In December of 1996, my hands closed into fists as result of an injury called dystonia. Dystonia is considered by the medical profession to have no cure. At the time of the injury I was in my second year of college and practicing five to eight hours a day despite a lot of pain. Being under the assumption that pain was a part of becoming a musician, I never thought I was headed for any real trouble. As the symptoms of dystonia began to show, I felt that the more I practiced the worse my playing seemed to get. I felt as though my hands were moving in slow motion. It was like being in a dream and trying to run. My fingers felt sluggish and the harder I tried to make them move the more heavy and slow they felt. Eventually it got to a point where I would play a descending scale passage and my fingers would curl up under my hand after playing.
After a particularly frustrating day of practice, I was on my way home when I felt the third and fourth fingers of my right hand pull together in a sort of cramp or spasm. I tried to massage it away, but I couldn’t. I stuck my hand deep into my pocket and continued walking when I felt a sensation that seemed to be creeping through my right hand. All of my fingers were curling into a fist. There was no pain, only a light squeezing of muscles. Three hours after my right hand closed up I felt my left hand third and fourth fingers pull together, just as my right hand had done. I felt like I was living my own private horror movie, knowing what was going to happen to my hand, being unable to stop it, and only being able to watch and feel this odd sensation take over.
I started to take lessons with Robert Durso, an expert Taubman teacher, and began to learn how to replace my old movements with healthy new ones. My body responded favorably and my dystonia was gone within a year’s time. The Taubman technique unifies fingers, hand and forearm, so that they all move together in a coordinate way. Many other piano techniques are based on, among other things, developing strong fingers by isolating them, stretching them and making them play down hard into the keys.
The amazing thing to me is that Dorothy Taubman never set out to develop a method to cure injured pianists. Her main intention was to teach people to play as virtuosos, but, in doing, so, she realized that the motions that were involved in virtuoso playing also cured injuries.
Every so often I run across an article or website about dystonia stating that there is no cure. It brings me much sadness to think of the negative impact this information has on people. After eight months the worst of my dystonia was over. After two years of retraining my technique I returned to school and finished my Bachelor’s. I have now complete my Master’s degree in piano performance. Not only am I free from dystonia, but I am playing difficult pieces with more precision and artistic statement than I ever did before my injury. I cannot imagine what it is like for people who struggle with the injury for years, and are told they will never be healed. I hope my story will offer insight and inspiration.