Guest post: Rachel Smith on learning the Taubman / Golandsky Approach for strings.

I came across the Taubman / Golandsky Approach when I had already been working as a professional violinist for over 13 years. I was a principal player in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, performed a lot of chamber music and solo work, and was teaching at tertiary level. As long as I could remember, I had found it a struggle to deal with the anxieties and (what seemed at the time) unreliable physicalities of playing and performing, but this struggle had escalated and I had reached a point where something had to change, or else I felt my career would have to go in a different direction altogether. It was at this crisis that somehow I miraculously found myself on a tour with Therese’s group, Topology, for a festival in Indonesia.

I was in quite a lot of playing-related pain by the end of these concerts. I mentioned it to Therese (who happened to be the only certified Taubman instructor in Australia). She pointed out all the physical stuff I did when I was playing which was obviously causing or contributing to the discomfort. I was shocked and felt defensive. I knew Therese had been heavily involved in learning and teaching the Taubman Approach but I didn’t know much about it at all. I was curious however, and we resolved to meet up and chat about it all. The defensiveness on my part continued for a short time– it was a difficult thing to acknowledge that everything I had strived for in my playing, and my approach to the instrument was in fact all directly contributing to the pain, discomfort and anxiety. Therese must have felt this, and encouraged me to get in touch with Sophie Till, who had been developing the Taubman Approach for strings over a number of years.

I was compelled and found myself a few nights later at 1am having a Skype lesson with Sophie in the US. I don’t know whether it was the time of night, or the intensity of confronting some demons, but I felt so overwhelmed and knew this was going to be a Big Thing (in fact I had to go off to the bathroom and be sick in the middle of the lesson!). She had managed to touch upon some very raw nerves in that hour. I haven’t looked back since; each layer we peeled off made things feel and work better, and continues to do so.

We started with the bow- where my deep concerns lay. Orchestral playing felt like a different species of playing compared to chamber music, for example. I couldn’t feel a reliable connection with the instrument, especially when playing super soft. I couldn’t comfortably feel powerful in the upper half of the bow. My body felt compromised most of the time- one day it might feel ok, the next, terrible. It was the same with the anxiety- there was no way of telling when it would be unmanageable. There was also a lot of emotional baggage with the bow for me (as there is with a lot of people, we learn that it is our expression, our musical identity). After our work together, I now feel a deep, easy connection between my body and the instrument. My playing is reliable, I learn repertoire much easier, and I feel I have solid knowledge of the small healthy motions that make up the larger ones and am able to pass that on to others. I am able to navigate the geography of the instrument with much more ease. I can play with power (or the opposite) with barely any effort. Double stops (along with other elements of technique that in the past I just gritted my teeth and ‘got through’) aren’t a mystery anymore.

Since that first meeting, it’s been almost 6 years and many Skype lessons and visits later. I’m certain that if it wasn’t for that serendipitous tour with Therese, subsequently meeting Sophie, and the support of my husband Eric (and of course family), I wouldn’t be playing the violin anymore. I’m grateful to them all, and I have a very different, healthy relationship with the violin and with music now. I have learned to treat my profession as a real craft, not something which was unhealthily emotional and unreliable; only ‘working’ when I was in the right frame of mind (which was hardly ever!). I certainly don’t consider all those years of study and playing beforehand as a waste or ‘wrong’- but learning this new approach has given me tools to move ahead and keep learning, which I do, voraciously. All of it makes complete sense, I am helping others now too; after seeing most of my colleagues and friends suffering in all sorts of ways with their playing, it’s a real privilege to have the knowledge to be able to help.

I’m reminded of a favourite Einstein quote:

“I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be.”


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