Hugo Bermudez Ledesma
My problems at the piano started when I was about 16 years old in 2012. I could play fairly well; my teachers said I was very musical and talented. However, I had one thing that really bothered me, and that was not being able to get a big sound, among other technical limitations that I had. I was told that one of the problems was that my arms and shoulders were not relaxed and that my finger knuckles were collapsed (I now know that there was much more to that). The last statement was true, however, the approach that was suggested to me to “cure” this problem just made everything worse. I was told that my fingers were weak and in order to strengthen them I would need to do all kinds of exercises away from the piano, for example, I was told to do “finger pull ups” putting the nail joint of every finger on the edge of a table and letting all the weight of my arm and shoulders relax and then curl the nail joint to lift the weight. That, lots of stretching of the fingers, and exercises involving rubber bands were supposed to make me feel strong at the piano, but the opposite happened. I developed tendonitis.
I had pain in my fingers, which felt very rigid and slow, pain in the palm of my hand, pain that extended from the thumb to my biceps, from my fifth finger to the back of my arm and elbow, pain in the neck and in my shoulders, and it kept getting worse and worse. For a little more than a year, I struggled with this injury. I had to put ice on my forearms after practicing each time, had to use a tendonitis band, and tried acupuncture among other things. Nothing seemed to work; the injury kept coming back, and the doctors said I might need cortisone injections, which I fortunately didn’t get.
It was a very scary situation for me and full of anguish. I had just decided I wanted to play the piano professionally, hadn’t even started with my degree yet, and I was already beginning to believe my hands would never recover. I started to do lots of research and found the Taubman Approach. I saw the videos on YouTube where Ms. Golandsky shows the scale and talks about not twisting and not curling. Interested, I purchased the DVDs and studied them intensely.
I managed to get enough right (and of course got another big part of it wrong) that the pain in my fingers, hands, and forearms began to go away. I had stopped curling, twisting, dropping my wrist, and reduced the stretching. I spent some months like that: things were better, but not great. So, I decided to have some Skype lessons. I came across Dr. Therese’s Milanovic dissertation on her Taubman Approach learning process and immediately felt related to her situation. I had two sets of 6 lessons with her where we discussed the basics and some problems in my pieces. After those sessions I got a better picture of the correct way of doing the things I had tried to put into my technique by myself.
Even though the pain in my hands and fingers was all ready gone, my neck and shoulders were bothering me more and more each day, the more I tried to “relax” the worst it got. I tried yoga, meditation, Feldenkrais, massage, and other practices that didn’t do much for me in terms of curing the pain in my shoulders. It came to a point where this pain was interfering with my daily life. I had shoulder and neck pain the whole time, even at night when I was sleeping. I couldn’t practice as much as I wanted, and it was very tiring and debilitating. Once, I even had to go to the hospital because the pain was very bad. They took x-rays to make sure my spine was okay, and it was. All they asked was if I had been in a car crash recently. The contracture of the muscles around my neck and shoulders was so bad that the doctors actually thought it was due to a pretty bad car crash (it wasn’t). I had to take painkillers, apply heat on the area, and rest. It didn’t change anything; I was still having problems.
It also got a little better when I got to take in-person lessons with Dr. Therese Milanovic at Princeton last year (2015) and then continued via Skype for the following six months. Still, the pain was constant, so I decided to come to New York from Mexico and study with Ms. Golandsky in February 2016.
The pain went away after the first month of lessons, and now, 5 months later, I get very good sleep, I can practice for long periods of time without pain, and I got back the happiness and enjoyment that practicing used to give me. Every day, I feel more secure and capable at the piano, and I’m beginning to tackle pieces that before would have been nearly impossible to play for me (especially without pain or fatigue), like Liszt’s first Mephisto Waltz as well as Rachmaninoff and Chopin études. They finally feel like they will actually be possible for me to play.
I will be eternally grateful for the existence of this work and for persons, like Therese Milanovic and Ms. Golandsky, who help people get back what injury has taken away from them, which goes way beyond their ability to play the piano.