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Elana Lehrer


June 19, 2009 at 8:16 PM

 The only thing more insane than needing shoulder surgery once, is needing shoulder surgery twice.  Particularly if you're a violinist, particularly if it's the SAME operation because the first surgeon did it incorrectly the first time, and particularly if you got both operations in less than 4 years of one another, all within your 20s.

I studied with a teacher who once told me, "if you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans."  I didn't really know what he meant by it at the time, but right now, as I'm only 12 weeks post-op and unable to play yet, I think I have a pretty good grasp on those words.

Fortunately, in my culture, there is a word called Dafka.  It can have many meanings, but one of them means strong and stubborn.  Also "in spite of."  It is not always a desirable trait, but one I'm told I had in spades, growing up.  Right now, I am grateful for whatever combination of genetics allowed me to be so stubborn.  Because--here is the most insane part--it seems like the more operations I've needed, and even now, unable to play at all, that I am more determined and convinced than ever to be a violinist.  The threat of having something taken away from you seems to add a broader depth to musical interpretation (so I think).  Is this insanity?  Or just Dafka?

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on June 19, 2009 at 11:42 PM

wishing you a speedy recovery..

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 19, 2009 at 11:27 PM

Hi, I'm like you in a way!  I am even about the same age. I am very fortunate to not have shoulder problems but I have other physical problems (like near 0 coordination and very weak for the violin). Maybe it is not surgery, I know, but I often feel very disabled! (Maybe we all do:)  But I do tell myself that I have to try even harder and that no matter what, I will have the sound I want and not the one life gives naturally to me... :) one day (I hope I'm not telling myself lies to stay motivate...  I am scare that yes, but how can I stay motivate otherwise)   Lies or not I am definitivly better that if I would say to myself that it is impossible for me etc...  It gives something.  Sometimes, when one has it hard for one reason or another one become really devoted and stuburn.  Look Perlman...   I think he is an example of this at the professionnal level.  The story you tell when you play becomes one of courage and faith (in whatever, can even say in music itself).  I am told that I compensate very well all those by a mature sound for a student.  Well, I'm sure there is a way to overcome.  

All this to say that, yes, living things like you do certainly pushes someone in a very special way to succed and leads to... stuburness (not always negative :)


From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 22, 2009 at 12:53 AM


What an inspiring blog! Sorry to hear your shoulder problems, but your perseverance is both touching and making perfect sense. Some of us are lucky enough to be motivated and even thriving when face with challenges.  I can certainly relate to this.  I always thank those who told me that I couldn’t because there’s nothing more effective than receiving these doubts to get me going just to prove they were wrong.  I absolutely can't stand it when I hear it, but I always love the final results.  They say this is true with the fruits on a tree: the harder for us to reach, the sweeter the fruit it tastes. I'll say, hardship builds character, and in the end of the day, that's what really counts in terms of having a meaningul and happy life, isn't it?



From Ray Randall
Posted on June 22, 2009 at 12:59 AM

I had shoulder surgery a few years ago because I could not hold the violin up for more than a few minutes. The arm would tire and drop. They found a massive tear in the Labrum/rotator cuff and some Arthritiis which he cleaned out. The good doc semi promised me 90 to 95% mobility and strength after the surgery. He was wrong, I have maybe 110% at least. I was in a sling for almost three months and couldn't lift my arm up to play for about five months at least. I couldn't be happier now.

The doctor said the major key to good recovery is a very good therapist. He said without a really good therapist all his work would go down the drain. I had a superb one that made all the difference. Hang in there and be sure and do the therapy exercises religeously no matter how much they hurt. On second thought, the therapist said if it hurt too much I was pushing too hard or doing something incorrectly. Hang in there, good luck.

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on June 22, 2009 at 3:25 AM


I just wanted to say thanks for all of your motivating and inspiring comments.  Yixi, I soo agree that the best revenge to doubters and those you say "you can't" is to just quietly pursue your dreams... and prove them all wrong.

Ray (your name is my middle name by the way, neat), while I am very sorry to hear you had those problems, your story gives me so much hope.  It is taking me much longer this time to play again.  That is because the surgeon did a more thorough job and tightened the muscles better (fingers crossed).  I'm freaking out that I still can't play, but you went even longer and now play 110% better.  So, thanks for sharing your story and the reminder that taking awhile to recover can actually be a good thing.  I agree re: physical therapist.  I've known mine for about 4 years now, and she's like a 2nd mommy, teehee.  She's been great about working with me even after my insurance ran out.  And that has been key to my recovery.

I love being surrounded by positive people.  I just wrote this post jotting down my thoughts and didn't really "expect" any responses.  So I'm really touched that you all took the time to share your hope.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 22, 2009 at 4:45 AM

Elena, I love the concept of Dafka.  I have a lot of it, too. 

I have a story similar to Ray's.  I had a 60 year old beginner student. She has been singing, dancing, and playing music all her life and was already familiar with the principles of music.  She had tried taking fiddle lessons at summer camps several times, but she got nowhere.  When I first began to teach her, she could only play for a few minutes before her right shoulder cramped and hurt too much to continue.  She had had rotator cuff surgery a few years before, and that was causing the pain.  Her husband is a physical therapist, and when she practiced and started feeling pain in her shoulder, he would massage it so she could play a little longer.  Eventually she could play for long periods of time without her shoulder cramping.  Her shoulder hurt her the least when she played on the A and D strings, so I had her stick to those two strings for a while.  I even transposed and rearranged some pieces she liked so that she could play them on those two strings.  After a while, she started playing just a little on the E and G strings, and gradually increased the time she could do that.  Like most beginners, she found it easiest to play near the middle of the bow, but unlike most beginners, she found it very tiring to play with more of her bow.  She said that was because she had not used her shoulder muscles much since the surgery.  I told her to try increasing the length of her bowstrokes gradually and to stop whenever she had pain.  For two weeks she played nothing but scales every day, gradually using more of her bow.  After that, she could use her whole bow or any part of it comfortably.  This is the first instance I'm aware of in which playing the violin was physical therapy for an injury and surgery. 

Elena, I hope you regain full use of your shoulder without pain in a short time.

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