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.
Therese Milanovic, Brisbane, Australia
MMus and BMus (Hons), Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University