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.
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.
I’ve performed at two more churches since my last blog
entry. Once at Unity Unitarian in St. Paul, which was another full program of flute solos with an accompanist. And once at Spirit of Hope in Golden Valley, where I played one solo and got to enjoy my very first experience “jamming”with a spirit band!! I’m going to have to insist that all my students perform in church. It’s so uplifting. It’s great to play for such an appreciative audience and it doesn’t have to be perfect. But it helps a lot if it sounds like you mean what you play.
Obviously, I still have a ways to go. My lips are a lot more out of shape than I had previously realized. But I’m practicing quite a bit. And that fact has taught me
something about motivation. I am now convinced that human beings simply have a genetic aversion for
futility. Seriously. When my fingers were out of control, practicing was frustrating torture. I had to make myself do it. Now, I can hardly wait and I can’t stop once I start. And when I do stop, I think about it. If I want motivated students, I need to make sure they have the information and the strategies they need to reach desirable goals. It just might be as simple as that.
Just for the record, my fingers are still a little numb, but not interfering with coordination. I
think it’s called “peripheral numbness” and it’s more annoying than anything else. They test that by blindfolding you and touching you lightly with a cotton ball or something. But it’s getting better.
I’m confident I’m headed for a full recovery. I read in a chat room that the nerves regenerate at 1mm per month or some outrageously slow pace. So, it might be awhile.
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.