Body Awareness: The Ultimate Teacher
When I was a third-year piano student, at the University of Ottawa, I ruptured 8 muscles in my left hand due to lack of body awareness. When did my injury occur? During my piano lesson, my professor kept asking me to do the same ‘stretch’ and ‘leap.’ Despite always having large hands, something snapped. I heard and felt it, yet I kept playing. After my lesson, I was so angry, I went to practice another two hours, lacking awareness of the burning pain in my left hand.
The next morning, I noticed that my fingers were ‘limp’ for a lack of better word. I went to the campus urgent care clinic. The doctor told me that I had to go to physiotherapy, and when ‘cleared’ to practice with my left hand, I would have to start practicing 30 seconds per day, and slowly increase to 45 seconds, 60 seconds, etc… He warned me that if this injury did not heal, I could forget playing piano, let alone earn a living as a musician.
Off I went, walking to the campus physiotherapy clinic. I was going to prove to that doctor I was going to recover faster than anyone else. 6 months? Nah, I was going to get better in 6 days. Ego? Big yup. On that day, I started physiotherapy beside several football players who started to tease me for my injured fingers and the tears started rolling down my face. My physiotherapist went to talk to them. Whatever she told them, their faces changed. One guy said, “Sorry. It must hurt a lot. Let’s get better together.”
They had my back, and we would all scream together when our exercises hurt, or we were frustrated with the long process of healing. Most of them were working on large leg muscles, while I was doing pinky fingers stretches. Ultimately, paraffin treatments helped me heal faster. They would dip my hand in paraffin covered by two towels.
When I was allowed, to go practice, I remember looking at my watch, thinking “What the hell can, I practice for 30 seconds?” It took me 30 minutes, to select the passage that I wanted to practice. Then, the knocks started, “You’re not supposed to practice.” Or, “Get out of the studio, you are not even playing.” Or ,“You’ve been there for 1 hour, and you are staring at the keys.”
Until today, I haven’t shared with anyone what I did in the studio, when I was not playing. I worked on my posture, I worked on sitting at the piano, and dealing with my anger towards Brahms. It was not Brahms that injured my hand. I injured my hand. Why? I was annoyed at my professor, and rather than say, “I can’t handle the criticism right now, I am doing the best I can.” I took it out on my hand. Had I been confident enough to communicate my boundaries, I might have been in ‘trouble’ with my prof, however, I would have prevented this injury.
When I became a piano/voice teacher, I made sure that all my students knew that pain in playing/singing was not normal, and I would always pay attention. However, the ultimate responsibility is on them. They need to tell me if they feel tension before it leads to pain/injury. More than ever, we are living in a world that lacks self-awareness. We speak about self-love and self-care, yet we need to be teaching self-awareness.
Years ago, I taught only one lesson to an adult voice student. After 15 minutes, the student said, “Thank you for teaching me. I won’t be able to take lessons for a while. I just realized how much pain I feel in my knee. My doctor is right. I must focus on my body. I had no clue how much it hurt, until I was here.” The student asked me if I was a ‘healer.’ I said, “Not really, I am just teaching you to be aware of your body.” I have had countless lessons where students realized the physical and/or emotional pain they were experiencing. On a first lesson, it is not from playing/singing. It is from lack of body awareness. There cannot be mental wellness, without physical awareness.
We owe it to our students, to teach more than notes, style, and technique. Music lessons are more than notes.
By Kristine Dandavino