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GESTURAL TECHNIQUE LESSONS VS. MUSIC LESSONS, AND RESPECTING INDIVIDUALITY IN THE NEW YEAR

Updated: Feb 2

I hope everyone has a holiday season and New Year full of more music, laughter, learning, and love! (Beware the sound volume if you choose to click on the noisy fireworks below!!)


Before the year's end I want to affirm the importance of individuality, and knowing myself -- then sticking to what I know about how I best learn almost anything, and also most quickly and effectively heal from injury.


I vow not to forget in the coming New Year what I re-learned this year. I continue to look forward to my musical and poetic explorations in 2024 which seems once more full of positive potential. I'm pursuing additional classes in the crafting and appreciation of poetry and I see some hopeful personal growth in that artistic endeavor. (Below is one of my first three endeavors to write in a new poetic form, the villanelle.)


As for music, looking backwards with gratitude, I intend to remember and rely on the best things I have taken away from zoom lessons with my three other piano music teachers during the past two years. Each teacher has been unique and significant to my pianistic progress, even if with one, the learning process was frequently distressing -- and yet I learned and am grateful for that.


My most recent lesson experience was not one in learning to play music, but for three months, it was an endeavor to learn arm, wrist, hand, and finger gestural movements of the Dorothy Taubman technique, divorced from any attempt to play music. There are a number of easily-found illustrative videos about the technique online and a wealth of information from the Golandsky Institute. I sought out these lessons locally in the Bay Area, due to an excruciating bout of palm and hand tendinitis from repetitive hand strain, a problem that struck in early March, lasted for three months, then gradually abated until I was nearly back to normal by the first of this month.


I attribute recovery to time, patience, and daily physical therapy exercises, which had been quite helpful to me in the past to recover from disabling back pain and spasms. I also attribute it to accommodating my office (thanks to Julliard prof Noa Kageyama suggesting I invest in Logitec's vertical mouse; I now have a left and a right handed one, and switch hands every few weeks), plus my partner reducing my household chores. I also strictly limit time spent in one sitting at the computer or piano to no more than 20 to 30 minutes at a time versus two to six hours I built up to during lockdown and pandemic! Not good....


I could have benefitted from more positive encouragement from my Kaiser specialists and doctors, and a few musical friends. I found personal comfort only in a similar challenge my guitar-playing friend Jim faced and overcame. He willingly answered multiple questions and shared information with me about the time (months!) and attention it might take to recover, and how I must now take care not to reinjure myself in the old ways.


Disappointingly, the Taubman technique had little to do with my recovery. Although I'm sure all teachers are as individual as are their students and I've only worked with one teacher locally, I was surprised several times to hear the teacher discount the idea that physical therapy could be helpful, despite my assurance that I had benefitted in the past. According to a well-known pianist-teacher at the Golandsky Institute, this is not a standard or advised response by Taubman teachers to discount other treatment modalities.


My teacher also doubted the efficacy of my purchase of a raised back-sloping split computer keyboard which I now love (standard flat is said to be better), as well as advised no change in how I slept. However through experimentation, I found this most comfortable and almost pain free: sleeping on my side facing right, with one large pillow between my knees on which pillow I rested my left forearm and hand palm down, with my forearm aligned with wrists and hand, and a small pillow further out on which I rested the back of my right hand keeping my forearm aligned in the same fashion. (After publishing this blog, I found a video by a physical therapist perfectly demonstrating this position at about 43 seconds in, and recommend it as a sound musician's stretch in any case.)


In sum, the only helpful things I learned from Taubman were (1) to raise my piano bench and computer chair by about two inches so that I now play down into the keyboard with less flopping about of my wrists, and (2) to raise up my left hand into an apple shape and maintain one straight and fairly rigid unit from forearm to fingertip. My left hand used to land flat and occasionally my thumb would slip off the key; these days, this rarely happens. But these two benefits were small progress for a substantial investment of time and money in the Taubman technique.


Admittedly, I was not a apt or placid candidate to learn the rigorous and precise Taubman technique as perfectly as seemed to be required. Also, I need to understand why I am being asked to learn something and once I know, I will wholeheartedly concur, thus I might have asked more questions than "normal." On occasion I need a minute during lessons to express frustration if I try my best but cannot seem to "get" something; but I recover relatively quickly. However, my teacher finally declared in frustration they "just could not teach me." In that I wholeheartedly concurred, and agreeing on that solution to our mutual frustrations, we cordially parted ways.


In hindsight I realize that repetition of individual single gestures over and over again during lessons and in home practice -- but without relief in sight in terms of when I could implement these gestures into actually playing music, became too disheartening.


Yet before lessons began, this teacher had given me two options: (1) I could set aside music and just learn gesture built upon gesture in sequence for faster progress, or (2) I could continue playing music and more slowly implement gesture after gesture. I decided to choose the former, which ended up being a mistake for two reasons.


First, my spirit found it too difficult to set aside playing music indefinitely and waste the hard work and money I had invested over two years to learn beginning technique and also do difficult memorization work to slowly build up a modest repertoire. More importantly, I would not have the pleasure of making music in my life, while I studied the Taubman technique.


Second, after three months I asked (for a third time) when I might look forward to the distinct relief of actually implementing the gestures I had learned. I still did not know if the Taubman technique worked or not? Rather than answer, I was once more discouraged and the teacher would not agree to teach me music.


So had the teacher originally not told me the truth and misrepresented that I could learn Taubman and play music at the same time?


Although after I left lessons I wrote to review my experience and ask a Golandsky Institute representative why I was not given the chance to switch to playing music, I received no response whatsoever.


To be fair, neither did acupuncture help ameliorate my tendinitis. I've tried acupuncture on five other occasions and each time noted significant, immediate, and continuing pain and stress relief. This time the acupuncturist was too vigorous placing the needles in my palms, I was in too much pain at the time, and post-needle muscle massage of my forearms caused me to end up crying in even more pain.


I learned an important lesson from these experiences, namely that music is simply too much of a pleasure and spiritual gift at this later time in my life, for me to ever set it aside; perhaps were I younger and with a longer perspective on life, I might have found Taubman helpful. I also learned to stick to my guns in terms of what I know will likely work best for me, after I give any new, reasonable alternative a serious and dedicated try.


Confirmation to trust myself is a wonderful benefit of my adventures and challenges this year, and I count myself fortunate. I wish the same good fortune and reasonably good health as defined by and for themselves by my website visitors and fellow and sister music lovers!

***

PRACTICED

Poetic form: villanelle

Theme: no need to fear death because in life, we have experienced death many times )


We are well practiced for ease in death,

The sun departs each day to night;

No need to fear or feel bereft.


The babe in hand so frail in heft,

Despite your grasp will soon take flight;

No need to fear or feel bereft.


Our childhood friendship is sadly cleft

When with her new lover she takes flight;

We are well practiced for ease in death.


Or take our first lover, and innocense be left,

Then he chooses another and kills our delight;

We are well practiced for ease in death.


Our parents precede us, then we are left

Alone at last to face the night;

No need to fear or feel bereft.


In life we lose, yet goes on our breath,

We learn to choose grace, not die in might;

We are well practiced for ease in death,

No need to fear or feel bereft.

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