Some Bach and a Story

Executive Summary for the Squeamish

In January 2014 I had an injury to my right hand. We were not sure if I would be able to play my Chapman Stick again. After 7 months of healing, physical therapy, and relearning how to play with my right hand, I am able to do this. If you’d like you can watch the video and skip the longer story after that.

Long Story, (contains a few injury details)

I hurt myself in a nightmare scenario for every musician. The index finger on my right hand was severely damaged by a power saw. There was lots of blood. As my wife drove me to the ER I was in shock and convinced my playing days were done. The pain was incredible. I couldn’t look at my finger, I thought I would pass out from the sight.

Laying on a bed in the ER, waiting for the hand surgeon to arrive seemed like an eternity. When he finally arrived and started to evaluate, I was trying to read his face. I just knew he was going to recommend amputation of my finger. I was in shock and pain and could barely talk. My wife was there and took over. "He’s a musician, we need to save his finger." The doc looked up and said something like this, "I play guitar, we’ll do everything we can to save it." I could have kissed both of them.

For the next few weeks we didn’t know if we would succeed. With every day that passed without infection or complications the chances increased I would keep my finger. At one point I went to a physical therapist for a splint. She looked at my finger and said, "Oh, you’ll keep it, stop stressing. I’ve seen worse." I was very relieved. I shifted my focus to my job. Typing with my right hand was not possible and I had to do everything with my left hand. I’m left-handed and was able to do my job mostly OK.

I suspended lessons with my Chapman Stick teacher, Steve Adelson. He’s one of the few people who knew about this from the beginning. I don’t know why, but I was extremely embarrassed that I hurt myself. I am getting over it, but it has been hard. I didn’t know what to do musically. I was going to keep my finger at that point, but we didn’t know how much functionality it would have. It was very stiff and painful.

I couldn’t just sit and do nothing. I decided to look for things I could do with just my left hand. I read lots of research on hand independence in music and many music teachers’ thoughts on how to learn music. A common theme stood out, play Bach. It seems that Mr. Bach wrote pieces for his students with the intent to help them with hand independence on the keyboard. Bingo, I was in. The main pieces like this are the two-part Inventions. I started with Invention No. 1 in C major. That’s too high for Sticks, even an SG12. I lowered the key to something that worked and started in. I got the left hand going at full tempo long before I could use my right hand. It turns out this is a good thing.

I was able to carefully start using my right hand after several months. First, it was on my computer typing. That was a relief and my work benefited. Then I started touching the strings with my right hand. Ouch. Day by day I could use more force and started to make a tone. Then I realize something. I could not play with my right hand the way I had been for seven years. I would have to re-learn how to use my right hand. Everything I knew was gone. I had to start over.

It has been many more months from that point and I have reached the capabilities you can see in the video, such as they are. Some musicians can make whole CDs in seven months. I was able to play one piece that’s a little over a minute in length. Oh, well. I can still play and I’m happy about that.

I am actually very grateful.


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