I have played the piano since I was a young child, and when I was about 40 years old began thinking about studying music more seriously. About that time, I increased the amount of practicing I was doing, and developed a repetitive strain injury in my arm. I began wearing a wrist brace that immobilized my wrist too much and further injured myself. Through a series of tests, a brain tumor was discovered that was not even related to my arm. I had a successful operation to remove the tumor in 2002, but after my recovery, I still experienced pain as soon as I started to play the piano for any length of time. It was a difficult time for me, as I went through the grief of losing something I love so much. It was in June 2004 that I met Lisa Marsh. After I played for her, she assured me that she could help me and encouraged me to begin studying with her, as well as to attend her Coordinate Movement class.
I began attending the class in the fall of 2004, and have learned much about body alignment and piano technique that has helped me to play with increasingly less pain. I used to be only able to practice for five or ten minutes before I would have to stop for a break because the pain would start to build up. Now I can easily go for much longer, still taking breaks, but more as preventative measures than because of pain.
One of the most life-changing concepts in the class has been that of inclusive awareness – being aware of many things while I am playing. Previously, when I played I concentrated on playing the right notes and trying to make the piece sound musical, and my awareness never went past my elbows, and probably more often it only involved my fingers. Now I am aware of many more aspects of playing – how my body is supported by the bench and floor, freedom of movement instead of tension in my muscles, the balance of my whole arm structure, my breathing, the space I am in, and the audience I am playing for, just to name a few of them. As I learn about new areas to add to my inclusive awareness, it gradually becomes a part of me. It is exciting to be playing and all of a sudden realize that I am aware of something that I previously was not – I have studied it and thought about it enough that now it comes automatically.
Other times, I may have a problem playing a particular passage, or tension builds up – usually in my arm, wrist, or hand. When I bring my problem to Lisa, it is amazing how she searches out its source and finds a way to solve it. Sometimes it may be as simple as a fingering adjustment; sometimes I need to release tension in my forearm, upper back or neck; other times I may need to add an element of shaping or particular arm movements that allow me to play the passage with more freedom. But I’m learning that there is always a way to play without tension and pain.
A significant part of the training has been studying about anatomy and how our bodies can be in balance at all times. As I have learned the major joints of my body, and how those joints line up to give me the least amount of muscular effort possible, my general posture has improved. In fact, at my last physical check-up, my height was ¼ inch more than it has been since I became an adult. I feel better about how I carry myself, and it has improved my general sense of self-confidence. Also, habitual tension in my upper back and neck is improving, and I know will only continue to get better. Besides bringing greater freedom to my body and allowing me to play with less pain, I believe what I have learned has also greatly improved the quality of my playing. I now sense a much greater freedom to be involved in the music emotionally as I am not so worried about and focused on just playing the right notes.
In the process of recovery, sometimes I go through setbacks, usually from practicing a difficult passage too long, too hard, or too fast, or allowing the tension to build up again. When the old familiar pain returns, I do not become discouraged anymore. I know that it will subside as I am careful to put into practice all I have learned, and I take the experience and learn from it.
The most exciting result of this for me is that I have realized that I can pursue further education and obtain a degree in music. I am currently working towards a Bachelor’s degree in music, something that a few years ago I thought was impossible because my body just could not do it – yet here I am today. I also want to help other pianists avoid injury or, if injured already, to recover from their injuries. In the class, we have the opportunity to watch as Lisa works with each of the students, correcting and adjusting the use of their bodies when playing, and my desire is to learn to help others in the same way and be certified as an Andover Educator. I am now a teacher in training, so I am taking the class and going through all the material for the second time in order to learn it as thoroughly as possible; I am watching Lisa work with the other students with the goal of becoming skilled at recognizing and correcting causes of tension and pain, as well as teaching pianists to play in the freest way possible; and I also have the opportunity to lead the other students through some of our exercises. I am so grateful for Lisa Marsh and the Coordinate Movement class. It is a joy to once again be able to create music and use what I am learning to help others do the same.