Overcoming problems

September 26, 2022, 2:29 PM · It’s been almost a year since I accidentally slammed my bicycle into the back of a parked car and caused a forward displaced fracture of C 2 & 3 as well as some cracks to C1. The surgery fused C0, 1 & 2 into a single unit that limits my head rotation to less than half of normal. Had they added C3 (which was planned but it went back in place on its own) I would have virtually no head rotation.

There are a lot of C-Spine problems for violinists, but they are lower down in the C-Spine and usually have a negative effect on the use of the left arm and hand. It was recently noted that Mark Kaplan had that problem fixed recently.

Spending three months in a rigid collar followed by three months in a firm foam collar made it impossible to play the violin on my shoulder. I compensated by trying to play my violin like a cello. That did not work. So, I opted to play it like a mandolin making a “pick” out of a folded piece of cardboard. I could play for myself and maintain my left hand and intonation. Actually, my intonation improved a bit and that became part of my neural super-highway.

When the surgeon finally cleared me to resume playing on the shoulder, I realized that the fusion made it impossible to turn my head to the left as most violinists do. The old chinrest defied me, and, after some searching, I started using a Flesch-Flat which allows my chin to be to the right side of the tailpiece. That allows me to hold the violin slightly forward which, in turn, gives me an almost normal right/bow arm function and position. I can see the fingerboard using peripheral vision while my head remains 90 degrees to my shoulders. I’m still adjusting the neural superhighways that connects to my brain to my arms and hands allowing me to play.

Some of my non-musician friends wonder why I still work to play the instrument. They don’t seem to understand that as I approach 50 years of playing, despite the accident and osteoarthritis in my hands, I dread the day when I must put the violin aside permanently. I’m not giving up easily or any time soon.

There is something special about making music on your own, even if only for yourself, or in my case form me, my wife and the cats as well as the few students I assist.

All of this makes me realize that I’m not alone. There are a lot of fellow musicians who, despite setbacks, physical problems, psychological problems, and other types of problems will do whatever it takes to keep playing.

I think that there must be similar stories from you, my fellow musicians, about how you had to re-learn, adapt, adjust, and do all sorts of things just to keep playing.

Replies (10)

Edited: September 26, 2022, 3:22 PM · There's been a whole lot of argument and discussion on this website about "emotion" in the playing and in music itself. But your story says one thing to me: Despite your physical challenges, your ability to have emotion has not been damaged. So, whatever you are able to accomplish, not only do your best technically, but also play with emotion. It matters. And it will indeed connect with others.
September 26, 2022, 3:17 PM · Your story is encouraging to me. I have a chronic illness which is affecting my vision, coordination, and memory. I have recently attained what I think is the highest level of play possible given the limitations but I keep on with the lessons because there is always something to polish, always something new to learn (like tilting the bow opposite "normal" for three note chords). I have pretty much ended my development at Vivaldi G minor and the first movement of the Bach double concerto, neither of which is doable though I can play sections and cobble them together with a lot of changing of tempo. Second position continues to almost completely elude me. If I get into second position accurately it is an accident.

But this is enough. We can move laterally and not get more difficult pieces but just different ones of the same or lesser difficulty that still sound nice enough to keep me interested.

The point is to just keep on. The emotional upheaval that would be caused by quitting would be so devastating it would surely make my illness worse (it's an autoimmune disease that kills by stroke).

September 26, 2022, 4:50 PM · I am not the worlds greatest violinist ;) and I play other instruments but violin for all its difficulty comes first for me, even though its pain to play it with the osteoarthritis in my neck, it hurts when I play and gives me severe base of skull headache afterwards, but I cant give up.
September 26, 2022, 5:30 PM · I admire your courage and determination. We must take each day as it comes and get the most from it. Stay strong!
September 27, 2022, 2:11 PM · I wonder if it is possible in these cases to work with both a physiotherapist and a violin maker back and forth to adjust both the playing position and the violin setup to match the possibilities of the player without causing pain or damage.

That said, I have been taught a slightly different position of the violin. It is pointing almost straight forward, so that I do not really tilt my head to the left. Of course, that violin then has a high shoulder rest. Maybe this is also an aspect that could be adjusted - where to hold the violin and where to point the scroll to.

September 28, 2022, 9:28 AM · Thanks for the encouragement and comments. Have I used medical services to assist me in the return to the violin? Oh Yeah! I found a physical therapist in my medical providers operation that is a fellow violinist and she assisted me with ideas about how to position the violin as well as the Flat-Flesch suggestion.

Frederica: My head position isn't about tilting my neck. it is about turning my head. The fusion of the vertebrae allows me about five degrees rotation in either direction. The SR keeps my head up and the violin/jaw position keeps my "head on straight." My shoulders are parrallel with the music stand.

Sander: I remember my first lesson where my teacher said: "Music is the language of emotion." I don't know where the argument for unemotional playing is coming from. The least emotional music I have ever listened to was of Bach played via a computer program written my a Japanese programmer named Tomita. While it was interesting and curious, it was just a novelty. "Switched on Bach" died off quickly. Interestingly, despite its being unemotional in performance, parts of the Bach were emotion stimulating despite being electronically played by a computer - Bach could summon emotion in the lease emotional medium possible. Maybe that was the idea behind Cdr. Data's taking up the violin.

Music is the language of emotion. I tell my students that to this day because it is true. Even if the composers are decomposing, their music still needs to be played with human emotion.

September 28, 2022, 9:40 AM · I'm glad you've been able to return to playing, George. You might also consider if custom-molding a chinrest might allow better (or at least more comfortable) positioning. Frisch & Denig (LINK) will do fully custom chinrests.
Edited: September 28, 2022, 10:17 AM · Along the lines of custom-molding chinrests, I have done my own.

I had a sufficient quantity of mid-20th century German Stuber chinrests for all my instruments, but I had been wooed away my better sound when using a "cushioned" (i.e., "shock absorber") chinrest design about 15 years ago and donated all but 2 of my original Stubers to a local youth orchestra. The cushioned design turned out to be only a temporary fix and no a perfect fit to my jaw - so what to do?

#1 - I found a way to cushion my original Stubers the same way.
#2 - I found I was able to mold the shape of the Stuber using "The Impressionist" and I mounted it on the lowest, flattest chinrest I could find, the "Joachim" from Concord Music:

Although I used my original Stuber chnrest to create the mold for making the Stuber shape, the instructions for using The Impressionist are for moulding it to your own chin or jaw. The Impressionist is for sale by internet violin shops and ebay - just google "The Impressionist violin chinrest".

September 28, 2022, 12:57 PM · You don't need to turn your head when you play, I actually think you shouldn't turn your head when you play. I teach positioning of the violin with the head neither turned nor tilted.

Perhaps find a teacher who could teach you how to play while keeping your head straight?

Edited: October 5, 2022, 1:35 PM ·
I regret the difficulties that you've encountered. Life can really throw some fastballs.

A few years ago, I broke my left wrist, and that injury had the potential of thwarting me from any future violin playing.

Without a doubt, I credit my physical therapist for preventing that eventuality. With a broken wrist, setting the bones and having them heal is just the beginning. To maintain range of motion, the wrist must be properly exercised thereafter.

My physical therapist specialized in orthopedic rehabilitation, and he helped me with my broken wrist and also with other problems that I've encountered. With his help, my left wrist now has greater range of motion than my right. I was in his care, twice per week in the beginning, for about two months, or a little more. (He physically exercised the wrist himself, contorting it in various ways.) It was absolutely worth it.

So, I would recommend seeing a physical therapist with that or a similar specialty. I would always see a physician first. But, I know from experience that a good physical therapist can diagnose problems that a physician is unable to detect.

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