For better or worse, moving east was a fresh start for me. The list of pros and cons is long, with the leading con being a drastically lessened performance career until very recently. 2014 saw a resurgence in ensemble playing, and I relished every rehearsal and performance, soaking in the sound and bringing that part of my heart back to life like some shriveled fruit suddenly doused in warm liquid.

2015 thus far has continued this trend, and I was so excited last week when a colleague asked me to fill in for him and play with the NPO at Strathmore. Great venue, excellent ensemble, and a monster program culminating in Beethoven 9, a.k.a Chops for 70 minutes with that one long slow movement that still manages to kick your ass.  I immediately began to practice it, taking special care to not shock my hand with a sudden uptick in repertoire intensity. I’ve been playing hard stuff (Popper, Dvorak, some Britten for my lessons with Shirl) for months, so I felt prepared.

Part of the “fresh start” out here involves my identity as cellist with injuries. In LA, pretty much everybody who knew me professionally knew about my struggles with nerve and tendon damage. Hell, half of the studio pros grew up with me and witnessed first-hand as I limped through performances, withdrew from competitions (mid-performance! that was fun!) and fail miserably to hold back tears as my fingers grew ever more numb. Out here, nobody knew. I had surgery Christmas Eve 2009 and was out here a little over 6 months later. My arm felt better, and my time at Hopkins gave me a little bit of a break from needing to use the thing all the time. In effect, I had a year and a half to heal, and through the beginning of 2013, it felt better every day.

That all changed Wednesday night, when I managed to re-injure my hand to such a degree that I had to withdraw from the wonderful Beethoven program. As I write this, my wrist is hot with pain; my hand, swollen and weak. I waited until Thursday morning, hoping aggressive ibuprofen and ice might restore things, but it was worse. I delivered the music to the orchestra director early, before the other musicians could see me in my disgrace.

Today, I received an email from my father (who does not yet know of this development) finally telling me what my childhood self has been wanting to hear: that he was proud of me for persevering through the pain. Of course I’ve done nothing of the sort. Pride: cancelled. Wound: still bleeding. Once again, just as something wonderful was starting to take shape, my body has other plans.

I can’t put on a brave face and claim anything other than abject disappointment. These things make me ask the big questions, and although decisions are usually best made after the tears have dried, I have little faith in medical intervention- and I’m running out of places I can run to make a fresh start.

So if your teacher tells you your hand is too tense, that the way you’re using your body will cause injury, is only a short term fix, or is unsustainable: please take it seriously, while you still have the option to play without pain. I would give anything to go back and do it all differently if I could.

I am absolutely grief stricken and humiliated.



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7 Responses

  1. I am so sorry! Be proud, friend, because you still get out of bed every day to face it, question it, and fight it. That’s where understanding and success live. All of the hugs and support from afar!!

  2. I grieve with you.

    I find I just can’t accept this, and want to fix it (sorry, total male reaction.) Otherwise, this is just too dark.

    I have a name to give you after this has healed some. We forget sometimes that musicians are athletes – we are athletes of the small muscles. But those muscles need proper balance and training when faced with the extraordinary task of big pieces. Rest is only the first step. Conscientious retraining is required.

  3. Please be kind to yourself. Injuries happen to musicians all the time. Yes, we are often hard on ourselves and “play through the pain,” but when the pain becomes too much, it is not a sign of our weakness to say “No” to our commitments.

    I wish you the best and that you find peace & healing.

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