I was injured during the first semester of my graduate studies at Kent State University in Ohio. I had had mild pain in the past, along with an overall sense of technical limitation that I attributed to a lack of practicing, but this was different. Suddenly, almost overnight, I lost the ability to play even simple scales without pain. When other methods of pain relief proved ineffective (I tried massage, acupuncture, Tiger Balm, IcyHot, Epsom salt soaks, ice, ibuprofen, wrist braces, physical therapy, and examination by other piano technique experts), my professor suggested I attend the Golandsky Institute's Summer Symposium in Princeton. After learning about the Taubman Approach, I decided that the only way I would ever be able to pursue life as a musician would be to retrain. It really was a choice between retraining and giving up piano altogether.
Hi. I’m Anthony van den Broek and I run a music studio from my home in Erskineville in Sydney, Australia. It is a bustling studio full to capacity with a very wide range of ages and levels. Erskineville is 3km from the centre of the city and 15 years ago was full of university students, artists and the working class. At that time, my studio consisted of 80% adult students and 20% school-aged students.
I recently learnt that I was one of four pianists worldwide invited to attend the vocal arts program at the Tanglewood Music Center for their 75th anniversary season this coming summer. It has been my dream to attend Tanglewood and I never thought it would happen especially since it was only five years ago that I was seriously considering giving up on music due to a totally debilitating playing related injury.
In pondering my many musical activities and how the Taubman Approach has influenced them, I have come to realize that this body of work permeates every single one of these, even the activities that on first reflection seem only distantly related at most. For instance, one of my favorite musical indulgences is to put together a setlist of tunes for a dance party.
When my student Margaret came to her lesson last week she was ecstatic! During the week before her lesson she at last understood how she could apply, to her daily practice, the movement and organizational principles from the Taubman approach we had been working on together. It was a revelation to her. For the first time in her life, she had a clear approach to practicing her pieces. Her practice now consisted of identifying problems and applying coordinate movement, acute listening, and organizational tools to address issues of speed, clarity, balance, sound quality, evenness, leaps, articulation, pedaling, and any number of musical and technical challenges (interrelated of course) that we pianists face at our instrument.
When I was invited to contribute something to the new blog on the Golandsky Institute site I thought that it would be a good opportunity to share some ways I have applied a simple principle from the Taubman Approach in my development of ways to teach improvisation and syncopation.
When I was 8 years old my hand shot up in class when the question was asked: “Who wants to take piano lessons”? I’ve had a never-fading love affair with music ever since. Years later I was injured by playing the piano and it seemed that I might never feel whole again. The bad habits which were part of the way I learned to play caused severe tendonitis and its accompanying pain.
In December of 1996, my hands closed into fists as result of an injury called dystonia. Dystonia is considered by the medical profession to have no cure.
At the time of the injury I was in my second year of college and practicing five to eight hours a day despite a lot of pain. Being under the assumption that pain was a part of becoming a musician, I never thought I was headed for any real trouble. As the symptoms of dystonia began to show, I felt that the more I practiced the worse my playing seemed to get. I felt as though my hands were moving in slow motion. It was like being in a dream and trying to run. My fingers felt sluggish and the harder I tried to make them move the more heavy and slow they felt. Eventually it got to a point where I would play a descending scale passage and my fingers would curl up under my hand after playing.