Maureen Volk, DMA
I’ve been on the piano faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland since 1979. In 1990 I hurt my right hand, an injury that caused almost constant pain in my hand, arm, elbow, shoulders and back. The injury occurred away from the piano, but in retrospect I suspect that it was made possible by years of misuse at the piano. Most everyday activities became difficult and painful, including washing dishes, ironing, carrying and lifting, turning a key in a lock, etc. I was unable to play the piano at all for over a year. Even the oom-pah-pah teacher accompaniments in my son’s beginner piano book caused me pain. Because the pain was so widespread it was difficult to tell where it originated, and because the pain was so constant, it was hard to identify the movements and activities that aggravated it.
I went to several doctors, including a physical medicine specialist who suggested that I had just been playing the piano too long and needed to stop for awhile, even though the injury hadn’t occurred at the piano and staying away from the piano for several months hadn’t helped. He then offered me a choice of two or three treatments, despite the fact that he didn’t know what was wrong. I tried one, but it didn’t make any difference. I finally got the diagnosis at a musicians’ clinic in Ontario—a torn opponens pollicis , the thumb muscle that brings the thumb under the hand. I was given some stretching exercises for the neck and shoulders and was shown how to apply pressure to trigger points. Knowing what the injury was made it a little easier to avoid things that aggravated it, but I was still experiencing quite a lot of pain.
I had heard about the Taubman work several years earlier and had seen the video Choreography of the Hands. It seemed to make sense to me, so I decided to attend the Taubman Institute at Amherst College in 1991. While there, I worked with Edna Golandsky for 10-15 minutes each day for two weeks. We started retraining from the beginning, dropping on one finger at a time, then learning the 5-finger pattern and finally starting the C major scale. For the first time in over a year, I could play without pain. While at the Institute, I also heard some of the faculty perform and was impressed with the quality of sound they got at the piano. I decided that I wanted that sound, and that fall I started taking lessons with Edna, flying to New York about once a month. Two years later, in fall of 1993, I gave a solo recital that included the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
I have continued to study with Edna ever since, flying to New York as often as I can. During the 1990’s I held an administrative position at the university, so I couldn’t always practice and take lessons as regularly as I should have. Nonetheless, I continued to make progress and perform regularly, both solo and chamber music. In the last three years, piano has again become my top priority, and I have been taking lessons more consistently, working to refine the technique and explore its full potential for musical expression. I now play repertoire that I had never considered doing before I worked with Edna. I love playing Mozart, Haydn and Schubert, which I avoided in the past — they’re no fun to play if scales don’t feel good. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody is another work that I never would have dared to play before I retrained.
Although I don’t consider myself a fully qualified “Taubman teacher”, the work has dramatically changed my teaching. I can now find solutions to students’ technical problems where before I would have had to throw up my hands. Lessons can be productive problem-solving sessions instead of exercises in bewilderment and frustration. I have always believed that there is no such thing as an unmusical student; what we call “unmusical” is actually a result of physical incoordination. Now I have tools to put that belief into practice, and it is really exciting to see the improvement in my students. That makes teaching a lot of fun.
Professor, School of Music, Memorial University of Newfoundland
BM, University of Regina (Canada); MM, Juilliard; DMA, Indiana University