SOPP291: Lately I've been having trouble with osteoarthritis in my right hand (and to a lesser extent in my left) so my practice has been restricted to work on the pedals
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 291 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John and he writes:
“Lately I've been having trouble with osteoarthritis in my right hand (and to a lesser extent in my left) so my practice has been restricted to work on the pedals. Simple finger-work is basically fine for me, but holding a note(s) while the other fingers move can be quite painful. Being a pianist my pedal playing has always needed attention but it's distressing to have the hands so sore after playing.”
V: How long can you play without the pain?
“It varies, Vidas, but if the pain gets bad I just give up for the day and let my hands recover. If I start a session with no particular pain I can play for maybe fifteen minutes or so without too much trouble. If the texture is complicated and I'm trying (for example) to hold an inner part while another melody weaves around it that can be troublesome. I think I need to choose repertoire with more care and try to avoid anything that gives me grief. My home practice instrument has a modern keyboard action, so I don't have to deal with tracker action.”
V: I think Ausra that John partly answered this question himself.
A: Yes and I thought that the best solution for him would be to play trio sonatas.
V: Where one hand takes one voice, another hand takes another voice…
A: and the pedal has another voice. So that you wouldn’t have to deal with those center voices and to hold them up and to be in pain. If I would be John and I would have problems like this I would first consult a physician because it’s dangerous to practice like this without consulting serious specialist because you might hurt yourself even more.
V: Right, sometimes even permanently.
A: I know and it’s a serious matter. So if you haven’t done it yet you need to consult your physician.
V: Umm-hmm. He might have written about that if he had visited a physician before so maybe it’s pretty important for him to go to the doctor.
A: Because I think that some kind of these problems it might be good to exercise but in some cases it might be harmful so you never know what type his problem is unless you consult a serious specialist.
A: But anyway if the piece hurts yourself don’t play it or if it makes your condition worse play another one.
V: And play for a shorter amount of time.
A: Sure and organ repertoire is so vast that you can choose from so many things that you really don’t have to give yourself such trouble and get that pain.
V: Umm-hmm. Maybe work more on the pedal playing because he needs that because since he is a pianist.
A: Yes and I myself always struggled with the thick texture because my hands are like cat’s paws and I don’t have strength in them and it’s very hard for me to play big chords. I still cannot avoid playing big chords but I avoid things with big texture where I need to stretch a lot and things like Max Reger. I played it when I had to do it when I was a student but now I’m certainly not making myself to go through that again.
V: How is Cesar Franck working for you?
A: Well it’s working quite well actually except maybe a couple of pieces. Maybe not so much the beginning of E Major chorale and maybe not Prierre. But with other things I can do pretty fine.
V: Because anybody who has seen Franck’s picture and his hands might have noticed that he had enormous span with the palm and his texture very thick and chromatic. Sometimes you make tricks with playing the bass line with the pedals even though it’s written for the hand but in general it’s quite complicated texture.
A: Yes it is. And for me for example it’s much easier for me to play playful music, something like Durufle, like Durufle Scherzo or Prelude from Veni Creator Spiritus, the Prelude, Adagio and Variations than let’s say Reger.
V: Right. Reger has its own problems most of the time although he wrote trios too.
A: Yes, and I played them and I did fine and they didn’t cause trouble for my hands so trio texture is wonderful for me.
V: Umm-hmm. And if we go back to John then obviously trio texture would teach him a lot about coordination, right? Remember Johann Sebastian Bach created those trio sonatas for his own son, Wilhem Friedemann.
A: Yes, his older son.
V: And he was quite a virtuoso.
A: True. And let’s see if one hand hurts more then you can practice another hand with the pedal.
V: Exactly. And if you wanted to get started easier you can use our score with fingering and pedaling for E Flat Major Trio Sonata which is number one. So guys this is basically our advice for John or for anybody who might suffer wrist pain, hand pain, finger pain sometimes, right?
A: Yes and also another suggestion would be keep your hands warm.
V: You mean not only warm up before practice but keep gloves.
A: Yes I know things like what you put on your wrists.
V: It is dense.
A: It is dense, yes. Like made from natural wool. It might help to reduce pain.
V: That works of course. Heated environment. Keep yourself warm for people who can tolerate.
A: Of course, consult your physician before doing any of these things that we have suggested.
V: The first thing you have to do is set an appointment with the doctor.
V: And then if he or she lets you play then play wisely. Stop before you are feeling the pain, not after it’s too late. But rest while you still feel comfortable even though you might have practiced for as little as 5 minutes.
A: And maybe your doctor will suggest you to take some medication too to reduce the pain.
V: Yes, well avoiding pain is sometimes tricky especially in later part of life. You don’t always know what to do. For some people exercising more is a good solution but for others not so good. Or exercising certain muscle groups might be problematic. Maybe John can find some kind of exercise routine which is helpful for his own condition but that could only real doctors tell.
V: Thanks guys for sending these questions. You see we’re not always qualified to answer them but we could give you some pointers what to do next, where to find some real medical help. And please continue sending your challenges and dreams, what you want to accomplish in organ playing in the next 3 months or 6 months and what is stopping you, right? The challenges, right? And we will try to sort it out and get you unstuck. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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