Upon Seeing My First Banyan Tree Florida 1991

Could it be a pack of giants frolicking together in the sun? Or perhaps a wildly grotesque scene painted by a hallucinating artist? 

I see multi legged giraffes dancing, now web footed animals intertwining around each other, and now, unfathomably strange but inviting creatures who one might see in the next big children’s fantasy movie. I see as of yet uninvented types of musical instruments. I look further and see underground tunnels leading to distant secret caves. I look up close and see the intricate weavings of a fine craftsman. I look from a distance and see myriad intriguing designs – with some lines completely straight, others twisted and turned in every possible direction. I see geometric shapes of every size and variety, amid colors and textures that vary from segment to segment. 

I am looking at a tree, a banyan tree. It is a tree to be lauded and to be reckoned with. A tree to behold, to play on, to imagine about, and to dance and sing about. A tree to be inspired by and to praise God by: Blessed Art Thou, oh Lord, creator of the universe, who has allowed me to stand in wonder in front of this marvel of yours. 

The tour guide of the Thomas Edison Winter Home in Fort Myers Florida tells me that this tree is sixty six years old, and that its mother seed is 1000 years old. Look: No generation gap! The oldest trunks and the youngest shoots stand side by side, all part of the same sprawling mass. The baby threads descend from the upper branches to continue the growth of the tree while their parents and grans hold down the fort, all fulfilling the genetic instructions of their ancestors. 

The tour guide goes on to say that banyan means marketplace in the Indian language. The tree serves as the physical setting for some of India’s marketplaces, since it can accomodate vendors and their wares in its numerous niches. Wait! Suddenly I hear a sitar playing, I smell pungent spices, see women in colorful saris, walking to and from the banyan tree with arms filled with vegetables, rice, and spices. I see people bargaining with merchants, someone giving an impassioned political speech, others chanting prayers…all of this happening inside the umbrella of the banyan tree. 

Once again, my mind returns to being present in Fort Myers. As I walk around the tree, I hear the approaching visitors’ comments: “This is incredible”, “This can’t be one tree, can it?”, and “This is the most amazing sight I have ever seen.” I see people paying homage to the tree through the clicking of their cameras. And I think that perhaps things are not as bad as they may seem. That, in this era of high tech everything, where people yawn at the news of travel to the moon and where we regularly rely on computers to guide our every step, I am joyous that people can still be in awe of a tree. 

May this banyan tree continue to live, to grow, to thrive, and to inspire people for many generations to come.

The Value of Music and the Arts

I recently discovered a paper about the arts written by my mother, of blessed memory, when she was 18 years of age. Here are a few excerpts that Bessie Walinsky wrote in 1936:

“As an omission of an ingredient in cooking detracts from the savoriness of a meal, so would life be deprived of all the aesthetic beauties by lacking in an element which makes for the complete enjoyment of life. Art is a sympathetic, inspiring, and spiritual attraction which adds to the beauty and colorful portion of domestic and foreign homes.”


“Man’s contribution towards a fuller and more complete enjoyment of life has never surpassed his discovery and use of music. Music can invade our very beings and instill us with a light and free feeling, a dark and ponderous sensation, or a laughing and felicitous mood. What more
enjoyment could one ask?”

My mom captured it so well. The arts enliven. They incentivize us to live life to the fullest. They are at the heart and soul of an emotionally and spiritually rich life. Many people are drawn to create and to express themselves through the arts – from the cavemen painting on rocks to the composers creating extraordinary symphonies and the visual artists creating complex masterpieces. To paraphrase my mother, expression in the arts encompasses the full range of human emotion and experience – from the depths of despair to unbridled joy, from sadness and fear to happiness and security, from anxiety to lightheartedness. Great works of art convey these feelings with authenticity, uniqueness, and creativity.
The consumers of the arts – the listeners, viewers, audience members, museum attendees, moviegoers, etc. – find it emotionally, spiritually, aesthetically, and intellectually rewarding to experience the works that have been created by these artists. The artists give voice to people’ feelings and experiences. And especially in challenging times such as the ones we are living in, the arts serve as a source of hope and solace for many people.

Without a doubt, the arts have been and remain a vital part of people’s lives throughout human history, throughout the entire world. May the arts continue to flourish freely and continue to be a source of strength and inspiration to us all.

How I Overcame Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

It was 1996. I had just published my first solo album, ​Music From Many Places​, and played several concerts, including a two night stint at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center for the Arts, in D.C. And then….my fingers and wrists were hurting and felt frozen. I realized that playing the piano was bringing on these symptoms, and I was afraid that my budding solo career had just gotten stopped dead in its tracks. I immediately cancelled the three or four concert bookings that were scheduled in the upcoming months. Instead of following through on perspective bookings, my first priority became dealing with this situation.

My first stop was to a surgeon, who, after trying a few other things, wound up having me take a nerve conduction test – an incredibly painful experience for me. Sure enough, when I went back to the surgeon – a super nice person, who was a real music enthusiast – he reported that the test showed I had severe carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands, and that the only option for me was to have surgery. I replied that I wasn’t ready to do that, and that I wanted to look around and see if there were any other approaches that I might try first. That was 24 years ago.

It turns out that there were all kinds of healing modalities claiming to improve carpal tunnel syndrome, and I tried quite a few of them. I bought into the idea that I had gotten CTS because I was not utilizing my body properly both at the piano and with other activities as well. It made sense to me that unless I changed the way I was using my hands and my body that, even if I had successful carpal tunnel surgery, I would wind up recreating the same problem.

I actually spent four or five years going to a variety of different practitioners. I first went for sessions with a chiropractor, then with a physical therapist, and then with an acupuncturist. These sessions were all helpful to some extent, but my CTS symptoms remained basically the same. I then learned about “body workers” of various kinds, and went to practitioners of Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, Egoscue, and Rolfing. These were all excellent approaches, with talented practitioners, and by this time my carpal tunnel symptoms were minimal. But the fact is that when I went back to playing technically demanding piano pieces, my symptoms returned. I was able to play club dates and play piano for parties, but was unable to do any heavy lifting technically at the piano without carpal tunnel repercussions.

Finally, I discovered the Taubman Technique and the person who became my teacher for a number of years, Sheila Paige. Sheila, a classical pianist, had learned the techniques of healthy playing from her teacher, Dorothy Taubman, who had figured out how pianists could play even the most technically demanding piano pieces without taxing the body in any way. Sheila expanded on what became known as the Taubman Technique, and also incorporated some of the teachings of Feldenkreis, Alexander Technique, and Egoscue to form her Piano Wellness approach. In a future post, I will explain some of the features of Sheila Paige’s Piano Wellness, but suffice it to say that from my studies with Sheila, I was finally able to regain the ability to play technically demanding piano pieces without injuring my hands.

I am extremely grateful for the techniques I have learned that enable me to now function pianistically at the highest level of my performing career.