I recently had the disappointing misfortune of having to bow out of a performance due to illness. It was a unique opportunity to perform five solos at three church services on a single Sunday. And I was very excited about it, especially on my newly repaired flute. But with a fever of 102 and a sore throat, I just didn't feel up to the task.
But in hindsight, I regret the decision not to play. It's not like I haven't performed sick before. I had pretty much the same symptoms two years ago when I performed at my father's funeral. I had no intention of not performing for my dad, but just in case, my mom made it clear when she picked me up at the airport, that my illness "wasn't going to get me out of it". I only had to play one short piece at the funeral, as opposed to practically all day long like with this last gig. But the performance for my dad went quite well considering.
I cancelled my latest performance a day before the event giving the pianist enough advanced notice to put something together on her own. She said it went very well. But I can't help wondering if it would have been more professional of me to have made a greater effort to be there. How sick is too sick to perform?
I really don't know, but I guess it depends on several factors and it's different for everyone. I would have pretty much had to be dead myself to miss playing at my dad's funeral. And even then I still would have felt guilty. LOL.
Also, it seems that professionals would have more of an obligation than someone who was performing for free. And I suppose if the venue had no alternatives, you would have more of an obligation.
Another factor would be the instrument. A pianist or string player might be able to perform with the flu better than a singer or wind player. And a singer could probably perform better than a drummer with a broken arm, for example.
My sister used to get "sick" every Saturday night before she had to sing a solo in church when we were growing up. But she always sang anyway and sounded great. I was sick before my last recital as a college music professor because my cubital tunnel syndrome (which hadn't been diagnosed at the time) was particularly "active" that day causing enough performance anxiety to make me physically ill. I eventually muddled through, though.
So, I guess I really don't know. How do people decide when they're too sick to perform? If I have students who say they're too sick to play on the annual studio recital, do I just say "okay" or should I probe to make sure it's not just a common case of stage fright?
I really don't know. I'm asking?
So, I've enjoyed several weeks of flute playing free from the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome now, but something else has been holding me back. All this time, I've been blaming embouchure problems, poor muscle memory and anxiety. And I'd almost accepted the "fact" that there was a certain amount of time one could spend away from practicing a skill before it was gone forever, and I had passed it.
But I've made a recent discovery - what I believe to be the final piece of the performance puzzle (though I'm extremely embarrassed to admit that I didn't come upon it sooner). My flute needs repair. Leaks in the tone holes have been cramping my style.
You'd think that someone who sets himself up as an expert would know better than to let such a simple solution get by him for so long. I didn't. Mainly because I knew I was was out of shape and figured that was causing my problems. Also, I had gotten braces during the time I wasn't practicing much, and thought maybe the new position of my teeth required me to find a different embouchure.
In addition, I blame...
1) arrogance ("a good flutist would sound good on anything"),
2) cheapness ("flute repair is too expensive") and
3) ignorance ("it's not really all that important as long as it plays").
But it really is that important.
A while back, I noticed a ripped pad, so I figured I'd better take it in. First, though, I got my $200 Mirage fixed up so I'd have something to play while they worked on my main flute. When I got the Mirage back, I noticed the difference! Low notes, speak. Attacks are easier. Pitch problems are no longer "impossible" to fix. Tone rocks. Response is better (which improves dexterity). All this on my "cheap" flute!!
And I suspect that the performance anxiety I was experiencing lately will be greatly reduced with the confidence I can have that the flute will respond pretty much as I expect it to. I can hardly wait to get my Miyazawa back.
Again, I'm seriously embarrassed for not realizing this sooner. I'm also a bit surprised that none of my teachers or consultants noticed. Going forward, it'sone of the first things I'll be checking with all of my students and clients. Nothing beats having a good instrument in good condition. Otherwise, you're spinning your wheels and wasting time. Or even worse, developing bad habits to compensate.
I suppose this is true of any profession. The quality of one's tools matter.
I always had a feeling that my depression, insomnia and loss of finger coordination were related. I just didn't know how. So for years the plan was just to do everything I could think of to attack all three from all sides. I first tried prayer and religion. Then therapy, antidepressants, herbs, vitamins, diets, exercise, and yoga. All seemed to help a little, but not enough. I gave up alcohol, cut back on sugar, drank 10 glass of water a day and avoided aluminum products on my skin and my cookware. Message, acupuncture, acupressure, sleeping pills. Not all at the same time, of course. And there's more. I tried cold showers (as a type of "shock therapy"). I heard that doing head stands was supposedly good for curing depression, so I would do ten minutes a day. I even tried eating dirt (not off the ground, but the expensive kind they sell in health food stores and call "clay", but still tastes like dirt). And for the coordination part, I must have learned at least 25 different finger exercises. Great party tricks, but never did the trick.
All that to say I was pretty desperate.
There were a few things that I thought about but didn't try, though. An orthopedic surgeon offered to surgically correct the falling tendons in my fingers. That would have been a very costly mistake, I think. Then there were the botulism toxin injections when I thought I had a focal dystonia. And a psychic told me that my troubles were caused by a curse created by the hate from "hundreds of people I didn't even know". She offered to burn some white candles that would protect me for $50.
I always thought that if I regained my coordination, that the depression and insomnia would just go away, but that hasn't exactly been the case. It's better. And because I know it's not responsible for wrecking my music career, it doesn't freak me out as much. But I would still like to recover completely. I have revisited many of my earlier therapies. And I realize that depression is a serious and life threatening medical disorder, so of course, I'm getting medical attention. But a new therapy seems to be helping that along this time around.
It's something I first learned about several years ago on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She swore up and down that keeping a gratitude journal was one of the best things she ever did for herself. I sort of ignored the suggestion, though. It seemed too simple for a problem as large as mine.
But it is huge. I think it's because it tends to reverse our genetic tendency to focus on troubles and problems. I say it's genetic because I believe we're all decendants of the cave dwellers who survived because they paid more attention to the saber toothed tigers than the water lillies.
But in today's culture, that translates in to hating your fat legs and taking for granted that they can get you wherever you want to go whenever you want. But with the journal, I realized how much I had been taking for granted all these years. At first, I wanted to cry with shame. I felt like I had been thumbing my nose at God. I pray every day for forgiveness.
So, two pieces of advice to anyone struggling with this horrible disorder. 1) Tell your doctor and 2) make an effort every day to express appreciation. Because when you can acknowledge and truly appreciate your blessings, it takes a lot to get you down. But if you take everything for granted, then nothing in the world can pull you up.
Today, I had a brief setback, but it was a good thing for three reasons. This morning I woke up with the same numbess I had im my fingers six months ago. That's because last night, I fell asleep without my elbow brace. The first reason this was a good thing is that the numbness only lasted about a minute. The second reason it was a good thing is that even though my fingers are still a bit numb, I could see how much improvement there has been over the past six months. The third reason it was a good thing is that it confirmed my suspicion that the compression is primarily in my elbow and that it's my sleep position moreso than playing the flute that is the culprit. I'm glad I learned this. You can bet I was scared when I first woke up, though.
Today was a big day for me. I performed for the church service at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Paul. It wasn’t a career changing performance or like the Queen of England was going to be there or anything. Today was special, because it’s the first day in several years that I would be performing in public without the involuntary finger movements that have been dogging me on and off since my junior year in college. I’ve been applying the therapies I’ve learned to combat cubital tunnel syndrome for the past three weeks. And they have made an incredible difference in just that short time.
It wasn’t my best performance ever, but it had its moments. And it's certainly a much more enjoyable experience when you're not worrying about fingers. But my hands were shaking and that was a brand new experience for me. I've been nervous while performing before, but nothing ever shook because of it. LOL. A few more performances under my belt should help out with that. But I think I will always be just a little more sympathetic to others when that happens to them from now on.
This blog is about music, health, challenges, determination and personal and professional growth. I hope it is useful.
Copyright 2017 Michael Davis. All rights reserved.