“Still playin’ though”

“Still playin’ though”

This thread is inspired by the desire to play music through physical issues. Callison’s discussions about the limitations of his hands from a series of issues and surgeries got me thinking.

It seems that where there’s a will, there’s a way. The quote from callison is appropriate - "Still playin’ though".

The two most notable examples I can think of are Charlie Piggott, who got his hand slammed in a car door on tour with DeDannan, which made him give up banjo and transition to melodeon. He has continued on as one of the more talented and respected musicians in the music. And then Siobhan Peoples, who lost the ability to use her ring finger and pinky many years ago, and just invented her own two-finger style on the fiddle. She went on to record a great album with Murty Ryan, and can still play with a drive and flair that is enviable. (And she has regained some of her movement, and is able to use at least her ring finger for ornaments these days. I played with her a couple years ago, and found that her hand looks fairly normal while she’s playing, and her music is wonderful, as usual).

For myself, I occasionally have nightmares about losing my ability to play music for one reason or another. But I am comforted in knowing that where there’s a will, there’s a way, because I imagine that I will always have the will…

I know we’ve had a few discussions in past years about injuries and physical issues, but I’m wondering if people have other stories about other players (or themselves) who have overcome significant physical odds and still continued successfully with the music.

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That’s pretty impressive! That also brought to mind Django Reinhardt, who had a couple of paralyzed fingers, so he invented a new style of guitar that other, fully-bodied musicians play with now too…

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You mean he invented a style of playing? He didn’t invent that style of guitar.

He had some residual use of his two incinerated fingers for chords.

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Hamish Moore, Scottish bagpiper and maker, lost the use of one of the fingers on one hand due to focal motor dystonia. So he just shifted the next two fingers up and learned to play that way. You can see him still playin’ though here (check his left/top hand — that’s him on the right) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRFR3_EYuyU

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@Bren, right, invented a new style of playing that other people imitate still, I think.

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Had the chance to play a some tunes with Charlie Piggott a few weeks ago. I also have fears of losing the ability to play, but if I had an injury that allowed me to swap banjo for the box I’d only hope I could get half as good as Charlie.

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Focal dystonia strategies: use different fingers (S Peoples and H Moore), change to playing left-handed (one fiddle player I met), get shot up with Botox every 3 months (one fiddle player I know), change instruments (me and a flute player I know). Giving up music: not an option.

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There’s always hammered dulcimer if you loose finger dexterity but still have arms that work… That’s my nuclear option.

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"There’s always hammered dulcimer if you loose finger dexterity".

That was my thought too when I knew my left wrist was collapsing so I bought a really nice Jerry Reed Smith hammered dulicmer at an estate sale. I had no idea which surgery method would be applied to the wrist after the ligaments had all distressed themselves into oblivion. The hand might get fused or I might have bones removed. Had the hand been the fused, the hammered dulcimer would have become the primary instrument. As it was, I had a proximal row carpectomy that only reduced the ability of my hand to bend by 45 degrees and rendered the hand much, much weaker. That sort of killed my playing barre chords on the guitar but what the heck, I don’t play ITM on guitar anyway. I still play guitar but the focus is on the bouzouki these days. It’s the danged cat damage that’s hard to overcome. After 13 months I probably only have about 70% of my pre-surgery strength in the ring and little fingers of my left hand and the little finger "slaps" the string rather than playing it as it’s "spastic" by definition due to nerve damage. Whatever, even if both hands were completely useless I’d find some way to play - probably with my feet even if it meant inventing a large version of an autoharp with pedals to actuate the chord bars and some strange mechanism to pluck or hit the strings using a foot. That’s a bizarre concept but I’m keeping it in mind just in case.

I only wished I fallen on my head instead of my hands so long ago…

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A friend of mine lost some motor control in his right hand, and switched from banjo to fiddle, where the bowing relies more on the arm and less on the hand - enough so that he was able to continue playing. As the story goes from the people that knew him at the time, he disappeared for a few months and appeared back at the session as if he’d been playing fiddle for many years.

The worst thing I’ve had to battle through (knock on wood) was tenderness in my hand from pivoting on the ball of my knuckle to reach up to the high B on banjo ( https://thesession.org/discussions/6637 ). That tenderness turned into a bone spur on my knuckle, and I had a year long period where I actually played in a finger-less biking glove, which padded that area. But the silver lining is that it forced me to re-evaluate my grip and hand positioning, and now my hand position on the instrument is much more optimal, and the bone spur has even faded away in the last few years.

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I appreciate your thoughtful threads, Pete. I also acknowledge that my ‘playful’ existence is not limited
to my physical abilities. For me "still playin’ through" is more than a function of my hands or fingers.
It’s about my creative curiousity, adaptabilty and ultimately my drive to engage with people socially and artistically.

About ten years ago I cut through three digits on my right hand. They were successfully rejoined with
seven hours of expert hand surgery. I also received three months of rehabilitation from a
brilliant occupational therapist. It was my own fault which caused the accident. But I appreciate
what I can do with what I still have and to adapt to different ways to work with what is gone.
To me the accident is tragic because I should have known better. Be that as it may the day
has helped me to open new doors which I did not know about before that day.

Which is why I think every experience in life can be an opportunity. Like what happened for Maya Shankar
< http://www.npr.org/2016/12/22/506625933/twist-of-fate-leads-musical-prodigy-to-pursue-social-sciences >

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I’m dealing with recent onset of osteoarthritis in left thumb CMC joint and other thumb-related issues, but this pales in comparison to everything else on this thread— kudos to you all! Injuries aside, aging happens (if you are lucky!) and so you deal with it. Lesson is: play all you can, whenever you can, as long as you can! (And maybe Michael Eskin will have come up with a bouzouki app for iPad when I can no longer play!) -Jon

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Good thread.

While I don’t have physical problems with my hands, I’ve been neglecting my playing a little due to tiredness and "losing the heart" a little. Also, because of my current health situation, there’s been other distractions.
However, after reading about other people’s efforts here, I realise that I should be trying much harder to make the most from "enjoying the music" while the going is still, relatively speaking, good.

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Willy Taylor (Northumberland) was another fidlle player missing a finger.

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Reminded me also of a guy I met 30 years ago at the Willie Clancy week - Per Tallec, from Brittany. He was in the same flute class as me, and was possibly the best of the lot of us. Haven’t seen or heard much of him since, but he’s still around apparently - here’s a"Youtube" clip I found. An ispiration to all of us.

https://youtu.be/TwUv5A00U68

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Thanks for those videos, Kenny. Inspirational, for sure!

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According to wikipedia, Charlie Piggott started out on the box in his youth which would make the change off of the banjo a fair bit easier. Still, he had a strategy and kept playing!

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> There’s always hammered dulcimer if you loose finger dexterity but still have arms that work… That’s my nuclear option.

Oh god, that’s like dropping an actual nuclear weapon on the group.

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there’s always the pan pipes、and autoharp!

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And the mouthorgan, if this hasn’t been mentioned already.

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Not permanent damage, but about 5 years ago, I dislocated my right shoulder (and I’m right-handed). Of course, the shoulder was promptly put back in, but there is inevitably a huge amount of tissue damage around the joint, which takes months to recover/heal. During that process, the instrument in my repertoire that was easiest to play was the piano, as your arms are down by your sides. Next came the bodhran: if you are playing it correctly you don’t use your shoulder (as I have seen some people do)! Then my button accordion, but hard on the shoulder when it came to extending outwards on a series of "pull" notes. And finally, the guitar was absolute agony, just trying to get it tucked under my right arm. Fortunately all healed, and able to play all of the above pain-free!

And as an aside, a friend who played fiddle, mandolin and guitar, who had had a series of strokes affecting one hand, did find that keeping on playing was the best road to recovery in terms of occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

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Rick Allen, the drummer for the English rock band Def Leppard comes to mind. He has been drumming with only his right arm for over 30 years, after his left arm was amputated due to an automobile accident.

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trish, I dislocated my right shoulder about 25 years ago. It was before I was playing trad, but I was playing guitar, and I couldn’t play much for about a year, and lots of painful rehab, which was going too slowly for my tastes. And then I had acupuncture done on my shoulder, and within a month, I was back to pretty much back to being able to do everything again.

Interestingly, I am having issues with that shoulder again, certainly related to the injury. And a couple of weeks ago, it actually started bothering me while I was playing one night. Thankfully, it hasn’t returned since, but I’m thinking it might be time to look at more acupuncture!

And Ann, I had forgotten about Rick! I met him back in about ‘87 or ‘88. It was during his first tour after the amputation, and it was just amazing how he overcame that, between a ton of guts and perseverance and some fancy new foot pedals that let him do things that would normally be done with his arm.

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I suffered a compound fracture in my right collar bone (clavicle) in a bike accident a few years ago. With enough pain killers I could bow ok just using elbow, wrist and hand motion. Which was stupid. I quit the opioids pretty quickly and switched to whistle. I’d always been meaning to spend more time with that instrument and was able to make some decent progress for a few months.

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So now you’re known as ‘joe whiskid’? ;-)

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@ joe fid/whiskid—I can totally sympathize with the fractured collarbone. I broke mine a few years back in an equestrian accident. (I can hear the crunch even as I write this.) Lucky you got painkillers, though. Doctor gave me a sling, told me don’t use arm for six weeks, and that was that. Even sitting up straight or tossing in bed had me screaming in pain. For once in my life, I didn’t even feel like touching my bow.

Good work on the whistle!

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Sorry to hear about your late complications of your shoulder dislocation, Reverend, and hope that more acupuncture proves helpful. Given the age at which I dislocated mine, I’ll be lucky to be around 25 years post-injury! Just thankful that all is still well 5-6 years on!

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I’ve noticed that this thread has concentrated on mainly physical injuries and disabilities which I suppose is fairly natural.

However, there are many other aspects of various illnesses and health issues which can affect or slow down your play and even, on occasion, sap your will to play. Again, it’s something you can try and overcome. If you have a will there’s a way as has been said.

I’d be interested to hear how some other members have coped in such circumstances. Possible scenarios might include effects of cancer treatments, post operation recovery, tiredness, depression and so on.
In my case, I’m still "playing through" but some days I’ve much more enthusiam than others.

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Johnny, thankfully, I haven’t had any personal experience with mental issues when playing - other than the fact that I notice that I play a lot better on weekends than after a stressful day of work. There are nights when I’m playing after work that I can’t seem to think of tunes to play other than my standard "go to" tunes. So I can imagine that dealing with bigger pressures than work might have a devastating effect on my ability to play well.

I’ve had a couple of musical friends that have sadly passed away from cancer, and I was playing with them through their struggles. The most notable issue I’ve seen with chemotherapy is that it’s common to develop peripheral neuropathy, which can make playing very difficult, even if your mind is sharp. And I can imagine that the mental pressure would be difficult as well. But on the flip side, I’ve also seen music be the one thing that can help people forget about their problems.

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Reverend, I too have seen friends who have gone through chemotherapy and the neuropathy problem - no feeling in their fingertips but they could ‘hear’ that things weren’t right which made it totally frustrating for them. One friend is still suffering with this problem. What is more devastating for him is the fact that he has now sold the violin he made himself because he could no longer play it; add to that the fact that he enjoyed making a small living from repair/restoration work on fiddles. All gone now, tools and everything.

In recent times I have been through a couple spells of depression. I’m not sure whether the music helped or hindered any recovery that I might have made - still taking the happy pills…..There were times when I would look at the fiddle case and just walk away from it for days at a time. Things are going better for me now, thank God so I guess I can truly say "Still playin’ though"
No need to feel to badly for me - there’s many a one worse off than me and far more deserving of thoughts and prayers that anyone might care to offer.

I always try to look at it this way. ‘Upright and breathing - two out of three ain’t bad’.

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Thanks for these comments.

I’m receiving treatment at the moment, the post operative "belt and braces" routine. Things are actually going fairly well considering and the only side effects I’ve had is tiredness but it’s not too bad. It’s been a long haul though and I’ve also had radiotherapy and two operations over the last few months. Thankfully, the doctors are quite positive about things. So, fingers crossed.

I’ve read up about the peripheral neuropathy thing but I should be OK with the medication I’m on. As I said earlier, I’m still "playing through" but there’s been quite a few distractions of late.
:-)

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Keep up the good fight, Johnny! The docs being positive is good, and you being positive is even more important, I think! Glad to hear that the meds you’re on aren’t prone to the neuropathy!

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Sorry to hear you’ve not been well, Johnny Jay. Keep as positive as you can.

Over the last few years, have had various musician friends unable to continue playing owing to illness of different kinds: they have all found it very comforting for a small group of us, just 3 or 4 to go round to play to them for short periods at home. It has enabled them to keep up with what we’ve been doing in the way of gigs, classes, sessions and feel less isolated by their illness if unable to get out or play themselves: definitely lifts the spirit!

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Thanks all.
Doing quite well really. Most people wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with me at all if they didn’t know.
:-)
I get out and about to concerts and so on although I’ve had to miss some festivals but I should manage some sessions over Summer hopefully.

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I have depression and social anxiety. I used to be terrified of people hearing me practice and think I’m crap. I’m a little more confident now as I’ve recorded myself a bit, and I think I’m not bad at all. I’d love to play with others, but I’m afraid I’d forget the notes in my fear and would not be invited back!
I carry on though.

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Michelle Mc, practise, play and play some more. I used to be afraid of what others thought of my stumbling playing. But then I discovered that they were (most of ‘em) just as afraid as I was.
Some wag once said to me: "Why are you concerned with what others think of you? The truth is they’re probably not thinking about you at all." Sobering but actually encouraging too. Good luck.

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"The truth is they’re probably not thinking about you at all."

So true. An older colleague once told me something similar at work along the lines of "People don’t think about you half as much as you think about them…"

The thing is when we lack confidence, praise doesn’t always help either. We just think they are "being nice". Of course, negative comments hurt too. So indifference isn’t that bad really. :-)

Jack’s advice is good. Practise and play as well as you can and *when* you can and don’t worry unduly about what others think. Of course, the normal session etiquette rules(debated ad nauseum here) still apply. Allow more experienced players "their place" and don’t be too pushy. Then they’ll not mind your mistakes even if they notice.

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Congenital nerve entrapment in both forearms ensures that I’ll never play above the lowest "session" speed. All of the injuries I’ve suffered in the last four years haven’t helped either. Sometimes, the best you can do is literally - the best you can do. I suspect that is all any session would ask of a player.

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So callison, I know that you’ve had more than your fair share of physical issues that get in the way of your playing. (And that was my inspiration for this thread, in fact). I applaud your tenacity, spirit, and love of the music. But I will also say that if you BELIEVE that you will never play above a certain level, then it will certainly be so. But if you believe that you MIGHT be able to transcend that level even with your physical ailments, then that gives you a much better shot of actually having it happen!