Trauma and Triumph: How Music Can Heal, Empower, and Inspire Change

By: Kristen Friend (Fowler)

Photo Credit: Nina Yoshida Nelsen

 

Music serves many roles for people throughout their lives. For some, it’s a form of entertainment or escape. For others, it’s a purpose or a passion. Throughout my life, it has served as a comforter, a healer, a motivator, and a medium through which I affect change in the world. Below, you will find my story of how music carried me through some of the darkest times in my life and ultimately how I used music to tell my story on my terms. I want to issue a trigger warning before reading onward, as my story is about sexual assault, and I know that not everyone will be in a place where reading this is what’s best.

Throughout my childhood, I struggled with anxiety and depression, though I did not have the luxury of having those terms to describe it. I was told I was “dramatic” and “moody,” but really, something deeper was going on. In the midst of my own internal chaos, I turned to a 19-year-old friend of my older sister, confiding in him and sharing my thoughts with him. Eventually, I believed that I was in love, and he manipulated me into believing he felt the same way. When I was 13 years old, I was sexually assaulted by this person twice.

In the aftermath of the assaults, I felt lost, confused, heartbroken, and ashamed. I desperately clung to the horn like a life boat. I practiced hours every day because it provided relief from the pain. It allowed me to release my feelings into the world without having to articulate what those feelings meant or where they originated. The horn freed me to emote and express, and it was my saving grace.

Eventually, my mind managed to completely repress my memory of the assault. The event was simply too traumatic for my teenage self to handle. The repression left behind emotional symptoms that went unexplained for years: perfectionism, increased anxiety and depression, and a deep sense of shame and self-hatred. I always felt like I had to make up for something and that nothing I did was good enough.

For eleven years, I lived in this constant state of denial. I graduated high school, completed a Bachelors and Masters at Virginia Tech, and I was accepted into the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University to begin my Masters in Horn Performance in Fall of 2014. Despite the mental health concerns, it appeared like I was on the right track.

I arrived to Bloomington in 2014 and won my very first professional audition as second horn in the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. I placed well in school orchestra auditions, and I did well on my placement exams. It seemed like I was setting myself up to have a wonderful experience at IU. However, all of this success happened over a backdrop of a prolonged, severe depressive episode that left me feeling worthless and made me question my purpose in this life. I had to seek professional help. I entered therapy in September of 2014 with the most incredible therapist at the campus counseling center. We worked through family, life events, emotions, patterns of thought, and feelings of self-worth. After months of hard work, my life was starting to make sense to me. I felt better. I felt healthy. I felt worthy.

That’s when it hit me. In March of 2015, I was driving home from Wind Ensemble rehearsal listening to NPR’s show, “All Things Considered.” The topic was childhood trauma, and when they said the words, “childhood sexual assault,” little flashes of memories lit up my thoughts. I thought to myself, “no, that’s not what that was!” I kept driving, memories flooding in, until I had to pull over. I just couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I knew this was my story.

Fortunately, I had therapy the very next day. We started down the path of recovering from my trauma, a process that I had put on hold for eleven years. It felt like opening up a time capsule, and I began to work through the details of my assault. This included telling family and friends, and it included sending a letter to my perpetrator. One of my dearest friends, who is also a survivor of sexual assault, told me a piece of advice that she had been given. She said, “one day, you’ll make this horrible thing into something positive.” That quote stuck with me, and I wondered how in the world that advice would ever come to fruition.

One day, in the fall of 2015, the idea hit me. I needed to fulfill my Masters Recital requirement, and I wanted to turn it into a special project with a theme. That’s when “Trauma and Triumph” was born. After hours and hours of brainstorming over several weeks, I came up with the idea of creating and performing a recital tour during Sexual Assault Awareness Month that told my own story of being sexually assaulted through original spoken word and the works of female composers. I knew that my professor, Jeff Nelsen, had to approve of the idea, so I decided to share my project during my next lesson.

I entered Jeff’s office, apprehensive to share my truth with another person. As I shared my story, he responded with an abundance of compassion and empathy, and when I told him my recital plans, he was nothing but supportive. He even introduced me to one piece I ended up using to open up my recital.

In collaboration with two amazing pianists, Daniel Inamorato in Bloomington and Nancy Harder in Blacksburg, I presented “Trauma and Triumph” at both Virginia Tech and Indiana University in April of 2016. As a part of the event, local and on-campus organizations at both schools came out to the recital and set up information tables with resources. Attendees collected pamphlets, information cards, and stickers. When I came out of the recital hall at the conclusion of my IU recital, my studio mates cheered, proudly wearing teal ribbon stickers. I also decided to live-stream both events, and I received several touching Facebook messages from strangers who had watched the recital from across the country and who were touched by its message.

In June of 2017, I shared my story, “Trauma and Triumph” at the International Women’s Brass Conference with the amazing Dr. Laurel Black on piano. It was a truly remarkable experience to have such a large platform to share my story and advocate for survivors, and the response was nothing but warm and grateful.

It is my mission to continue to share my story with the purpose of empowering others. I want to encourage you all to consider what story you have in you that needs to be shared. Our instruments are not only vehicles for musical expression, but also vehicles to create change. What do you want to say with your horn, and how do you want it to impact your audience?

If you have any questions or thoughts, please feel free to email me kfowl@vt.edu to further discuss what you’ve read. Thank you so much for reading my story.

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Thyroidectomy and Horn Playing

By Stephanie Stetson, Los Angeles Musician

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It started as a routine doctor’s appointment. I don’t go very often, so it was a physical that probably hadn’t been done in years. “There are some lumps in your throat and you need to get an ultrasound,” said the doctor. After the ultrasound, I was told there were a handful of thyroid nodules- growths on my thyroid. I was handed some brochures about them. The doctors didn’t know much about them….not why they grow, what causes them, or even how to get rid of them. They just told me that I needed a needle biopsy to check and see if there were any cancerous cells. I’m not a good needle person, so I didn’t like this procedure very much. I was worried about playing my horn even after the biopsy, but things were fine at this point. A week or so after the procedure, I was told that the needle biopsy was inconclusive and that they wanted to do another one to get more cells. I was disgusted and didn’t go back.

I scanned the internet and read whatever I could on thyroid nodules. I even tried natural methods to get rid of the nodules, to no avail. I think it was 2 years later when I knew that I needed to go back to a doctor because the growth was now visible, and I could see it poking out from my neck. I had changed insurance companies by this point and after getting my records transferred and a referral, I could see a different endocrinologist. A new ultrasound showed that I had 5 growths that they could see, and the largest one had now doubled in size. The doctor ordered a more serious needle biopsy where they do lab work before they finish, and the results were normal, thank goodness. About a year later, because they wanted to keep an eye on the situation, they did another needle biopsy. These results came back as “abnormal cells” and they wanted to do another one. By this point I was having pain when trying to play the horn a few hours after the biopsies, I was still not in love with needles, I didn’t want to keep doing this every 6 months, nor did I want a growth coming out of my neck, let alone the concerns about cancer.

…a known complication from this surgery was a slight chance they could knick a vocal nerve, and if so, I probably wouldn’t be able to play the horn again. 

The endocrinologist recommended a thyroidectomy. She said that the growths would be removed and I would not have biopsies and worries about cancer to deal with, I would just need to take a small pill every day for the rest of my life. What a bummer! My thyroid was even functioning properly and all my hormone levels were normal. So what did this surgery entail? Oh, they just cut about 4-6 inches across your neck line and pull the area up toward your face so they can see directly to the thyroid…! The doctors said that neck surgeries were serious because of all the important things in your neck: arteries, vocal chords, nerves etc….They said that a known complication from this surgery was a slight chance they could knick a vocal nerve, and if so, I probably wouldn’t be able to play the horn again.

I thankfully had a great endocrinologist who recommended an amazing surgeon that had performed thousands of these procedures. I had expressed my fear about this surgery and how concerned I was about being able to play the horn after it. I tried to find some articles online about other musicians, hopefully brass players, who had gone through this surgery for some reassurance, but I couldn’t find any information. I even brought my horn to my last appointment with the surgeon so he could see what I do to play the horn and how much pressure is on my neck. He was sure that everything would be fine and that I would only need 2 weeks off. I thought that he was crazy, so I planned on taking 3 weeks off just to be sure.

The doctors said the surgery was a success and they removed my thyroid along with all the nodules, and thankfully didn’t find any on my para-thyroid. Taking my one pill a day also has gone fine, and I have had no issues with effects from the medication or troubles with dosages. I did lose my voice for about 3 months, which my family didn’t really mind. The surgeon did a great job with the incision and unless you know to look for it, it is a hard scar to see.

Three weeks after the surgery I took my horn out, I had one week to get back into shape and be ready to play. I was hoping I would be able to play, I really was scared as I put the horn up to my face and blew into it. But, I was seriously relieved! I made a decent sound and It even felt normal,thank goodness! A few minutes in, though, I realized it was pretty hard to take a full breath, my throat area did feel different since the surgery. I was afraid to touch it, there were some numb spots, and there was some tightness and the loss of my voice. When I tried to take a breath, my vocal chords weren’t moving out of the way. If I bent my head down, then they were more slack and I could take in more air. The surgeon said that when vocal chords get harassed from intubation from anesthesia, they take a while to come back. Mine were still not vibrating, and so were not moving out of the way when I tried to take in a lot of air for a breath. So, for about 6 months, I would bend my head down if I needed a really big breath before I played!

Oh my gosh, I couldn’t tongue!

During my first practice session, after the relief of making a sound and realizing that I would need to bend my head to help with breathing, I moved on to an etude that required I use my tongue. Oh my gosh, I couldn’t tongue! It felt really weird. Things felt hard and in different places and I wondered why changes in my neck made this happen?! It took a lot of effort to get my tongue to do what I wanted it to, and it felt very different to make it happen. It felt foreign, like muscles and other moving parts were new to this tonguing thing. It felt like re-training, and I had to learn how to fine tune the ability once again. I have not done the anatomical research to know what was affected in my neck and why that would affect my tonguing, but it was a little scary. Thankfully over time, my tonguing has a new normal and things feel ok.

It has now been almost 3 years since the surgery and I’m still playing the horn and doing well. I think waiting 3 weeks was good before I tried to play. I had some demanding things to play the first couple weeks back and I was worried that my throat would give out or something might rupture, but nothing bad happened. I set goals and tried to be realistic and kind to myself. I even pushed myself and took an audition about a month after I came back. I wanted to work really hard and not lose a step. I’m thankful that I only had a couple issues to work through, and through daily practice (focusing on good air support and relaxation) and patience, was able to overcome it.

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A trumpeter’s recovery from Bell’s Palsy

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By Mike Huff

This is my first written documentation of my experience with Bell’s Palsy in 2003. Many have encouraged me to document my experiences, but for the longest time, while I was certainly progressing positively, I couldn’t say for sure that I was “past it” and therefore, what could I say until I felt like I could look back on my experiences? It’s now over 12 years later – I enjoy a great deal of satisfaction in my career: I’m a tenured member of the faculty at Troy University in Alabama and I perform as a regular member of the Mobile Symphony, the Pensacola Symphony, and the Meridian Symphony. So, I guess it’s safe to say that I am “past it,” even though the experience certainly changed the course of my career.

In 2003, I had just separated from the USAF Band in Washington and accepted a teaching position at Mississippi State University. While playing some simple technical exercises with a student, I noticed that I could only play for about two measures before losing my embouchure and leaking air to the point that the sound stopped. Obviously I thought this was odd, but later in the day while trying to teach in a studio class, I noticed that my left eye was watering profusely and would not stop, and it was then that I realized that my left eye was not blinking. Worrying that I could be experiencing a stroke or something very serious, I immediately went to my doctor’s office where I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, which is a nerve condition that paralyzes the facial muscles on one side of your face – for me, it was my left. For most non-musicians, this is an inconvenience. It is hard to eat or drink for a couple weeks and you may have to tape your eye shut when you sleep. Gradually it goes away and you resume your normal function once the nerves regenerate and re-connect. But for a musician who makes his living with his facial muscles, this was kind of a big deal and worrisome to say the least!

At first, playing was absolutely impossible. A few hours of each day when I normally might be practicing and my evenings and weekends when I might normally be performing were suddenly free, and so I used this new found freedom to read, communicate with colleagues and mentors, and to learn as much as I could about how I might recover as quickly and healthily as possible. I found it interesting that the more people I spoke with, the more people I found who had either dealt with Bell’s Palsy or something similar, or who could tell me that they knew someone who had dealt with it.

I tried a multitude of treatments, mostly because I had the time to learn about them and try things. As my doctor recommended, I started with a course of steroids and anti-viral medication to hopefully stop the damage to my nerves from continuing. I also tried B complex, B vitamins, liquid silver, enzyme therapy, and a strange, small gadget called the “facial flex” to exercise my facial muscles once the paralysis began to subside. I had regular sessions of physical therapy (actually, more specifically speech therapy, even though my speech was not affected) that included the electronic stimulation of the muscles.

Gradually, over the course of about a year, my playing resumed. First with only one note, then to a range of about a third, then a fifth, then an octave and so on. Many colleagues who are dealing with Bell’s Palsy or similar “chop issues” have searched me out with questions pertaining to my experience, and it has been nice to be able to “pay forward” some of the great help and advice that was given to me. In some ways, the slow, methodical recovery has been great for my playing. There are some aspects that are better than they have ever been, and occasionally there is still some residual weakness. But at this stage, it is difficult to tell if it is a result of the Bell’s Palsy, if it is more from the natural aging process, or simply from irregular practice habits!

In all, my experience, while certainly challenging, has left me a stronger teacher and a more sensitive musician. And, I suppose the mere fact that I have been able to move forward in a career that still continues to grow might be proof positive that I may be “beyond it” and can now reasonably start to draw some conclusions.

 

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My Struggle with Jaw, Neck, and Shoulder Pain

By Audrey Cupples

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Preparing for tour

In 1995, I was getting ready to go on a Texas tour with “The President’s Own,” U.S. Marine Band. In preparation, we had rehearsals for three hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. After rehearsal, I would go home and teach lessons, playing with my students, then I’d practice. Towards the end of the first week, the week before we were to leave on tour, I noticed my embouchure was getting tired more quickly than usual. My jaw would start to open a bit and I’d start leaking air out of the corners of my mouth. I figured it was from the long hours of playing and decided to take it easy after rehearsals. Next, I noticed my neck was catching when I’d turn my head while pulling into traffic. It didn’t seem that bad, so I decided I was ok to go on tour. I really didn’t want to make someone else have to pack up and go on tour at the last second. This was a big mistake!

Tour Trouble

Our chop buster concerts were over two hours long, every night. That alone was a challenge, but we performed in inhibiting uniforms. The collars were stiff, tall, and cut so that it was very difficult to hold your neck up straight— the collar pushed your neck forward. They were heavy, and all the braiding pulled you forward. Put a saxophone around your neck, and you had a disaster waiting to happen. Adding insult to injury, each day, the bus rides were long and cramped, and carrying heavy luggage to your room, many times up stairs, was hard on your body. Sleeping on different beds and pillows every night didn’t help. I took 1600-2000mg of Ibuprofen at a time, and it didn’t touch the pain. It got to a point that the only time I wasn’t in sickening discomfort was when I was walking. Sitting or even laying down was painful. I could barely make it through dinner— I would get nauseous from the pain before I could finish eating. Concerts were rough to get through.

I decided it’d be a good idea to go to a masseuse. I thought maybe if I loosened my muscles, the pain would subside and I’d be able to play again with less pain. We were in the same place for 2 days, so I scheduled a massage for each day. The first day was pretty intense, and the masseuse said she could feel all the knots in my muscles. She worked on my shoulders, neck, and jaw. The next day I went back for my second massage. She touched my jaw and I jumped. I was so sore from the day before, she could barely touch me. She got out her electric gun and proceeded to work out my jaw muscles. This was not pleasant. That night at the concert, I could hardly hold an embouchure. I was in tears because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to play at all, and the sax section had a quartet soli in “Variations on a Theme by Paganinni.” I managed to play those 16 measures, but nothing else. Things were definitely getting out of hand.

Made it home, but now what?

I made it through the rest of tour, only playing the essential parts, but once I got home, even after resting a week, I couldn’t play. I had to figure out what was wrong and if it could be fixed. I had x-rays and saw many military doctors who were unknowledgeable about a musician’s life. The oral surgeon was the most understanding. He diagnosed me as having temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. He made me a night guard to wear when I slept. I still managed to grate my teeth even with that in my mouth. He made me a cover for my front top teeth to even out my bite while I played sax. One tooth is longer than the other, making my embouchure skewed. Something like that might have helped me when the injury started coming on, but I was in such bad shape, it really didn’t help. He suggested lifestyle changes and I made the appropriate adjustments. I cut out hard or chewy foods, I stopped sleeping on my stomach, I constantly checked myself to make sure I didn’t have my teeth touching during the day— my teeth were usually together unless I was talking or eating. He prescribed Flexeril— a muscle relaxant— and that helped a lot! I’d get really bad headaches, like a vice was squeezing my head. The only thing to knock them out was Flexeril. I’d take one at night, and the next morning my headache was gone, and my jaw, neck, and shoulders were so much more relaxed.

At the same time, I was seeing a civilian chiropractor I managed to find on my own. He had been a clarinet player in school and seemed to understand musician’s injuries. He took x-rays of my neck and found that the section that was supposed to be a “C” shape was straight from having a saxophone hanging around my neck for so many years. He worked at realigning my back, neck, jaw… body. After the first week, I felt some relief, and was able to move a little more freely. He used adjustments, moist heat, and electric stimulation to help relax and heal my injuries. He gave me a list of stretching and warm-up exercises to help me recover and to do before playing. Without his treatments, I don’t think I would have ever played again. The process was much slower than I would have liked, but every time I jumped the gun and tried to play too much, too fast, I’d take two steps backward.

The Marine Band was very supportive, never pressuring me to get back to work. They understood that my focus and energy needed to go into healing and working to play saxophone again. They even sent me, and a couple other injured colleagues, to a Musicians Health Workshop at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., which was very insightful. Two years after my first symptoms, I went on tour and made it the whole 52 days unscathed.

Staying Healthy

My jaw, neck, and shoulders have never quite been the same since my injury, and I need to remain vigilant with my preventative routine. Every night for 15-20 minutes, I use a moist heating wrap around my neck. I sleep on a pillow that keeps my head the correct angle and height to ensure no neck pain the next day. I never sleep on my stomach. I rarely chew gum. I don’t eat sour dough bread or tough steak. I play on much softer reeds than I used to. I can only practice tonguing sections or altissimo sections a little at a time— those techniques put a lot of stress on my jaw. I use Flexeril on the very sparse occasions that I get those bad headaches. I stretch before, during, and after practicing. I take breaks when I’m feeling tired or too tight. I’ve learned to LISTEN to my body.

Final Advice

If you’re having a similar problem, here’s some advice: 1) Stop playing your horn immediately, and go to a good chiropractor who understands what you do. I wish that I had immediately stopped playing and sought help. I might have prevented the permanent damage caused by my continued overuse of these injured muscles. 2) Stretching and warming up are very important. Take the time to work these into your practice schedule. 3) Yoga and meditation are great ways to relax your mind and body— and to help you focus during your practicing and performing. Anxiety doesn’t help if you have any tight muscle issues. 4) Sleep is another important factor. Make sure you’re getting 7-10 hours of good quality sleep pretty consistently. 5) Listen to your body!
From 1988 until her retirement in 2014, Audrey Cupples was the first and only woman saxophonist in “The President’s Own,” United States Marine Band.

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Cancer Blows!

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Ryan Anthony began playing the trumpet at age 7. Ryan has had a successful career as a trumpet soloist and clinician – soloing with major orchestras around the world; performing for several years with the Canadian Brass and now acting as Principal Trumpet of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Almost three years ago, Ryan had just completed a guest appearance with his former group, the Canadian Brass, and he wasn’t feeling well. After the concert, Ryan told his wife, Niki, that he felt like his entire body was “jangling” as he ran off-stage.

Recent chronic aches & pains had sent the 43-yr old to multiple doctors searching for the cause. Blood tests revealed abnormalities but multiple doctors reassured him that “it can’t be cancer” because Ryan was too young to be a candidate for the types of cancers that caused his symptoms. Fortunately, one doctor decided to test for cancer “just in case”. The Monday after the Canadian Brass concert, Ryan & Niki got the call that no one anticipates or is prepared for – especially with two young children in elementary school – Ryan had been diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a terminal cancer of the bone marrow that most often appears in patients 70 and older.

Ryan immediately began therapy at Baylor’s Sammons Cancer Center while he and Niki researched the places for his long-term treatment. After researching hospitals all over the country, they decided to stay at Baylor in Dallas and Ryan began preparing for a stem cell transplant to be performed in the Spring of 2013.

Just ten years ago, Multiple Myeloma was a death sentence with a life span of 2-3 years. While the cancer is still considered incurable and terminal, recent and rapid advances in research have greatly extended the life span of newly diagnosed patients and hope for a cure is a real possibility.

When he was diagnosed, Ryan’s goal was to survive long enough to see his children, then just 6 and 11-years-old, graduate from high school. But, because he has responded so well to his treatment and is in complete remission, Ryan & Niki both dare to hope for more.

During his stem cell transplant, Ryan was overwhelmed with phone calls from trumpet players all over the world. Everyone asked what they could do to help and Ryan jokingly started saying “we’ll all play a concert when I am healthy again and we’ll call it ‘Cancer Blows’ ”. As the weeks went by, the joke solidified into a real event with an impressive guest list. Soon, Ryan & Niki realized the event could be more than just something for fun, but could be used to raise awareness and money to further the research that has helped give their family a hope for a future.

The concert was held in March of 2015 and the proceeds were donated to improve cancer treatment outcomes and ultimately find a cure.

It’s exciting and scary at the same time…so is music…so is cancer…so is life 

Since July, Ryan has increased his maintenance to full treatments due to inconsistent numbers. He’s still in remission, but is receiving virtually the same dose and combination of meds after being first diagnosed 3 years ago. In addition to any side affects from the treatments and cancer, fatigue and occasional infections requiring additional antibiotics due to low immune system are common. He says that all of this is livable and doesn’t require any major change in life’s desires, dreams, or daily life. But, it does affect his ability to play and prepare on the trumpet. Ryan says that it can be frustrating, but with his priorities being a bit different and with a foundation to run, it sorts itself out and falls into place.

CancerBlows has several events in the works with another major concert again in Dallas in 2017, and another in Los Angeles. According to Ryan, “We never expected or planned on having The Ryan Anthony Foundation a full-time year round charity, but the community and others are asking for it – very touching and, as you can imagine, very important now. It’s exciting and scary at the same time…so is music…so is cancer….so is life.”

For more information on The Ryan Anthony Foundation, visit:
http://www.cancerblows.com/ryananthonyfoundation.php

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Accident Challenges Violinist to Re-Learn ‘Backwards’

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By Vickie Yanics

In 1982, my father-in-law had last-minute open heart surgery and my husband flew to Florida to be with him.
Our yard was badly overgrown because of last-minute travels, so I went out to cut it. The mower kept becoming clogged with grass and shutting off. Lawnmowers at that time didn’t have an automatic shut off when you released the mower’s handle. In an effort to keep the mower’s engine running, I attempted to remove some of the clogged grass that was right at the opening of the exit chute, but my fingers got caught by the blade.

Fortunately, a neighbor heard the commotion and ran over to help me. He drove me to Andrews Air Force Base Hospital, which was close, and the only hand specialist in the Air Force happened to be on call that day. The doctor determined that I needed to go to the famous Curtis Hand Center in Baltimore, about 40 miles away. I was sent by medevac and soon after arrival, was taken into surgery where every attempt was made to save my fingers. The damage to my fingers was extensive and I lost about half of my first and second fingers, a reattachment was not possible. The bone in my third finger was fractured and only about half of the bone remained, although the finger was intact. The joint in my third finger was fused and remained very fragile for quite a long time. A specialized split was devised to protect that finger from further injury. My fourth finger was fine, as was my thumb.

Life-Changing Experience
While waiting for surgery, it sunk in that my life as I had known it was over. It occurred to me that I had one good hand and one partial hand. I determined that the good hand could be used to finger the violin and the partial hand could somehow be trained to hold a bow. I had seen a few violinists at various points in my life with damaged bow hands, though it was their right hands. I was in shock, but from that point on, I resolved that it was going to be my mission to be learn the violin using the opposite hands. I did not know if anyone in the world had ever accomplished this, but I was determined to do it.

While in the hospital, I requested that a close friend, who was a violin maker, switch an old violin of mine around so that I could start to learn the violin backwards: finger my violin with my right hand and bow with my injured left hand. In my hospital room, I started to visualize how that would feel, and spent most of the day imagining myself playing all of the violin concertos I knew with the opposite hands. When I returned home from the hospital, my reversed violin was waiting for me. I first practiced picking it up and putting it under my chin (one of the first and difficult lessons of a new violin student). I worked my fingers on the fingerboard to strengthen them. I did this repeatedly. My left hand was still in pain and bandaged, so the bowing aspect of violin playing was going to have to wait.

Monumental Challenge
I was faced with learning my instrument all over again. It was, in many ways, a much tougher assignment the second time around, as I already knew what had to be done to execute various techniques, but my muscles would not respond. I could hear the violin sound I desired so clearly in my head, but what used to come so easily to me before was now a monumental challenge to achieve.

During this time of uncertainty and frustration, many people came forward to help and support me. The “President’s Own” US Marine Band, my employer, fully supported me. They listened to my proposal to relearn the violin backwards and gave me two years to accomplish this. In the meantime, I spent time working in the the band library to earn my salary. President Reagan wrote me a personal letter.

My husband (violinist Kim Miller) wrote to famous violinists and musicians to ask if they knew of anyone else who had switched sides on the violin. I received wonderful letters from them and discovered that only one violinist, Rudolph Kolisch, famous for his quartet in the 1930s, had an accident and relearned the violin.

‘Truly Arrived’
When two years were up, I returned to the orchestra and played my first job. It was a patriotic opener, which consisted of mostly marches. It was a little disconcerting to be back playing with the group, and I did spear my stand partner a few times with my bow (my bow was going in the opposite direction of everyone else’s). I remember that the conductor was beaming the whole time and I felt that I had truly arrived at my destination.

Since the accident, I led string quartets at the White House, played with the Annapolis Symphony, recorded and performed with many pop artists, and performed my regular duties with the Marine Chamber Orchestra until I retired after 28 years.

A couple of years ago, I stopped playing altogether, but I am the founder and chairman of the board of the Lions of Virginia James Bland Music Scholarship Foundation, which provides opportunities and scholarships to high school aged musicians. The foundation keeps me busy, and the Baltimore Orioles also take up way too much time than I should allow!

Vickie Yanics (retired), was a violinist in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band

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