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All right, enough procrastinating.
Who knows when it all started. What I do know is that I have had two years of playing and performing piano with virtually no break at all. I have also been accompanying too many people. I now know that I have, without a doubt, a limit. This is where it starts to get a little embarrassing. I should've known. I did know that I had a limit. But in all honesty I didn't know what to do. I love playing, I love experiencing new music, I love working especially with young musicians, and I absolutely adore performing - it's all downright addictive to me. I also suffer from what I think a lot of other accompanists suffer from - the overachieving accompanist syndrome. I live in a small town with two colleges music departments in my backyard. It's like living in the musical equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Yet there aren't many pianists in the area that can or will take on the work. We collaborators also typically love to swoop in and save the day - it's in our genes. And I don't want to leave out the economic side of all of this. I am a freelance pianist and an adjunct professor; my husband is in the beginning of starting up a private voice studio after his struggles in academia. We have no full-time job between the two of us so each musician I say yes to accompany becomes part of the patchwork that is our income. It is not easy to say no to work and it doesn't help when I happen to love what I do.
Back to my story...
This past December, as most people were headed to vacations and celebrations with family I was crazily putting together a solo piano recital since I had applied for a full time teaching position at the university where I've been working the past three years. I (wrongfully) assumed that I would make it into the final round of interviews (that's good fodder for another post) and would need to give a recital so I had one month in which to throw something together. At the same time I was preparing for that, I was also having to learn music for the upcoming onslaught of student recitals, which totaled around 25. (I am now letting out a groan in complete awareness of how I dug my own grave.) Since it was also my daughter's vacation I was doing my typical thing with her which more often than not consisted of wrestling and tickling each other. It was during one of those times that I felt something happen in my upper back and shoulder. I didn't think much of it at the time and I don't know that it would have become an issue had I not also been practicing so much, but it quickly became a problem and I started getting this horrible pit in the bottom of my stomach as I recognized that I would soon have a dilemma on my hands, pun completely intended.
Perhaps I should've stopped then. But it's so hard. I had agreed to play for over 20 recitals and countless other juries and smaller performances. It's not so easy to just call everyone up and say, "Sorry folks, can't play!" (I actually did call up a colleague to ask for help but she couldn't come up with any alternatives either.) This was not a simple matter - that's one of the things I want to get across in this blog post. I think it can be easy for people looking into a situation like this to simply shake their heads and dismiss a musician such as myself saying something like, "She did it to herself. She should have known to stop." One side of me agrees with this but when it's your life, what you love, your sole means of providing income for your family and when there aren't many, if any, that can do what you do? And then there's the fear that if you tell people what's going on you'll never be asked to play again. I'm telling you right now it is downright terrifying.
I chose to plow on as carefully as I could. I immediately found a chiropractor in town that I trusted, I told her my situation and she understood. We set up a plan to meet on a regular basis so that we could hopefully slow down and avoid any further damage. I also stopped practicing once I was done giving my solo recital. For the entire semester any playing I did was for rehearsals and performing. I did not see a doctor and I did not go to physical therapy - I relied instead on my chiropractor, advil, and arnica while religiously doing exercises that I learned from the chiropractor, the Internet, and from physical therapists I have had in the past.
Why did I not go to the doctor or to see a physical therapist? I have dealt with similar issues twice before, once when I was still in school and another time as an adult. The first time I had to stop playing I returned home to consult with a world-renowned hand doctor and surgeon in San Francisco. He referred me to physical therapy but after months of doing that and being miserable I still didn't feel any better. I returned to college, was approved to take non-musical classes while recovering and started seeing a chiropractor who also happened to be the organist at our church. In a month of seeing him my problems started to go away. By the next semester I was playing again pain-free. Later when I developed issues I again saw a chiropractor who was able to help me within weeks. That is why I didn't go to the doctors or to physical therapy this time. I hadn't had success the first time so I didn't want to potentially waste the time or the money. Keep in mind neither my husband or I have full-time jobs. Difficult choices have to be made.
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With all this said, I would ask that folks reading this be understanding and to not make comments that beat me up for how I've dealt with this most recent situation. Trust me - I've had plenty of that already from myself! Thank you.
For any musicians reading this who are experiencing pain while playing, know that you are not alone. There are a lot of resources and wonderful helpful people out there right now - find them, ask me, or look at the comments below! I am happy to help if I can and I'm hoping that people in the know will make some suggestions right here.
Here's to healthy playing!