PIANO TECHNIQUE REVIEWS

Untitled Document

Carola Grindea and Grindea Technique

 


Carola Grindea was a protégé of Dame Myra Hess who herself studied with Tobias Matthay, the first and primary proponent of arm weight technique in Great Britain. She is the founder of the European Piano Teacher’s Association (EPTA)and more recently of the International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance (ISSTIP). When she dies last year at age 95, amazingly she was still going strong teaching and conducting clinics for focal dystonia, tendonitis and other performance injuries in Central London.

 

Carola once told me the story of her arrival in London in 1939 with a letter of introduction to Myra Hess. When she and her husband, literary mogul Miron Grindea rang the doorbell and were ushered in, they were surprised to see the two concert Steinways covered over with tarpaulin. War had been declared, and “these instruments will never sound again until this calamity is over,” said Dame Myra. “No, this cannot be,” was the young Carola’s reply, “Your music is a crucial asset to the war effort – you must play to keep our morale up.” And so the famous Tate Gallery concerts came into being – every single day throughout the war there was courageous music-making at the Tate, often under blackout and with the sound of bombs falling as a background, and much of it by Dame Myra herself.

Carola Grindea was one of the first pedagogues to focus serious attention on the problem of performance injury, and she rightly saw the relaxation inherent in arm weight technique (when done properly) as crucial to the resolution of many injury conditions. Her video focuses on simple relaxation techniques such as lifting the arms high overhead on a deep in-breath, then letting them flop down on the exhalation. “Do you feel how much more relaxed your shoulders are? Now you can play with real absence of tension…”

To evoke relaxation in the wrist, Carola has the student play a chord and flop the wrist entirely, so the hand almost falls off the keyboard but does just manage to play the chord.

When I first saw Carola demonstrating these things in a London workshop, my reaction was, “Jeez, here I’ve gone and spent 4 years and $20,000 on a Feldenkrais training when all I had to do was lift my arms up and let them drop!” I thought she was drastically oversimplifying the matter. But later while observing her private work I saw just how effective these simple techniques can be. It all depends on the student’s mindset – some seek understanding as well as resolution, others simply want to feel better and are not that introspective or speculative about how it’s done. Simple, straightforward and to-the-point techniques can be very useful in many cases.

Carola’s demonstration of her ‘wrist flop’ technique at that workshop proved occasion for our first quarrel – I ventured to say that this practice was wonderfully educative but of course you can’t really flop like that when you’re playing, you would lose all semblance of control. Carola stuck to her guns, saying this should be done even in performance, and I stuck to my guns too – and so the sparks flew! Afterwards when I found out she was Rumanian I understood: having lived for many years in Eastern Europe, I myself knew how much that temperament just loves a good scrap!

Later on I had some wonderful lessons with Carola because I wanted as full an understanding of arm weight technique as possible. For a complete account of these lessons, including a description of arm weight technique at its best, please go to www.pianotechnique.org/carola-grindea-and-arm-weight-technique .

How to Do Up Notes - With or Without the Arch?

Although excerpts from the Grindea Technique video are not online, there are a couple of clips of Carola's work that do give one a feel for her approach.

The "Up" notes and "Down" notes referred to in these videos are notes played while the forearm is moving up or down. In Carola's version of arm weight technique, the wrist is never at rest but always in flux, thus maintaining a free relaxed relationship between arm and fingers. Tension disempowers, thus relaxation must empower, right? And if you are moving you must be relaxed - immobility indicates tension...

I wish things were that simple!

However, they are not. The inner organization of the wrist, hand and arm cultivated by these exercises is wonderful. But the wrist must also offer stability. It will often appear not to be moving in playing, but a perceptive eye may discern a certain inner freedom, quite possibly learned through these exercises, that enervates the wrist and arm allowing it to remain free and subtly moveable even as it offers the required stability to the hand and fingers...

Wrist Relaxation and the Hand's Arches

As this video shows, Grindea Technique does not pay special attention to the structural potency of the hand’s arch, and yet the pianist's arch is present and functional, serving her well. Carola never mentions the arch but focuses rather on the idea that the free movement of the wrist actually generates the tone. She says the movements get smaller the faster one plays, but she holds to the idea that that the wrist actually generates the tone of the note. This of course, as a subjective experience can be valuable. As a didactic tool, cultivating this idea can be very effective. The technique serves to keep the wrist flexible and functional, a very valuable thing indeed. But it does not bely the fact that the wrist does not actually generate tone. That is simply an illusion. Objective investiagtion does not bear out the subjective impression, and if the pianist doesn't understand this, there will possibly be problems later on. Althoug useful, this technique must not be applied across the board. The pedagogue must determine in advance the usefulness or the inutility and possible couunterproductiveness of the approach.

Carola never mentions the potent arch, and does not even think about it – and yet the ‘wrist flop’ works for her precisely because she never allows her arm’s relaxation to disturb the complete integrity and potency of her hand’s arch. I never heard the late Yonty Solomon, another Myra Hess protégé, mention the hand’s arch in his teaching, and yet he had one of the most pronounced and dependable arches I’ve ever seen. It was really something, like the Rock of Gibraltar! I noticed that often Solomon’s students could not achieve the same stellar results he did in his demonstrations at the piano, and I suspected that his failure to mention this one crucial aspect of his own technique was the reason why. He took it for granted: it was so much a part of him that he simply didn’t think about it, and overlooked the fact that his students were letting their arch go instead of following his lead and picking up on that crucial aspect of hand structure and function.

How To Do Down Notes - Is It Really Just the Wrist Doing the Work?

Here again, the wrist movement is described as actually generating the tone, instead of simply empowering the fingers to move precisely and freely. The pianist does the exercises well, and hopefully the well-balanced wrist function thus achieved will transfer well into repertoire performance. But we would like to see a more accurate description of what is actually going on physiologically. In their present form, this explanation and demonstration leave too much room for misinterpretation and subsequent mistaken implementation of these eminently useful and effective techniques.

Overall, Grindea Technique has many useful things to say about relaxation as an important component of effective piano playing. But note that the descriptions found in Grindea Technique are pragmatic and subjective rather than objective. They don’t describe the underlying physiological processes of piano technique as they actually happen, but rather in terms of how one particular person experiences them, and thus are open to misinterpretation. I’ve seen the ‘wrist flop’ technique achieve a wonderful relaxation and let-go in an overly tense pianist, but I’ve also seen it create immense confusion in a gifted pianist who was essentially destabilized by the radical relaxation Carola offered her, a relaxation far greater than she needed.

Price/Value Quotient

DVD £45.00    SOMEWHAT OVERPRICED  - Acceptable value for money

 

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