Interview with Carola Grindea by Damjana Zupan
Carola Grindea studied Piano and Chamber Music at the Bucharest Music Academy; when she came to London (1939) the celebrated pianist Myra Hess awarded her a grant to study with her own teacher and renowned pedagogue, lobias Matthay. She was soon launched on a concert career, which took her throughout the UK and many European countries. Later she became Piano Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London (GSMD, 19681990). She was the Founder and Organising Secretary of EPTA— European Piano Teachers Association (1978—) as well as the Founder and first editor of the PPANO JOURNAL (1981-1996). Besides all this she has been very active in the Music Medicine Field. She was the Founder and Chairman of ISSTIP (international Society for the Study of Tension in Performance, 1981) and Editor of ISSTIP JOURNAL; Cofounder and Director ISSTIP Performing Arts Clinic at London College of Music and Media (since 1990); Director First UK Certificate Courses to train Music Medicine Therapists (2002/2003). She conducts Master-classes and gives lectures In many countries; organizes courses where she teaches ,Coping Techniques. Carola Grindea is the author of several books and videos. She has appeared on BBC radio and television programmes as well as In several European countries. She has received many awards and was a finalist in the 2001 ,European Womans Achievements Award.
Twenty-six years have already passed since the European Piano Teachers Association was founded. As the founder of this remarkable association, can you tell us what your vision of EPTAs future was at that time?
EPTA was launched in March 1978 at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where I was a Piano Professor. When ESTA — European string Teachers Association — was founded by Yehudi Menuhin and Prof Max Rostal (GSMD) in Guildhall School, with one of my colleagues and good friend, viola professor Nannie Jamieson, as Organising Secretary, I thought that we pianists ought to set up our own association.
Nannie was very helpful and gave me some good advice on what was needed to begin with so, I went to the Principal at the time, Allen Percival, who became quite interested and offered his full support. lo begin with, I wrote about 20 letters to pianists and teachers of repute who, to my astonishment, not only agreed to be part of it, but also got more friends and colleagues interested. We had a preliminary meeting with some 20 musicians and, without delay we formed the first committee. Sidney Harrison (Professor at the Royal Academy) became Chairman and I wanted to be the Organising Secretary, so that I could really get on with the job of building the new association. Our aim was to make it a truly European organisation.
Within a short time, we organised the First International Conference, in July 1978, when for the first time pianists and teachers were able to meet colleagues from other parts of the country and from other countries. The enthusiasm and the excitement were quite extraordinary, SO many friendships were forged, and more and more members joined. Their Christmas greetings were: “See you next Summer at EPTA Conference”.
The enormous success of EPTA was due to the need at the time for such communication and also for pianists and teachers to meet more often, to have exchanges as we all needed to learn from one another otherwise there would be no progress
At first only EPTA UK could exist but once EPTA ICELAND was rounded we could become ‘legally’ European. From then on, EPTA just grew and grew, so now there are 39 EPTA National Associations, the whole of Europe.
Did your expectations come true?
EPTA’s development was beyond any expectation. Our seminars and annual conferences presented varied and interesting programmes, many International artists supported EPTA, and, as a result we all developed as teachers and performers.
The launching of the PIANO JOURNAL was another important development. The first editor was Sidney Harrison and when he died in 1986, I took over and edited it until 1996 when Malcolm Troup became editor. I published about 50 interviews with great artists of our time and this policy still continues.
Another contributing factor was the of EPTA Centre of Information founded in 1980, when I offered my Pedagogical Library containing many books on the subject, music, records, journals (curator Frank Martin). [t includes now the first VIDEOS in the UK, with artists performing at EPTA Conferences — thus these historical videos can pe studied only at this centre, now at the Chetham’s School of Music Library.
Was it through your work for the EPTA that you also became interested in the study of the tension in performance?
I don't really think there should be any changes with regard to the system. The methods, which have been used by generations of great pedagogues, have certainly produced so many pianists with extraordinary skill and artistry. Yet, these Olympic pianistic achievements take their toll and many, very many pianists who strive towards such feats pay a heavy price, injuring their bodies and muscles.
The number of physical injuries among pianists — and other instrumentalists for that matter — seems to be constantly on the increase.
If there are to be any changes — these demand a change of attitude.
There is great concern with the WELLBEING of the pianist, while practising and performing.
When I started teaching at the GSMD I became aware of a barrier which most students created between their musical intentions and the execution. This was caused by physical and psychological negative TENSIONS, by stiffening their joints and muscles and worrying about their performances. Of course they could not give their best under such conditions. They managed to play well at the lessons or in their nome but once they found themselves on a platform, well, we all know what can happen.
I started to research the phenomenon of Tension and I found that many colleagues were just as concerned as I was and I collected several responses in a book, TENSION IN THE PERFORMANCE OF MUSIC, a symposium with a foreword by Yehudi Menuhin, and with contributions by musicians and psychologists. This led to the founding of ISSTIP.
There are a number of relaxation techniques and methods that help prevent and heal the problems of musicians. However, you have developed your own technique.
Yes, there are many Relaxation Techniques and most disciplines such as Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Tai chi, etc — which I highly recommend — I believe that every musician should study in depth one of these — but all these demand lengthy studies away from the instrument.
Tension has been a sort of obsession as I meet IT again and again — and I wanted to find a coping technique to help pianists — and other performers — AT THE MOMENT OF PERFORMANCE, at that crucial moment when they are on the platform facing the audience.
Well, I was fortunate to have evolved the Grindea Technique’, this One or Two minutes technique which is extraordinarily effective, it brings stillness in the body and to the mind.
“Carola Grindea’s Method made my body weightless but my mind was perfectly clear. [he secret was a perfectly balanced body devoid of negative, harmful tensions but brimming with positive, pulsating energy and adrenalin, essential to an inspired performance. “
Sue Arnold, Observer Magazine
Do these techniques also help reduce stage fright?
Well, Grindea technique helps to a great extent, particularly at the moment of performance. Veep EXHALATION Its the answer, the antidote to any physiological response to fear, or anxiety — trembling of hands, knees, palpitations, etc AND by bringing that stillness in the mind even for that one minute, the anxiety is not focal, it becomes marginal, so the performer can give his whole being to recommend at that moment to concentrate on the MOOD, the character of the theme, and observe all the modulations, the mind being concerned only with the music. It is possible, and, of course, most artists achieve it. If nerves come again, just breathe out whenever you can!
How many patients have you examined so far at the ISSTIP Clinic? What are the common problems?
At the ISSTIP Performing Arts Clinic we have worked with — and helped — more than 1000 musicians. Besides those with medical conditions, the majority of problems were caused by negative tension and obviously, due to the lack of knowledge of teachers on now to prevent such problems through correct usage of their body and muscles. The most common condition is known as ‘tendinitis’, an inflammation of the tendon or ‘tenosynovitis’, inflammation of the tendon sheath.
it was so interesting to note that when the body is in that perfect state of balance, with correct posture — through Grindea technique — all pain or discomfort seems to vanish. The difficulty and the hard work is to maintain this well-being while practising for many hours, but, pianists learn to use a ‘healthy piano technique’ with MOVEMENTS in harmony with the body (physiologically correct) and this is not a fast process. It takes time to re-educate the whole motor/ sensory system. The movements have to become part of the automatic processes, what are known as ‘reflex actions’.
You are one of the few people in the world capable of curing focal dystonia - even many specialized doctors cannot win the battle with this injury. What is focal dystonia?
I have encountered quite a few pianists (and other instrumentalists) suffering from Focal Dystonia known as The Cramp — which is actually an “incoordination”. The messages from the brain to the muscles are not obeyed, the flexor muscles are overactive while the extensors do not respond, thus when the pianist flexes his fingers (in most cases 4 or 5) under the palm, he cannot extend them. Unfortunately, this condition afflicts more and more pianists and, in my view, the main cause is NEGATIVE TENSION, but it develops into a neuro-physiological condition and demands a slow process of re-education first to ‘de-programme’ the brain computer of the old patterns then to re -programme’ it introducing a new pattern, i.e. learning to use a NEW group of muscles to execute the new movements in their piano technique.
As to the approach I use, it is based on my approach to piano playing using a healthy piano technique’. First we work on ‘liberating the body and mind of any tension’, then introduce the correct movements, but, I also have to include certain exercises for each individual case.
In general, most pianists with dystonia have played for many years ‘hitting’ the keys vertically with their finger TIPS. They have to learn to play with elongated fingers, almost flat, level with the keys, and grip gently the key with the pad of the finger, pressing the key while drawing the finger towards the palm. The most important aspect demands that while doing this exercise with every finger, the wrist and arm must remain in a state of BALANCE with ZERO tension. The moment any stiffness occurs, the whole purpose is defeated.
Piano playing demands strong, flexible fingers, which can move with ease and freedom, but ONLY when the rest of the arm is in that perfect state of BALANCE. While piano technique demands great volume of sound, this can be produced, of course, but once the action has been done, the arms: joints and muscles must revert to the balanced state, thus to ZERO tension.
Under norma! circumstances, most pianists are able to acquire the new approach with ease, in a relatively short time and they begin to enjoy their performances once they gain the confidence that they can play better! — But, with focal dystonia, the processes are slower. To eradicate old patterns is a slower process, particularly for the pianist to ‘think finger’ to trigger the old condition.
Therefore, enormous patience is demanded and the pianist must trust his teacher and his own work to continue this slow study. Quite a few, most of them not good pianists, or only amateurs, find that once they can play again, although not totally cured, they are satisfied. But the advanced or professional ones carry on and several have come pack to their careers.
In the last academic year you were director of the first courses in the UK to train future Music Medicine Therapists. How do you see the future development of Music Medicine?
The first courses have made an enormous impact on both the musical and the medical profession, and now with some 22 music medicine therapists already active in the field, British music medicine is rapidly advancing. My most fantastic dreams are now true — at last. Many Music Colleges are incorporating Health and the Musicians’ modules in their undergraduate curricula. In the future, all students should study these problems and the coping techniques available so that they will know how to cope with their own problems and what is most NEEDED, how to protect their future pupils’ bodies and muscles to avoid such problems.
Interview by Damjana Zupan
damjana.zupan @siol.net and in Slovenian Music Magazine MUSKA, May/June 2004.