Updated: Oct 22
August 28, 2023
“So tell me what’s bothering your hand?” Dr. Santo asked as she gently took my hand and inspected it, turning it every which way.
“It aches and hurts whenever I practice the piano,” I replied.
Dr. Santo looked thoughtful. “Tell me everything that you are involved with at the Academy that uses your hands.”
Not really wanting to answer her question, I said, “I’m taking violin lessons, orchestra, piano lessons, and computer keyboarding lessons.”
In a compassionate yet crisp voice, Dr. Santo said, “Well, you will just have to drop an instrument for a while. Look here at your right hand. See this small purple bruise? That’s internal bleeding, and your hand needs time to heal.”
My young, 9th grade heart sank. Drop an instrument? Music was my heartbeat! I couldn’t just stop playing music.
So for a whole summer between 9th and 10th grade, I didn’t practice the piano. In a way, I enjoyed the break, but I looked wistfully at our gentle, old upright that Mom bought with her saved garage sale money.
The summer ended, and I resumed my piano studies but in a severely limited fashion. I couldn’t practice much and had to take many breaks. Many times, I remember running upstairs to the bathroom and filling the sink full of hot water. I plunged my hands into the hot water, and my muscles started to relax in the steamy water.
Not long after the “summer of no piano” my parents bought a brand new, beautiful Yamaha baby grand through a local university discount program. I could not have been happier to have such an amazing instrument in our music room! (This piano now graces my living room, in case you are wondering).
The only challenge with our new piano was that it was much “stiffer” than our old, gentle upright. I could practically whisper to that old girl, and she’d sing. The new Yamaha demanded a strong and yet knowledgeable touch. Tears flowed as I tried to learn this new, commanding instrument. My hands and forearms ached as I tried to practice on the new piano.
Amidst breaks, I sat on the piano bench in our family’s beautiful music room, the stately home of the new Yamaha. I looked thoughtfully out the bay window at the knobby mountain laurel sitting peacefully on the hill. The laurel’s branches seemed to match my seemingly stiff and rigid hands.
“Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why do my hands hurt so much when I play the piano? Doesn’t God know that I want to be a music major in college?” These questions arose in my heart not out of anger but sadness.
Even though at the time I really did not know my God very well nor did I understand His love for me, God helped me to trust Him and see that He had a purpose for this trial in my life. My heart was so sad about my inability to play the piano fully, but God helped me to see that He had a purpose for my life and my music.
Fast forward twenty years, and my piano playing has changed. My amazing high school piano teacher, Dr. Lori Turcios, was the turning point in my piano playing. Through her tutelage, I learned an ergonomic approach to the piano which I still employ to this day. Dr. Turcios taught me how to engage my entire arm and even my whole body to achieve a unified approach to the piano without taxing the small muscles in my hands.
I’ve also learned to relax while playing the piano. Stress and tension are two of the greatest enemies to successful piano playing without pain. I used to strive for perfection, and that mad pursuit made me incredibly tense. By shifting my mindset and focusing on doing my personal best (mistakes included), I’ve learned to relax and simply enjoy the process of making music. I am not a perfect pianist and never will be. So why not enjoy the process of music making in the most painless way possible?
Also, I have simply learned to accept my limits. I’ve come to grips with the fact that practicing for hours at a time is not possible for me (with kids, that’s out of the question anyways!). Huge, majestic piano pieces filled with grand octave chords will not be in my repertoire. Constant right-hand octaves in hymn-playing are simply not feasible for me.
As I look back on my life, I see how God was shaping me, molding me even through these struggles with my hands. One of the blessings of this trial was the birth of a concept for hymn arrangements with only small intervals.
The idea for a series entitled “Small Hands, Beautiful Sounds” came to me as I thought of other piano players who also struggled to play the large chords of traditional hymn arrangements. The “Small Hands, Beautiful Sounds” series is specifically designed with the small-handed pianist in mind and only uses small intervals (a sixth or less). For those unfamiliar with the piano, that means that the pianist will not be required to stretch her hand in any way for these arrangements.
Just last week, I published my first volume of “Small Hands, Beautiful Sounds” hymn arrangements. I am so thrilled to present this volume for other church pianists!
Though the pieces are written for small hands, “Small Hands, Beautiful Sounds Volume 1” is enjoyable for any church pianist. This volume has been thoughtfully curated and can carry the church pianist through the entire year and includes an arrangement for each of the major holidays: Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The following six classic hymns are found in this volume:
I Must Tell Jesus
Just As I Am
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners (can also be played at Christmas as Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus)
Come, Ye Thankful People Come
Beauty for ashes…the oil of joy for mourning…
Through pain, I see the start of something good. Through hurt, I see God’s purposes. Through struggle, I see God allowing me to help others. Something that seemed like such a limitation has become a blessing as I write and arrange music.
Friend, is there something in your life that seems like a limitation? How is God using that trial to shape and mold you? Never forget that God is always working, even through difficulties, for His glory and for our good!
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