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Laurie Trlak

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

November 28, 2009 at 2:05 PM

After finally gaining control over my bow again thanks to Botox injections in my right hand, I've had to admit it: I've lost technique. Too much time has gone by. My bowing has suffered, my fingering has suffered. I have timing problems between my right hand and my left. This is even evident in my typing, as I constantly have to go back and re-type words due to missing or reversed letters because my fingers can't quite coordinate with each other. Some of that is the Botox; it does create the disadvantage of paralyzing the muscle controlling the middle finger on my right hand, so that I can't use it for typing (or much of anything else but bowing).

Some of the problems I have are undoubtedly due to MS, although I try not to blame everything on MS, tempting as it is. As far as the typing goes, I can say without reservation that I used to be able to type 100 words a minute with two mistakes on an IBM Selectric, back in the day, and on an old manual, 80 words a minute, for what it's worth (and yes, I'm dating myself!). So some of this is definitely a combination of MS and Botox!

As regards the violin, it's hard to say how much is the MS and how much is just me. When I think back to when I first re-started, my teachers all thought I held a lot of promise, and I progressed rapidly. I seemed to be able to solve problems intuitively, and I always came to my lessons prepared, and that was as an adult! Lately, I can't seem to find my way around the simplest problems, whether it's performing a shift to effect a harmonic, or dealing with a tricky double-stop. I seem to be taking forever to learn a piece, where I used to learn them in a reasonable amount of time.

At any rate, my teacher has decided bring me back to some easier pieces to give me a chance to relearn some basic skills. So at this time I am learning Purcell's G minor Sonata. Coordinating the fingers of my left hand with my bow in the allegro is the challenge in this piece. Keeping my left hand relaxed so that my fingers can move freely is not easy for me. And of course, the harder I "try" to relax that hand, the tenser it becomes. Moving the bow rapidly back and forth between strings cleanly is another thing I have had to relearn, and it is so frustrating to have to go over this ground again. I wonder if I will ever learn to play this instrument well.

I wonder, do other violinists experience setbacks such as this? Is this a common thing? I find it somewhat embarrassing, but perhaps it's a healthy thing as well, a humbling experience, a reminder that I'm never as good as I think I am. I just hope that the result will be that I will become a better violinist and a better musician as a result.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 7:07 PM

Well I don,t know if you call this a comeback but at the beginning of each practice session, I have the impression I've lost everything due to freezing hands and stiff + bad body memory. I have to rework my bow strokes and vibratos everytime!!!   I always do baby stuff each day even if I'm not suppose to be at baby stage anymore. But my sound, when controled, is generally more mature and more analysed than some students of my level (usually comments that I have on my playing).   So I guess going back everyday is overall paying. If I would not have my warming problems, I wouldn't go back on basics as much as it would be too tempting to jump on the hard stuff right away...   Maybe I would be better technically but my sound would be worst.   I don't have MS but my bad coordination sometimes creates problems as you told???  

Good luck with everything!  You are an example of courage for all!


From Laurie Trlak
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 9:20 PM

Thanks Anne-Marie. I think we all have to remember the basics constantly to some degree. That is oneof the things that makes this instrument so hard! I remember seeing an interview with Sarah Chang in which she said that paying attention to the basics was something she had to do constantly. But this is something different for me. It's really a case where I've just lost technique, in part because when I first was diagnosed I wasn't playing at all for two or three years because I felt so awful and had no energy. When I did start playing again I had forgotten a great deal, due to memory problems; and then the muscle and coordination problems themselves contributed even more. I feel that I've made some progress in the three years since I started taking lessons again, but it's been much slower than I would have wanted. But your comments are very encouraging.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on November 28, 2009 at 9:36 PM

Sure MS is much more severe than normal condition. I didn't know that the 'lost" of technique you talked about was due to 2-3 years without playing.  I just replied about the "anyone also goes back to easier things sometimes?" Any degeneration problem is surely not easy to deal with and bravo to find the strengh to play!

Good luck again!


From Elinor Estepa
Posted on November 29, 2009 at 3:39 PM

It's happening to me, the going back thing. From May to July, I have no teacher, and I have no idea what to do, when I finally found a teacher, we don't know what to do, we tried to pick up what the last teacher left, but definitely didn't work out, so we decided to forget about the last teacher and start anew. To do it, I have to go back to previous, old piece that I have already played, concentrating on  most on slow mvt piece, that is accdg to the new teacher, is a bit of my prob on my bow hand, I don't mind going back as a sort of a review, but I found out that I need a lot of work on controlling my bow, I was frustrated and enlightened at the same time, a bit of annoyed too, but I guess, that goes in a "Eureka moment" that I have to go back to all the time to give my self a solid foundations to go was a process but I am glad I gave myself that room, now I am enjoying the violin and its music more.

Be patience, it will pay off, your courage and braveness are so contagious to us, you should be proud of yourself.

God Bless,


From simon lyn
Posted on November 30, 2009 at 2:21 AM

 Hey Laurie - I think you have the essential element - the *desire*! With desire many obstacles can be overcome, sometimes by unconventional means. What some may see as a setback perhaps you may see as an opportunity. I returned to the violin after nearly twenty years and there's an excitement in going back to the basics fresh, committing to really understand the basics and take pleasure in developing them. Honestly there are some aspects of my technique that are stronger today than any time in the past, and each day there's a little revelation. I would also perhaps put pieces to the side for now or just play through for fun, so you can give your whole mental focus to the slow and deliberate mastery of the fundamentals.

BTW I can recommend Simon Fischer's 'Basics' and 'Practice' for this purpose - may have also enjoyed Todd Ehle's YouTube series:

I also use YouTube to listen a lot to my violin heroes, this kind of gives my brain a guide when it's trying to figure out where my violin sound should be heading.

...but the main ingredient is the desire, the love of this instrument, I hope you will enjoy your journey and the unique emotions your violin can create.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on December 3, 2009 at 6:36 AM

You deserve tremendous praise and respect for going back to the violin and staying with it despite all your problems.  I'm glad you're not too shy or self-conscious to write about your experiences here.  As Anne-Marie said, you are an inspiration to all of us. 

One of my students is an adult re-beginner.  He came to me with the goal of relearning and improving his technique.  He has achieved a lot, but he also has setbacks when he tries to play the basics.  Sometimes he cuts his lesson short because he realizes that he needs more practice before he can benefit from a lesson.  I admire him for his determination and perseverance.  He doesn't get discouraged and quit.  He just keeps working, and he improves.  In these ways, he reminds me of you, even though he doesn't have MS or use Botox.  He is a good role model, just as you are.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on December 4, 2009 at 5:46 PM

Laurie - you are truly an inspiration to all of us.  Keep trying to acheive your goals.  As one who comes from a family in which MS seems to run (grandmother, mother, maternal first cousin) and has cut down professional quality musicians in their prime (grandmother and mother), I wholly sympathize and my heart goest out to you.

It seems to me that you may want to discuss your issues with the neurologist overseeing your treatment.  MS is quirky, and there may be some adjustments to your treatment that might help.  You might also discuss with the neurologist whether physical therapy might be of some assistance.  Good luck, and keep us updated. 

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