(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.