learning fiddle after brain injury

learning fiddle after brain injury

Ten nonths ago I took a fall while doing something called skatesailing ( iceskating while carrying a sail). No I was not wearing a helmet. my fall caused a traumatic brain injury. At that time I had pretty much lost my ability to speak, think, read or write or even see clearly without a lot of effort. Oddly I was no longer able to carry a tune or whistle, much less tolerate the din of any kind of music around me. But for some bizarre reason asI began to get better I got it in my head that I should teach myself to play the fiddle. I figured maybe it would be a good kind of therapy. I discovered it gave me a kind of focus and comfort that nothing else could at that point. It has been the greatest gift that I have ever recieved. My family & very generous friends say I am making progress in lots of ways. But most important to me is my fiddle sings everyday. I spend usually several hours a day playing. My playing has never felt like a struggle but a journey down my path healing myself. I don’t know if anyone out there has had any experience with the power of learning an instrument following a brain injury.
I began taking lessons awhile ago. She has taught me by ear. But my teachers experience with teaching trad. irish music is really limited. It is what I love the most.She said she is almost at the point where I should be referred to someone else. But she has come up short with where I should go. I am so desperate to continue. I live in New Hampshire,(usa). Does anyone know of someone that may be willing to take me on? Just think of me as an interesting project.
If I am up to it my husband and I will be traveling to the county clare region in Ireland for 2 weeks in May. Of course what I am so excited about is the music. Anyone have any sugestions about how to make the most of it?
Looking forward to replies
Karen

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

A truly inspiring story Alta … especially since I’m getting ready to start teaching myself to play the fiddle early next week when the fiddle is out of the repair shop. If you can’t find a live teacher, there’s always tapes/DVD’s and the internet for a wealth of information, video clips, etc., which I am just beginning to explore myself. Good luck to you. I hope you have fun on your trip!!

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

just whistle, thanks. As soon as I was able to do those things again I did. Once I was able to listen to music without covering my ears I bought several great cds & put them on my ipod. Listening outloud was still really irritatiing. I have been learning non stop via internet. I am so excited for you that you are starting. You will love it. One thing I failed to mention before … I learned quickly the importance of remembering to breath and relax while I played. Two things that seem so obvious but were SO HARD FOR ME TO DO!! But after months in speech therapy, just to figure out when during a breathe you should begin to speak, I will never again underestimate the power of breathing.

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Do you know where the PowerHouse mall is in New Lebanon NH? They have a shop in there call New England Violin or strings…can’t remember for sure. But they do know alot of teachers in NH…might be worth looking into.

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Though i’ve never suffered such a grieveous injury myself, I found that playing my instruments (fiddle included) was a great help in dealing with grief and especially berievment. Clare is a brilliant place to go for traditional music, try to find out in advance which pubs are having sessions so you know where to go. (Lisdoonvarna would be a good bet) And check out whether there is any music festivals on at the time of your trip. Sessions are a brilliant place to learn new tunes and music- especially as you are used to learning by ear. I hope you enjoy your trip!

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

would love to help. Check out our web site www.kerryfiddles.com

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

My brother, a musician, was in a car accident quite a few years ago now and suffered an horrendous brain injury from which he will never fully recover. Brain injuries are complex things and every single one varies in symptoms, both physical and mental. However, common initial symptoms are pretty much losing the ability to speak, think, read or write, remember or even see clearly without a lot of effort.

After regaining basic motor functions, my brother regained his musical abilities much sooner than his abilities to speak or even think straight. We really savoured those times when every one around was worried that he was lost for ever and we could show that we could communicate musically.

Even now, when his normal day to day communication is often fraught, we can still have a good tune together.

Karen, I really hope and wish for a full recovery for you. But if any residual symptoms do persist, please take heart in the probability your musical ear should transcend them.

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Hi Alta,
There’s a place in Maine-Song of the sea which has a listing of players and teachers in all the states. http://www.songsea.com/nh.html Two other sites are Ted Crane and The dance gypsy Both have listings of all the contradance bands and their members in New England. I would bet some of them are teachers as well or could at least point you in the right direction ,I wish you well-D

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Hawthorn-,I have been to the store you mentioned at the Powerhouse Mall. They had no one to suggest to help me within the state. And driving, now that I can, can’t really involved a couple of hrs each way. But I think I will call them back and ask again.
LLIG thankyou so much for your story. I feel very bad for your brother. I was able to travel to North Carolina where my brother lives last weekend. He is a gifted guitarist, as well as a doctor. He got all of the brains in the family. For the first time I had the experience of ‘playing with someone.’ I just started scratching a rough tune and he made it all sound so good by accompaning me. What an amazing way of connecting,when sometimes my words still get jumbled up I can say more with my fiddle. Imperfect as it is.
DORIAN- I will check out your suggestion for teachers. thanks

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

I think music often plays the role of a medium of communication for people who are lacking in other communication skills, and this can be heard in their music, regardless of their technical ability. Whilst I wish you a full recovery, I feel that whatever, if anything, you have lost permanently through your injury, will be made up for by your newly acquired skills. If you do make a complete recovery, then your life will be richer than it was before.

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury - Fair warning; a long post!

Greetings Karen,

I don’t know any fiddlers in New Hampshire and I have not suffered a traumatic brain injury either but I can personally speak to the effects of music, and specifically the playing of music and the benefits thereof therapeutically.

Seven years ago I got up one morning and went off to work just like any other day. I was the primary buyer for one of the largest antiques consolidators here on the East Coast of the U.S.. I needed to stop at the Post to ship back a convection oven my new bride purchased and wasn’t pleased with. When I returned to my van and started to drive off all of a sudden there were two roads ahead of me. I went off to the Ophthalmologist on an emergent basis and after about two minutes with him he sent me off to a Neuro- Ophthalmologist. By the end of this day of tests I was also unable to walk. After a resulting MRI it was determined that I was in the throws of a severe Multiple Sclerosis exacerbation. After a week in hospital I was discharged still with double vision and severe ataxia, so much so that walking a mere twenty feet was a monumental task. These circumstances persisted however they ebbed and flowed in their severity for about three years.

When we went to Ireland in 2002 we visited Athea, County Limerick during a Fleadh and I noticed a young lad playing the bodhrán with two other youngsters, one playing the fiddle and one the button box. I was mesmerized by the bodhrán and something spoke to me about the rhythm of this great music. Now in the 1970’s I played Appalachian and Bluegrass but really played no music to speak of for nearly thirty years to this point. When we returned to Adare that afternoon I bought a bodhrán from Steve who had the music shop at the top of town there and took a lesson from Pete the village busker. The bodhrán led me back to the guitar.

In the last four years I have been very active playing the music (I know Michael, but it’s my story) and I can tell you my overall condition, coordination, stamina, and mental outlook have dramatically improved. I do have to say that I haven’t stopped the progression of the disease but I believe that by tending to my overall health by eating whole natural foods, drinking clean unprocessed water, routine Chiropractic care, playing music, and of course a good bit of whiskey I have somewhat mitigated the effects of the disease progression as they would be measured by medical standards. The Doctor I see for my yearly check-ups continues to council that I need to take a more aggressive (reads pharmaceutical in my mind) approach in my treatment of the disease but he always indicates that he is amazed that I am still able to walk and function as I do given the amount of damage to my central nervous system the disease has already and continues to cause.

I play out at adult and nursing care facilities weekdays as a way to make a living primarily but also, as my rates are very low, to bring music into the days of the residents and clients of these facilities. It is amazing to witness the effects of the music on those most severely effected by the deterioration of age or disease. It could be a song from childhood that causes someone’s head to rise up from the table with a great big smile upon their face or just the rhythm that causes a foot to tap when up to that point they were simply lying in their bed motionless, I don’t know. I was playing at a small private facility where most of the residents were very low functioning. There was a woman that was wheeled in and placed by the table in the center of the room. Her head was resting on the table and she just sat there rather motionless for about half of my performance when I started a song with a lovely slow Waltz rhythm when all of a sudden the woman pushed herself back from the table and stood up. An attendant rushed to her and she embraced the attendant and started to dance. I kept up the song even though I had run out of lyrics and she continued to dance for nearly 8 minutes or so. I finished the song and vamping and immediately she sat back down in her wheelchair, was pushed back to the table and there sat motionless with her head down for the rest of my performance. It was truly amazing and very humbling to see this happen.

I can’t tell you how these things come about or if indeed anything I do specifically brings them about. It may very well be just the path I walk, who knows. I can tell you that to me playing music has been, and continues to be, the catalyst of my maintaining my motor functions as I have and that’s really all I care about.

I must at this point thank all that have so encouraged me to follow this path, especially my bride. I’m fairly certain you others know who you are but I don’t think you really know how much your encouragement and support is responsible for my maintaining and improving my abilities. There is no way on God’s green earth that I would have been able to do it with-out you.

Keep up on the path your are on Karen and allow the positive energies of those playing the music before you to lead you forward. I do so hope you find a tutor in your area and I do so hope that I have the pleasure and honor of sharing a tune with you somewhere along the path.

Peace,
Ed

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

What a wonderful surprise to wake up this morning to find such heartfelt response to my post. I have had so many people tell me that I just need to allow my fiddle playing to become my new path if it is meant to be. As you said to beautifully Ed. I had been a counselor in schools for the past 20 yrs and had to quite come Sept. due to the high level of cognitive functioning that was needed to do my job. That was a very hard pill to swallow. On a day to day basis I now do very well, shopping, doing chores around the house, driving, getting exercise. But the demands on the old brain to do what I did were not something that the doctor felt would be good for my healing. But who knows, as I am trying to define what my ‘new normal’ is maybe it will include my fiddle. My husband is very encouraging. He tells me to quit closing the doors in the bedroom that I have taken over for my music. Both he and my teacher are telling me to no longer hide and apoligize for the quality of my playing but to celebrate it.
Here’s a silly question. If I don’t actually bring my fiddle along to ireland, would there be any chance that people ever share their instruments during a session? If I were ever brave enough to sit in?

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

I have been reading these replies outloud to my husband when I see them. I am so excited by other peoples stories. I won’t let him look over my shoulder while I read, as it might spoil the surprise of what you all are writing. Needless to say not alot of people have had much experience with Traumatic brain injury so the whole thing felt pretty isolating while I was going through it. Thanks for sharing. It is a beautiful sunny day here is New Hampshire. Maybe I’ll bundle up and take the old fiddle outside for a tune. The hell with the neighbors right?

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Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Karen,
It’s great to read a thread like this after wading through the usual concerns that make up the daily diet on the Session site. I wish you all the best with your quest. And thanks to Michael and Ed for sharing their difficulties.

The only useful thing I can add is that my wife purchased a CD from a Scottish fiddler, Karen Steven!! I haven’t got it to hand but as I recall, she has been playing fiddle since a child but had some sort of brain injury (haemorage?) as an adult. Spent many months in hospital and recorded a CD called ‘Ward…’, as a fundraiser recently. Here is her website, but this seems to predate her injury (she recorded beforehand). You can get her email off the site: http://www.karensteven.com/

Perhaps this will help.

Re: learning fiddle after brain injury

Karen was playing at the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention here last year and told her story from the stage - as far as I understand it was a traumatic life-threatening injury which she is thankful to the hospital for rescuing her from, but I’m not sure there was any subsequent disability to overcome - Karen’s story here: http://www.brainhelp.co.uk/KarenSteven.htm
Pretty scary all the same

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