Jeremy Chan

My name is Jeremy Chan and I’m from Sydney, Australia.  I started playing the piano when I was 5 and decided to pursue a Bachelor of Music in piano performance at University of South Wales after finishing high school. Prior to this I had won piano competitions, performed on national radio, and had performed all over Australia.

As I was practicing for more competitions, there was a passage in a Stravinsky etude that I found particularly awkward, and I would often feel tired after practicing it.  The feeling of tiredness did not go away, and it got to a point where my left forearm was in pain and my fingers felt weaker despite practicing the passage over and over again.  I persisted and continued to practice this passage, determined to get it right, until the pain in my forearm became unbearable.  Everyday activities became almost impossible to do without feeling pain: turning on taps, holding a glass of water, using utensils like chopsticks – and so on.

I was told to give up playing the piano, but this wasn’t an option I was willing to take until I had sought all the help I could find. I saw physical therapists, doctors, a hand surgeon, massage therapists and acupuncturists.  I also started studying the Alexander Technique.  For the next 18 months, I received treatments that helped to relieve my symptoms, but when it came to playing the piano, the problems did not go away.

At that point, I discovered the Taubman Approach, and I contacted Dr. Therese Milanovic in Brisbane, who was at the time recently made a Certified Instructor in the Taubman Approach at the Golandsky Institute in New York. I flew up for a series of intensive lessons over 3 days, and immediately felt a major reduction in my symptoms and began to understand what the source of my piano-related problems were. I felt like I had finally found the answers to my problems.  I flew up to Brisbane from Sydney, every month for intensive lessons, for a period of a year.  After a year of re-training with Dr. Milanovic, I had reached a point where I was ready to audition for schools in the US. I was playing Chopin and Ligeti etudes and the Brahms Handel Variations.

I was admitted to Queens College, in New York City where I had the opportunity to study with Edna Golandsky, who is an Adjunct Faculty of the Aaron Copland School of Music.  Things were going extremely well and I noticed my technique getting better and better. I was starting to work on not only how to move correctly at the keyboard, but how to control sound.

Out of the blue, while in my 2nd semester at Queens College, I felt a slight heaviness in my left forearm, and noticed that it was becoming difficult to play with that hand. The feeling did not go away despite resting it for a while.  To my surprise I discovered that the source of the pain was not from the piano, but from my handwriting.  I later read that Shostakovich had to give up his career as a solo pianist due to a writing injury.  After coming to the realization that the source of the problem was from handwriting, my next few lessons with Edna were focused on my handwriting.  I realized through my lessons:
            – the fingers were contorted around the pen/pencil
            – wrist was low and disconnected from the rest of the forearm which made me control the pen from my fingers and through flicks of the wrist 
            – being left handed and using right-handed desks at school also made it uncomfortable to write and resulted in upper arm getting involved causing a feeling of fatigue and heaviness.
            – the fear of smudging the paper meant that I resorted to using the upper arm, which made my neck and shoulders tight and sore. I often had to shake out the wrist.

I now make sure that whenever I write, I:
            – sit at the correct height
            – use a fatter pen (makes it possible not to ‘squeeze’ and curl my fingers)
            – initiate my motions from the forearm – not the upper arm, fingers, or wrist 
            – position the paper where it feels comfortable.

Since adjusting my handwriting, the symptoms went away and have never re-surfaced.  I also felt more at ease at the piano, having removed the residual tension from handwriting that I had become so accustomed to that I did not realize was there.

I recently graduated from Queens College, and was admitted to graduate programs at Mannes, Manhattan School of Music and New England Conservatory.

Jeremy Chan