My heart raced as I sat at the Steinway on stage.
My head was in a fog, watching in horror as my icy cold fingers slipped and slid along the piano keys.
Like a car spinning out on a sheet of black ice, I lost all control of my performance.
Wrong notes, rushing tempo…messy pedalling. A living nightmare.
Beethoven’s Appassionata started to sound like a 12 tone piece of Arnold Schoenberg.
But the worst part was to come.
The inevitable pain…mounting throbs of tension in my forearms grew in waves.
They were on fire.
I tried to press through, but the pain got excruciating. Unbearable.
And then I realized I couldn’t continue the audition.
I had to stop. The pain won.
My hands fell defeatedly to my lap.
Silence. Shock. Disdain.
The glaring eyes of the judges penetrated through me like laser beams.
And all I wanted to do is run from the stage, crawl into my bed and cover myself with blankets and stay that way forever.
That grizzly experience happened around 30 years ago when I was a student, struggling with my piano technique.
So many times I wished that I could re-write the past, erase it from my memory.
“Why can’t I just play the piano easily like the other students in the conservatory? Why does it have to be so hard for me?”
I begrudged my fate.
I wanted an easier path than the one I had…I loved the piano so much and couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.
I put a brave face on and kept going, looking for an answer to help my piano playing…to get rid of the pain.
I tried so many teachers…I sought solutions in various piano playing approaches and methods.
Nothing worked. The tendonitis just got worse.
Eventually when I got to be around 19 years old I remember practicing the Chopin Etude op. 10 Nr. 4 in my living room.
The tension in my forearms was crippling, stabbing pain.
But I pressed on.
“Press through the pain, Margaret…After all, no pain, no gain”.
I recited this to myself like a delusionary mantra..
Then, something snapped in my forearms.
My hand froze, mummified in an encasement of raw pain.
I screeched like a rabid hawk…
In my anguish I took the beautiful Paderewski edition of the Etudes on my music stand and hurled it across the room in my disgust.
It hit the wall and the spine broke in two places.
The book felt like I did: Broken.
I started to cry streams of bitter tears. The keyboard became a pool of liquid.
“This is it…It’s all over, Margaret.”
After weeping for about 40 minutes, my eye fell upon the glass wall cabinet where I had my beloved record player and “My Favorite Chopin” LP of Artur Rubinstein.
I looked at his picture, so debonair.
“He appears so majestic sitting at the piano,” I thought to myself. Such a contrast to the heeping, hunchbacked mess that I was at the piano.
“Why does he have that confidence? What makes him so complete as a musician?” I asked myself.
And then the answer came….
“It is his Tone…That is the secret not only of his confidence, but his technique.
That is the path, Margaret.”
From that moment on, I dedicated myself to finding the thread that led back to the Golden Tone, the nearly mythical quality of tone production that masters from the 19 century possessed.
It was their ‘calling card’. It was the first and most important task of a pianist.
The primary objective was the possession of a beautiful tone that can be sculpted into anything that the imagination dares to express.
It is opulent, alive, filled with shimmering overtones.
It is an approach that has been forgotten.
It is the key to pianistic freedom.
Discovering these secrets from the 19th century and re-learning how to play piano with this approach has given me a reliable technique, endless palette of expressive tools and the ability to play without any pain.
After spending decades developing this technique, publishing a how-to-textbook and soon to be released on-line course called Ultimate Piano Playing, I teach pianists from all over the world how to instantly transform their piano technique using the forgotten wisdom of the past.
Today I am starting to release a series of mini-tutorial videos illustrating the key techniques that are easy to integrate yet produce extremely powerful results.
The first video is (no surprise here) how to eliminate tension in the forearms, a critical issue that left unchecked is an occupational hazard for pianists.
What is your main challenge in piano playing?
Have you ever had a piece with challenges that you thought you couldn’t overcome? Let me know in the comments below:
PS: I don’t usually throw books against the wall, but sometimes my fiery temper has gotten the better of me.
PPS: I come from a pretty expressive Polish family where if Polka and kielbasa can’t cure the problem then a good cry and book throw probably will…