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.
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.
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.
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.
I admire your courage and determination. We must take each day as it comes and get the most from it. Stay strong!
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.
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.
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 (
Along the lines of custom-molding chinrests, I have done my own.
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.
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