and, in fact, some were hurting. Since the doctors didn’t know how to help me, or even give me a concrete diagnosis, I tried to keep playing. Most simply told me to try to play, and stop if it hurt. The problem was that I didn’t always get pain while I was practicing — there would sometimes be a delayed reaction.
Finally, after two years, the last orthopedic surgeon I consulted diagnosed my injury as “the worst case of golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) that [he] had ever witnessed.” Fortunately, and to his credit, this surgeon did not immediately recommend surgery. He told me that, in theory, the injury should heal itself. Therefore, if I had not received any relief after several months, he would recommend an “ulnar nerve transplant” where he would cut open the arm, clean out the scar tissue and debris that had lodged in the elbow and relocate the ulnar nerve to a place that (theoretically) would provide greater protection.
I was seriously considering this surgery when I attended a workshop presented in Mississippi by a Taubman teacher, Terry Dybvig. Her presentation distilled for me the validity of the Taubman approach with great clarity. At that point, I knew this was the way I could stay in music.
The following summer, I attended the two-week Taubman workshop at Amherst, where I received further confirmation through my daily piano lessons with Nina Scolnik, my encounters with numerous musicians who had recovered from severe injuries and my discussion with Dr. Frank Wilson, a neurologist who works with injured musicians. Dr. Wilson was an important influence in my opting not to have the radical surgery on my elbow that was being recommended. He thought that I should do everything Mrs. Taubman suggested before even considering the surgery, and I’m very thankful I followed his advice. Why? Because I would still be back in the same boat, even after the surgery, had I returned to all the unhealthy motions that led to my injury in the first place.
The following fall, Edna Golandsky took me as a student, and I began a new chapter in my life that would include regular travel from Mississippi to NYC. The bi-monthly lessons and daily practice sessions provided the first relief from the pain of more than two years. When I first started my lessons with Edna, I would wake up in severe pain and numbness, yet feel FINE after my lessons and morning practice sessions at the piano. The healthy movements were a sort of a physical therapy — AT the instrument. I would actually feel better AFTER practicing.
Gradually, I began to apply these healthy motions to activities of everyday life. I became conscious of every movement and sensation. I had to relearn how to sleep, how to hold things, how to write, how to open a door, and even how to brush my teeth. Most importantly, however, Edna showed me the healthiest way to play the piano, and I will be eternally grateful to her for putting music back into my life.
These healthy movements transformed me from a near cripple to a pianist with a facility and freedom I had never thought possible. The healthy movements actually created healing and, in turn, allowed for greater speed, fuller fortes, faster octaves, greater tonal control — the list goes on and on. In short, all the tools you need to play the instrument.
While I never again want to go through a similar experience, I will say that I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to learn a technique so free and natural that I don’t even have to warm up before playing. I can now jump straight into the literature — fast or slow — even if I haven’t been able to practice for several days or weeks. Hanon and other warm-up exercises are a thing of the past, and yet my passage work is more even, with greater tonal control and speed than ever before. With my own performing and teaching, technical problems in the music are now solved quickly by applying clear principles of healthy movement, rather than through hours of mindless drilling.
After recently accompanying a young high-school student at a MTNA Convention, a colleague who has heard me perform at these conventions since I was a young child told me that my tone was fuller and richer than she had ever heard. Other colleagues remarked on the freedom and effortlessness in my playing. My response? Anyone can play this way — this is something available to everyone who understands principles of coordinate motion. Our bodies are made to move. Our creative spirits long to express. It is only a lack of knowledge that prevents us from reaching our full potential.
Amy L. Aberg McLelland, BM, MM, NCTM
Every day as I begin my early morning practice, I become aware of motion and sound. I take pleasure in knowing that coordination, fluidity and freedom have replaced tension, fatigue and discomfort.
I cannot remember a time when playing the piano was anything other than an intense struggle. By the time I was ten, I was already so injured that I felt I would never be able to play challenging repertoire. At seventeen I was accepted to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where, four years later, I limped through my senior recital playing music I loved with collapsed thumb joints, low wrists, high knuckles and forearms that were completely disconnected from my hands and body.
Graduate school at the University of Iowa was even more challenging as I struggled to meet performance requirements. I participated in meaningful discussions with peers and teachers about sound, rhythm and structure, knowing that I still could not bridge the gap between the musical and the physical.
When I began teaching in my early twenties, I painfully admitted to myself that some of my young students managed to negotiate passages that I could barely demonstrate. “I shouldn’t be teaching,” I would say to friends. Everyone dismissed me, telling me that of course I was exaggerating.
At the age of forty, when most people have achieved a certain professional maturity, I began to seriously consider other career choices. During this period a dear friend urged me to try the Taubman approach.
I loved the Taubman work from the beginning. I love knowing that the physical and musical can unite into a meaningful whole that results in true musical expressivity. And I love knowing that I can now transmit this work to my students.
I have thoroughly reworked my technique and am now free of years of debilitating tension and pain. I am playing repertoire that without this work would not have been possible — Chopin’s Ballade in G Minor, Ravel’s Jeux d’eau and Beethoven’s Sonata, op. 26.
My studies with Edna Golandsky have shown me that there is a powerful lesson to be learned from this work. If I, as a middle-aged woman, could transform an injured body and mind into a coherent whole, does this not suggest that anything is possible?
Carla Levy, BM, MFA
Faculty Member, La Guardia High School of the Performing Arts
I was about 57 years old when I started to feel shooting pains in my fingers and hands. I had been a piano teacher for 30 years and had performed, primarily as a chamber music pianist, on a professional series in Atlanta of which I was artistic director. I was fortunate in being able to associate with first chair Atlanta Symphony players and their equivalent. I had come from the school of "play with your foot if you have to" as long as you create the sound you want, which I now know can cause all kinds of injuries. I saw my return to New York as an opportunity to begin tackling more of the solo repertoire which I hadn't approached for many years except for a few pieces which I had continued to play. It was after learning Schumann's Carnival that I began to experience shooting pains in my fingers and hands. One doctor even thought I might have rheumatoid arthritis. A couple of my fingers would curl and get stuck in a kind of spasm which could only be painfully undone with my other hand. My internist sent me to a hand surgeon who prescribed a cortisone shot, saying that he would only allow one which might work. If it didn't, I would need surgery to resolve the problem. He didn't think that piano playing had anything to do with my problem. "People can be born with trigger fingers", he said. He added that it could occur in all my fingers. And, even after surgery, it could recur. To make a long story short, I underwent many cortisone shots and 2 surgeries on both hands involving 3 fingers. And another finger started to threaten. It was at this point that I happened to sit next to Audrey Schneider, a teacher at the Golandsky Institute at a concert. She sent me information to read about the Taubman approach (I had heard a little something about it years before but had ignored it) and encouraged me to at least be evaluated by Edna Golandsky, who she professed had the most experience with injuries and this work and could advise me about my problems. That was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
That was almost a year and a half ago. With some time off for other health issues, I've been studying regularly with Edna. The pain went away reasonably quickly (certainly within the first couple of months or less). I would know when I inadvertently curled a finger because it didn't feel good. And if I had some pain in my thumb, I knew that I had been playing in an isolated manner. Sometimes old habits die hard. I would return to the piano and play carefully to ensure that my arm, hand and fingers were moving all in one piece. And the pain would disappear. Having to stop playing everything for a while except to follow through on the work done in the lessons was difficult but well worth it in the long run. In my case, because of my injuries, that was what was advised. I was frustrated from time to time when I couldn't get the rotation just right. But my perseverance (along with Edna's and John Bloomfield's, during the summer) paid off and now I'm not only playing without any pain but I realize that there are answers to every technical problem within the Taubman approach, as well as musical answers. For example, I now understand how to play as soft as I'd like without hovering and just hoping that the tone I imagine will come out. There's a way to do it. Other concepts like triggering, interdependence, grouping and shaping vastly contribute to the musical conception of a piece as well as the technical (like playing leaps). And as for the in and out, it's truly amazing in more ways than one. At my best moments, it does feel as if I'm hardly moving, with little effort. I certainly wouldn't want to teach piano any other way nor would I approach a piece of music without the Taubman approach in mind. If I did, it would be a waste of time and injurious to my health.
I'm truly grateful to Dorothy Taubman and especially Edna Golandsky who is a master teacher who teaches in a respectful manner with incredible patience. So, in a way, my injuries turned out to be a good thing. Because many doors have been opened for me, and continue to open, in my journey deepening my experience as a pianist, allowing me to play more fluidly, more expressively and preventing future injury.
Paula Gorelkin, M.M.
First of all, I want to say a BIG THANK YOU for taking the time from your Christmas holiday to spend time with my son Brian helping him out with his piano playing. I was very impressed by your insight and ability to identify Brian's issues so readily, and most importantly come up with solutions to fix the physical, technical and musical issues he's developed from years of improper position when playing piano.
I was particularly impressed with your ability to relate these important and detailed points to the level of a 12-year old. He's taken your recommendations to heart and I'm elated to report to you how dramatically his treatment and prognosis has changed. Since your visit, he corrected the hand position, technique, etc., has been practicing piano daily without pain. Physical therapy wise, his clinician decided he would NOT need the special hand braces which he was scheduled to receive in January. Furthermore, on January 6th he was discharged from hand therapy! To date, his hands and arms remain pain free! Next week we see the physician (hand specialist) to get the final word.
Brian has auditioned to play at a fund raiser for school, and will be playing the Nocturne by Chopin (the one you worked on during your visit). To think that he was about to give up on Chopin altogether prior to your visit due to the pain he was having... Your visit was not only therapeutic but also inspiring to a young aspiring pianist. I think his carpal tunnel experience has been an eye opener for him. Since your visit he is taking very seriously his physical position and is aware of what to watch for. You've saved him a lot of future pain and agony.
YOUR WORDS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE! As you see, we consider your visit the biggest Christmas gift to Brian and our family. We thank you deeply!
Before I studied with Edna Golandsky I had tremendous shoulder pain and my sound was weak. I felt that my technique had gone as far as it could go and that there was no hope for improvement. As a result of working with Edna, my pain is gone. In addition, my tone and my ability to express music are far better than I ever thought they could be. I was able to make these changes in spite of the fact that I had to continue playing all the while to earn a living. Edna’s brilliant teaching is so understandable that when you come in with a problem you’re always going to leave with a solution other than “just practice it more.” She pushes you to go further with your talent and inspires you to be a complete musician. In short, Edna’s teaching has opened more doors in my playing than I knew were there.
BM, Mannes College of Music; MM, Manhattan School of Music Assistant Conductor, Metropolitan Opera, Washington Opera, Santa Fe Opera
Faculty, Mannes College of Music; previously taught at Yale University Marlboro Festival
Recitals with Midori, Marilyn Horne, Frederica Von Stade, James Morris and Roberta Peters
It was the end of August 1988, driving home from a summer of performing at the Aspen Festival, that I first noticed complete numbness in my right arm. I couldn’t hold the steering wheel or find any position where my arm felt comfort or relief. The thought of tendinitis had never even occurred to me. I thought the periodic shooting pains and heaviness in my arm that I had been feeling over the summer were a result of performing pressure and anxiety.
Not taking the situation very seriously, I began my senior year at the New England Conservatory with a double major in oboe and piano. Although I tried to ignore the pain, my condition worsened. I tried many types of treatment under the advice of doctors who specialized in sports injuries and the injuries of performing artists. I also underwent alternative therapies including acupuncture, acupressure, herbal remedies, vitamin therapies, meditation, yoga, massages and even hot baths, hoping something would help. Nothing did. I ended up taking the rest of the year off from school, performing, everything. I thought rest was the only answer. It wasn’t.
For fourteen years I lived life as a left-handed person. No longer could I hold anything, open a door, brush my teeth, brush my hair, cut my food, or even write. If by accident I lifted something without thinking I would get a lightning bolt of pain shooting up my arm. Unhappily I learned to cope with my limitations. My life as a performer faded away.
In 1993 I opened my own music school and decided to bring my love of music to others through teaching. It’s been a wonderful success and I’ve been privileged to hire many talented piano teachers. Ten of these have been trained in the Taubman technique, which in turn has opened my eyes to a world of new possibilities.
I have been studying the Taubman technique privately with Edna Golandsky over the past year. I can now sleep at night, I don’t wake up in pain, and I’m beginning to write, hold the steering wheel, and use my right hand in everyday activities. What’s more, I’ve been reintroduced into the world of piano playing and all the beauties therein. I’m beginning my first repertoire pieces and playing passages easily, effortlessly. Not only is piano playing now comfortable, it has ironically become my therapy.
Director, Music in Chappaqua
The first time I met Robert Durso was at a piano summer course given by pianist/scholar Paul Roberts at Castelfranc in France. It soon became apparent to me that Robert’s methods of teaching were of a kind I had not previously encountered. What struck me was that his instructions unfailingly produced an immediate response in terms of better sound and the sensation of less physical effort. I realized that instead of being founded on an uncritical reference to tradition, or more or less superstitious assumptions, the instructions were based on a deep knowledge and understanding of the body kinematics in relation to the piano. Later I was introduced to the work of Dorothy Taubman and The Golandsky Institute and began a more thorough study together with Robert. Although I am still at the beginning stage, the work has already result