The Essence of Taubman
What is the essence of Taubman technique? If Dorothy Taubman herself didn’t say or communicate a particular thing, does that mean that it can’t be essential to the technique that, after all, bears her name?
My position will be that even if she herself never mentioned a thing it could still be essential and even critical to her technique. “Essence” is sometimes just a formulation that serves a particular community, a formulation that becomes hopelessly intertwined with its subtexts and predispositions. Just ask an anthropologist. (In fact, there is a particular anthropologist, Henry Kingsbury, who lived amongst the musicians in a mid-western conservatory for his doctoral research in the eighties. You might find his book about the experience, Music, Talent, and Performance: A Conservatory Cultural System, quite interesting.) On the other hand, in this age of interdisciplinary study, perhaps the pianist community would benefit from more free exchange with other areas of intellectual theorization, and quite possibly enjoy renewed attention from the larger world as a result.
I personally owe a debt of gratitude to those teacher-pianists who, having studied at great length with Dorothy, have worked to conserve her vision and to protect it from being compromised. If no one did this work, we would have lost Dorothy’s profound vision for playing the piano before understanding it. However, if thoughtful non-concert-pianists knowledgeable of her work could possibly enlighten us using concepts and language to which Dorothy didn’t even have access (for example, from the fields of cognitive science? educational psychology? biomechanics?), perhaps new avenues of exploration might open, making her insights easier to grasp and exciting a broader range of people to develop a fascination with the piano again.
Taubman technique is a pedagogy, and it is a science. The two go hand in hand. If a pedagogy illumines a science, great! If (the science already having been illumined) a different pedagogy leads to a faster understanding of how to apply that science, even better! For me in this particular article, the science of the technique is the central concern rather than the existing pedagogies (even if Taubman herself devised them) because when the science is understood, new and useful pedagogies can be imagined that help more people more quickly. Since people learn in all kinds of ways and have all kinds of personality attributes, this can only be a good thing.
Taubman herself defined her technique’s fundamentals in terms of how-to’s of forearm rotation and of the changing location of the hand/wrist/arm “unit” in space. I would argue that even a rudimentary understanding of how these primary movement types should feel and why they are necessary would make the technique much easier to absorb and implement effectively, and within a relatively short period of time for many, too. (A link to a page about theories of muscular coordination is forthcoming.) It’s not that I don’t completely buy what I take to be her notion of how to play the piano for practically any student. Quite to the contrary!–as will be evident from what follows.