I have been playing the piano since the age of three and touring since I was twelve. When I first sat down at the piano, I ran my hands over the keys and thought, “I’ve done this before,” and I was already playing. By my mid-twenties, I had developed a severe case of tendonitis in both wrists. This became so intrusive that within five years, I had to curtail all live performing. I was determined to conquer this, so I investigated everything and since I was living in California, I do mean everything!
I consulted conventional surgeons, hand surgeons, and physic surgeons. I tried acupuncturists and chiropractors. I certainly tried prayer. I meditated. I tried people who shook strange objects over my head and chanted in weird guttural languages that I didn’t understand, but I was always told the same thing: I would never play the way I used to play.
This is a precipice. In our lives, we will all face them. It could be a physical precipice like this one, a physiological precipice, a spiritual one, a financial precipice, or a crisis of consciousness. It is my experience that if one faces these precipices head on…no matter how much the fear, one will overcome them. D.H. Lawrence said, “When one jumps off a cliff, one is bound to land somewhere.” When I jumped off my cliff, that’s when I met Professor Phil Cohen, Artistic Director Emeritus at the Leonardo Project in Montreal.
Phil listened to me for the two minutes that I could play before my wrists gave out. He then said: “I will have you playing better than ever in six months, but you must unlearn everything you know about the piano.” My ego said, ”Who is this person to tell me these things?” but my heart said, “Yes, let’s go!”
The initial stages were extremely difficult. I had been taught the conventional “German” classical technique of playing. This means that one’s fingers do most of the work. However, Phil pointed out that any other athletic endeavor uses one’s core in conjunction with the largest muscles to perform and the traditional approach is simply counter-intuitive. In addition, one’s wrist cavity is very small with many tendons and ligaments passing through it. This makes it very easy for chronic injuries to occur.
Phil taught me a very unconventional technique requiring a flat wrist and playing like a martial artist. After six months, I had tripled my playing time, but I was more depressed than ever. I stomped into the studio, and yelled, “This is useless!”
Phil very quietly said, “If you had to play a concert tomorrow, how would you do it?”
“That is impossible!” I exclaimed. He repeated the question. I closed my eyes, imagined, and said, “I would play very slowly and sensitively” … and then started crying. I realized that there was a whole area of music that I had not explored because of my fears and ego!
From that point on, I made rapid progress, expanded my musical compositions and scope, invented The Refractor Piano™, resumed my concertizing, and am now playing, I believe, better than ever!
This precipice showed me that one can overcome anything:
Just keep going and trust that the path will reveal itself.
Never give up on your precipices!
Peter Manning Robinson is an Emmy and BMI award-winning pianist /composer and the inventor of The Refractor Piano™. His immersive concerts combine his original music with visuals by Hana Kim and Klaus Hoch. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website http://www.petermanningrobinson.com
This article is a part of the Jan 17 - Dec 18 issue of Whole Life Times.