Paula Gorelkin, M.M.
I was about 57 years old when I started to feel shooting pains in my fingers and hands. I had been a piano teacher for 30 years and had performed, primarily as a chamber music pianist, on a professional series in Atlanta of which I was artistic director. I was fortunate in being able to associate with first chair Atlanta Symphony players and their equivalent. I had come from the school of “play with your foot if you have to” as long as you create the sound you want, which I now know can cause all kinds of injuries. I saw my return to New York as an opportunity to begin tackling more of the solo repertoire which I hadn’t approached for many years except for a few pieces which I had continued to play. It was after learning Schumann’s Carnival that I began to experience shooting pains in my fingers and hands. One doctor even thought I might have rheumatoid arthritis. A couple of my fingers would curl and get stuck in a kind of spasm which could only be painfully undone with my other hand. My internist sent me to a hand surgeon who prescribed a cortisone shot, saying that he would only allow one which might work. If it didn’t, I would need surgery to resolve the problem. He didn’t think that piano playing had anything to do with my problem. “People can be born with trigger fingers”, he said. He added that it could occur in all my fingers. And, even after surgery, it could recur. To make a long story short, I underwent many cortisone shots and 2 surgeries on both hands involving 3 fingers. And another finger started to threaten. It was at this point that I happened to sit next to Audrey Schneider, a teacher at the Golandsky Institute at a concert. She sent me information to read about the Taubman approach (I had heard a little something about it years before but had ignored it) and encouraged me to at least be evaluated by Edna Golandsky, who she professed had the most experience with injuries and this work and could advise me about my problems. That was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
That was almost a year and a half ago. With some time off for other health issues, I’ve been studying regularly with Edna. The pain went away reasonably quickly (certainly within the first couple of months or less). I would know when I inadvertently curled a finger because it didn’t feel good. And if I had some pain in my thumb, I knew that I had been playing in an isolated manner. Sometimes old habits die hard. I would return to the piano and play carefully to ensure that my arm, hand and fingers were moving all in one piece. And the pain would disappear. Having to stop playing everything for a while except to follow through on the work done in the lessons was difficult but well worth it in the long run. In my case, because of my injuries, that was what was advised. I was frustrated from time to time when I couldn’t get the rotation just right. But my perseverance (along with Edna’s and John Bloomfield’s, during the summer) paid off and now I’m not only playing without any pain but I realize that there are answers to every technical problem within the Taubman approach, as well as musical answers. For example, I now understand how to play as soft as I’d like without hovering and just hoping that the tone I imagine will come out. There’s a way to do it. Other concepts like triggering, interdependence, grouping and shaping vastly contribute to the musical conception of a piece as well as the technical (like playing leaps). And as for the in and out, it’s truly amazing in more ways than one. At my best moments, it does feel as if I’m hardly moving, with little effort. I certainly wouldn’t want to teach piano any other way nor would I approach a piece of music without the Taubman approach in mind. If I did, it would be a waste of time and injurious to my health.
I’m truly grateful to Dorothy Taubman and especially Edna Golandsky who is a master teacher who teaches in a respectful manner with incredible patience. So, in a way, my injuries turned out to be a good thing. Because many doors have been opened for me, and continue to open, in my journey deepening my experience as a pianist, allowing me to play more fluidly, more expressively and preventing future injury.
Paula Gorelkin, M.M.