pianists and injuries, piano

The way I fell spared me: Kaiser Orthopedics

Dr. Gon, a veteran fracture and soft tissue injury specialist, showed me my x-rays today, officially ruling out fractures of my right hand, wrist, arm and elbow, while he explained how my whole arm bruised at three critical junctures, caused the intense pain I experienced from the initial trauma of my fall. He tested my extended reach which was good, and pressed on the elbow radial that remains the hottest point of bruising. However, the fact that I fell without throwing my wrists forward, prevented fractures, he insisted. The left side, though having knee and hand scrapes, was completely spared bruising, most likely because the bag of over-ripe persimmons clasped in my left hand, provided a soft cushioned defense against my body’s weighty impact that shifted over to my right side.

Dr. Gon also emphasized that my upper body workouts and muscular development were additional factors in preventing bone fractures. Basically, my bones are not brittle.

What he sent me away with:
“Keep icing as directed, especially the elbow region, and don’t use the sling except for sparing intervals.”

The splint had already been okayed for removal when radiology established no fractures. (It was pro forma to splint and immobilize the arm for at least 48-72 hours following my fall)

Dr. Gon approved my Gravitron and Pull-up gym routines, as surprising at that might sound.

at the gym with cloth wrap crop

The extreme rotations that are part of certain fitness regimens, or lifting weights beyond 5 lbs. are not recommended, but my workouts never enlisted weights in the first place or what would include arm or wrist rotations. Same applied to push-ups that I don’t include in my daily routines because of stress to my wrists.

Dr. Gon also gave a thumbs up to my piano playing, moderated to what would not twist my right elbow beyond a personally tolerable point. So far, I’m modulating rotations, but feel quite comfortable in the mode I have adjusted too. (The fingers are flying without impediment)

The school of thought, it appears, is not to immobilize the arm/hand when there are no fractures, but to re-establish or gradate movements as soon as possible. (He anticipated that in “2 to three weeks,” I would be bruise free)

Yesterday I taught three SKYPE students using both hands, without a sign of discomfort and was surprised that I could apply downward weight transfer on the right side. (though I was moderating pressure to conform with my comfort zone)

This is a night and day improvement from Saturday evening and Sunday, when the pain alone was immobilizing.

It has to be some kind of miracle, therefore, that my body continues to heal nicely, which thankfully removes me from the League of Left Handers, though for about 48 hours I was braced for challenges of practicing, and typing with one hand; dressing; combing my hair; and navigating simple tasks that I took for granted when I had the use of of both hands.

Finally, I cannot overemphasize the gratitude I owe to all my amazing friends from far and wide, who sent their thoughts and prayers my way, and naturally, I register a Big Thank You to Dr. Gon for his amazing care and advice.

His last words, “BE MINDFUL when you walk!”

So when braving cracked and pitted Berkeley sidewalks my eyes now veer DOWN though with this singular focus, bicyclists might bump me off from behind. (Why on earth do they ride among pedestrians?) Same for skate boarders, scooter enthusiasts, and marathon runners. WATCH OUT! You need eyes in back of your head!

About Martin Gon, MD


“I have been an orthopedist with Kaiser Permanente, treating fractures and soft tissue injuries since 1986. I truly enjoy the diversity of patients in my practice as well as the spectrum of the very young to the very old. I feel that my role is to help optimize the function of the individual patient to let him/her be the best that he/she can be. The importance of patient participation in their rehabilitation process is crucial to the success of treatment, and cannot be emphasized enough. Part of my practice includes the teaching and training medicine/pediatrics residents in taking care of orthopedic problems (I have been doing this for over 10 years!), and I would like to take this time to thank my patients for their patience and wisdom. My special interests are in the biomechanics/pathology of injuries, both sports and non-sports related, and frozen shoulders.

“My parting advice for keeping the body and joints happy from an orthopedist’s perspective?…Stay active all through your life and S-T-R-E-T-C-H!! ”

Medical Education UC Davis School of Medicine,
Davis, CA
Internship Los Angeles County/University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA
Residency UC Davis School of Medicine,
Davis, CA



Joining the league of left-handers by an accident of fate!

All it took was a miss-step to catapult me into unfamiliar left hand territory. Or more accurately, a crater in the sidewalk bordering a busy downtown Berkeley intersection snagged my sole and forced me down with death-defying impact, tearing skin off my chin and knees while shoving my body weight on a tucked under right arm.

bad sidewalk

(Intersection of Hearst and Martin Luther King Jr. Way)
cracked street

Thrown off balance with my left hand clasping a soaked paper bag with over-ripe persimmons that splattered the sidewalk in an orange sun burst, I lay face down for what seemed like a shell-shocked eternity, surrounded by the din of vehicles veering around me like I was a dead cat on the road.

After the most disorienting ten minutes of my life, an elderly Chinese couple in the company of a mature-looking grandson, approached me in my sprawled out prone position, taking special care to nudge my body upright, handing me tissues to absorb blood from contusions and remove sticky residue that migrated to my sweater and pants.

Slowly regaining my composure, winding my way in measured baby steps to the Bart station, I experienced an uncomfortable limp to my gait, with a burdensome heaviness in my knees. At this point, I was still unaware of damage to my hands, wrists and arms that would be revealed once I lay my bones down to rest on my plush sofa.

lump on arm

Once safely home, I endured a rough evening, permeated by a steady crescendo of pain that had an intolerable rush at 3 a.m. Sunday, after I’d ice-packed my right arm rolling its freeze-filled folds down my wrists and hands.

When my pain threshold tipped over a narrow line even after downing aspirin tablets, I contacted the Kaiser Permanente Emergency services, and soon cabbed my way to the hospital. It was 4 a.m. and the Berkeley Half Marathon wreaked havoc over established car routes, steering traffic in odd, roundabout directions.

Finally entering the Hospital parking lot, and breezing through sliding doors toward a metal detector check, my battered body earned a steady barrage of right-arm centered x-rays that ushered in unwelcome news of a fracture to my guiding light thumb that had steered me mellifluously through the Circle of Fifths. And early assessment of my elbow revealed gathering fluid that my doctor suspected was hiding a fracture. The continuing radiologic surveillance he mentioned, would aim at establishing certainty about my supple right wrist status in prep for a longer course of treatment. For now a cast and sling would be the immediate remedy.

The story with its lack of resolution, had a notable twist that perhaps O’Henry would have fleshed out. Just hours before my cataclysmic spill, I had aided a Parkinson’s disease afflicted friend ambulate the very route I had traversed, but in reverse, leveraging my body through various artful maneuvers so she could find her way home.

Once we arrived, she had invited me in to meet her precious feline, Bathsheba who was not camera shy as she nibbled on wheat grass.

As it grew dark, in a flowing hour of cat loving, I knew it was time for me to depart. Dim lit streets added a certain trepidation as Saturday drew to a close. Surely the darkness settling in, was its own harbinger of imminent disaster.

Upon learning of the irony of my fall in the wake of having assisted the shaky journey of an afflicted woman, one of my dear friends prophetically said, “Just remember that no good deed goes unpunished.”

Yet in reviewing events of the past 24 hours, I would have steered punishment toward the City of Berkeley that lets streets and sidewalks deteriorate to dangerous levels of neglect, putting pedestrians at great risk. (Note: The North Berkeley Senior Center is located a few hundred feet from where I was downed)

Meanwhile in the aftermath of my personal tragedy, I’ve resolved to teach piano as a left-hander while I concurrently journey through many diverse life activities.

To this end, I surprised my Book group today when I appeared decked out with a new sling and pink-wrapped cast.

short story sling right side up

adult instruction, adult piano pupils, adult piano student, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano, piano teaching, piano playing, Uncategorized

Centering the beat for cohesion in scale playing

“…No matter what the mood to be conveyed, or how sensitive the playing, it is the rhythm that binds the expression.” Mildred Portney Chase, Just Being at the Piano

Most students, including myself, sometimes find ourselves running away from our initially centered, fundamental beat through scales, which causes an uncomfortable disruption of the phrase. And yet a micro metric change in the “singing” pulse can alter our sense of being rooted in the here and now.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 8.31.56 AM

The challenge, then, is to re-center ourselves when we veer off our rhythmic course, absorbing the organic sense of the beat without sounding robotic or metronomic.

In the video attached, one of my pupils was kind enough to participate in an exploration of internal rhythmic consciousness.

Playing Eb minor scales in legato 16ths, he transitioned to staccato.

Breathing and contouring are big ingredients of preserving a rhythmic thread, and while our focus was to identify rhythmic instability and re-establish a fundamental consistency in the singing pulse, our work continues on multiple, co-existing levels that have had generous exposure in many of our collectively created videos.

For example:

More Rhythmic cohesion scale practice:

Laura aces it!

Leveraging weight through F# minor in crescendo, using finger staccato within a steady rhythmic framing. (Descend in diminuendo)

Just Being at the Piano, Mildred Portney Chase, Peter Illyich Tchaikovksy, pianist, piano, piano playing, Tchaikovsky

Imagination fuels expressive piano playing

As my local and Online piano students gear up for their bi-annual music sharing this coming Saturday over Skype, a commonly expressed concern is how to harness the imagination to feed a musical journey right from the opening measure of a piece to its final cadence.

The challenge for everyone embodies a centered period of silence, allowing a player to imagine the mood, timbre and tone of an opening phrase that will have a flowing impetus for others to follow.

This is why we observe piano competition entrants sitting quietly for what seems like an eternity. And we wonder what could possibly be on their mind during such quiescence.

I’ll conjecture that while it could be nerve-fighting strategies playing out in the psyche, it’s more likely to be non-cognitive, affective preparation. The imagination will fuel the playing, but it will have free reign only if preceded by phases of thoughtful, stepwise learning.

There’s no doubt that students of all levels need to practice meticulously before a recital: They would have approached their compositions in a layered progression, working on fingering, rhythm, phrasing, all bundled into an EXPRESSIVE whole, but in a behind tempo frame until a natural ripening process gently nudges the player to a desirable temporal dimension.

Yet some pupils will not have achieved an “in tempo” rendering at this coming Saturday’s music sharing, but each will need to be mentally prepared for the moment when they will be sitting at their piano benches in various locations, attempting to CENTER themselves, apart from the din of self-criticism and negativity.

…and here’s where I evoke the wise words of Mildred Portney Chase from her published diary, Just Being at the Piano.


“I am continually finding my way toward the here and now in my music and realizing a whole new dimension to the experience of playing. Nowhere is it more important to be in the here and now than in playing the piano. The slightest lapse in attention will affect every aspect of how I realize the re-creation of a piece of music. One note coming a hairbreadth late in time, may distort the expression of a phrase.

“It is impossible to be self-conscious and totally involved in the music at the same time. Consciousness of the self is a barrier between the player and the instrument. As I forget my own presence, I attain a state of oneness with the activity and become absorbed in a way that defies the passage of time.

About tone and imagining it:

“Listening… feeling… moving…feeling… listening.. The core of any tone should always have substance and expressive quality. The singing quality of tone can be developed by sensitizing the ear to listen for it and sensitizing the hands and fingers to feel it as if they too were listening.”

And I will conclude by saying that harnessing the imagination in the cosmos of tone, touch, timbre and mood is a preliminary to beautiful, expressive playing–not forgetting to retrieve the memory of how it physically felt to produce musical beauty.

Tactile sensitivity fused with a self-devised creative image and ATTENTIVE LISTENING, will move phrases along in smooth, lucid progression.

In this vein, I recently recorded a portion of a piano lesson with an Online student where I explored a facet of the imagination as it applied to Tchaikovsky’s “Sweet Dream,” Op. 39 no. 21. While I used a “floating clouds” analogy, I could easily have drawn on a “dream” as a mental prompt.

There are many mood pictures that help pianists to get into the zone and out of themselves, so it’s a universe worth exploring.

For those of us taking a common musical journey, its fulfillment resides in more than playing the right notes with perfect rhythm. The intangible often makes music-making the ethereally beautiful experience that it is.

Jocel preps for the Saturday recital

Drawing room sonata, K.545, Mozart, Mozart piano sonata, Mozart piano sonata K. 545, piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano sonata, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Would Mozart believe he was “banned” worldwide?!


I thought it would never happen! An instant banishment from cyber-space! Mozart’s beloved Andante from Sonata K. 283 was the victim of pure and simple tyranny by the you tube police! The stand-in argonaut imperialist Hyperion, a recording company whose reach extended above and beyond PUBLIC DOMAIN, wrenched my upload from its earthly existence with a bundled threat to annihilate my Google Plus fueled Channel.

Should I be specific and name, Names? I’m sure the well-known pianist, who is one of hundreds to record the precious Mozart middle movement, had nothing to do with the iron fist of Hyperion, though I was made aware that his identity was woven into the plot to kill my posting. Perhaps he was innocently caught in the middle of a copyright infringement charge leveled at me, having no rhyme or reason to snatch my version of Mozart’s precious middle movement.

With a knee-jerk empowering reflex, I “disputed” the ban, checking pertinent boxes with an added typed footnote defending my right to play a dead composer’s creation that dated back to the 18th century. I reserved the RIGHT TO CLAIM that my posting had educational value, not redeemable in $$$…


With satire put aside, scores of you tubing musicians are up in arms, rallying against prohibitions imposed on our Classical music uploads–We’re appalled at corporate ownership claims of long deceased composers. It’s basically a Citizen’s United crossover into the musical universe with the Corporate Recording INDUSTRIAL Complex (CRIC) using BRUTE FORCE to rid cyber of Indies, viewed as a threat to the MONOPOLIZING OLIGARCHY!

(DO I SOUND LIKE BERNIE SANDERS??! Who cares? He’s got my vote!)

Enough said.

My Online delivered defense against HYPERION’S CHARGES elicited a YOU TUBE channeled withdrawal of the world-wide ban.

In its place, a captioned “Disputed third party matched content” was affixed.

In conclusion, Regardless of bullying Big MONEY interests, musicians the world over won’t capitulate.

By example, I just posted another Mozart middle movement that narrowly escaped the Ban. So there!

UPDATE: November 10, 2105 at 8:38 a.m.
Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 8.35.30 AM

Hi Shirley Kirsten,
Good news! Your dispute wasn’t reviewed within 30 days, so the copyright claim on your YouTube video has now been released.
Video title: “(HD) W.A. Mozart Sonata No. 5 in G, K. 283, Andante, movement 2”
– The YouTube Team

piano, piano blog, piano blogging, piano instruction, piano learning, piano lessons, Shirley Kirsten

Patience reminders for impatient adult piano students

I was about to lose patience with a student this past week who lost patience with himself in the early practicing phase of a Bach Prelude. It was a common circumstance. An expectation was built into the adult psyche over decades that an overnight conquest of a piece was the only desirable outcome, leaving virtually no room for a gradual, layered learning process. And while an assimilation of the new piece might span weeks, if not months, the quick fix model was in, and the challenging, intricate journey to musical satisfaction was out. (oops there goes the cell phone text message bling-bling, and an overlapping IM chime-in from Facebook–the most aggravating ingredients of our quicktime communications culture) It’s having a negative spill-over into the piano learning universe, so it’s a defining moment for a time-lapsed reality check!

And here’s where a “patience”- bearing teacher needs to sign out and re-connect with herself and her students.

According to the time-honored Gospel of prophets over the ages:

A brand new piece presents a tabula rasa. A pupil looks at a sea of notes that have not yet been “organized:” fingered, analyzed, measured in time, phrased, etc. and either contemplates an enriching journey of learning and growth with no time deadlines affixed, or he decides that to get from point A to point B must be a self-made contest, resembling a short distance sprint in the Olympiad. It must be over quickly, in anticipation of the next event.

To the contrary, the early phase of musical assimilation cannot have a turnover of pieces hovering over the student. The work has to be considered in the here and now, timeless, in a baby-step progression that bears riches in every phase.

And this is where my lecture rolls into the age old model of an infant learning to turn over in his crib: how he gradually pull himself up, eventually crawls, and finally walks. Are there ratings for each developmental phase, or a bigger value placed on one growth phase over another? Does the infant decide to skip an important part of his development to please himself or his parents?

If the answers to the above are obvious, these should frame the process of learning to play a new piece.

To validate: In my steady decades of teaching piano, I’ve discovered that students who are the most content with their musical progress, have accepted the step-wise journey as an incremental expansion of their consciousness. Amidst media-grinding social pressures they’ve managed to resist the cultural-fed brainwash of getting to a destination FAST, like a featured high-octane, super-charged car! They realize that it just doesn’t “GO” when applied to music learning.

So having imparted my patience-bearing framing of lessons, my brood of adults are now looking forward, with some trepidation, to our upcoming global sharing over SKYPE. With a compelling menu of compositions that will flood our intimate cyber space, we’ll produce our second Internet-driven music exchange that readily shrinks the world and brings us closer together.

In preparation for this event, students are fine-tuning their musical offerings: one will screen share hers, rather than play LIVE, while another, with a 19-hour time difference from CA (in Sydney, Australia) will conclude the hour with Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor.

In our glowing refinement stage, we’re revisiting various measures that are fleshed out below in a Beethoven-driven tutorial. Not surprisingly, it produced a few new awakenings that validate how learning never ends, does it?

And here’s a sneak preview of our upcoming Skype gathering–from Kentucky! (A pre-event rehearsal)

Patience, everybody! You’ll do it, and smile when it’s over!



Adult Student Stumbling Blocks

Are Adult Students Stigmatized?