Surviving a Serious Bicycle Accident

Glenn and his daughter Karra

Glenn and his daughter Karra

Glenn Paulson began his musical training at 6 years old.
After studying percussion at the Eastman School of Music and the Juilliard School, he auditioned and won a position with the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band in 1997, where he performs regularly at the White House, in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

While on tour with the Marine Band in 2009, Glenn was in Washington state near Mt. Rainer, and decided to take his new collapsible bike out for the first time. He rode about 25 miles at 11 a.m., and then woke up at 10 p.m. in a hospital bed. He found out that he had been hit by a car and had broken his clavicle, two ribs, two toes, and bones in his skull. Amazingly, if the bone that had cracked in his right ear were any closer to his eardrum, he would have lost hearing, which would be devastating to a professional musician.

Glenn still doesn’t remember much about his recovery process. He had vertigo, 23 MRIs, and briefly lost the ability to speak and process thought. He does remember coming out of a bone scan machine being unable to move or talk, and then crying in frustration. Suddenly remembering his daughter’s name helped him to know that she needed him to get better. Karra, his young daughter, was his inspiration for recovery.

Glenn started therapy at Walter Reed Hospital and remembers re-learning the alphabet five letters at a time. During his therapy, he realized that he never forgot how to read music, so he began practicing for an upcoming masterclass.

Three weeks after his accident with his arm in a sling, which he took off for the performance, Glenn played a mallet masterclass at the International Percussion Convention in front of some of the greatest living percussionists. Instead of becoming nervous, he remembered that he had almost died three weeks prior, and his performance went well. He even spoke Spanish to a Spanish-speaking student in the class, which came back to him in the moment.

After 10 months of setbacks from surgeries and therapy, dealing with some tough family situations, and some performances that weren’t as easy as they used to be, Glenn has not only recovered fully, but he is thriving in his performance career.

On the five-year anniversary of his accident, he performed a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic as a soloist with John Williams conducting. He now composes music as therapy, and has had seven pieces published, premiered, and performed all over the country. He will return to the International Percussion Convention in November 2015 to speak and play in a masterclass.

Glenn Paulson is a percussionist in the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band

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Music has the incredible power to affect one’s heart and soul


By Michael Hawes

My name is Michael Hawes. I grew up in a musical family;
my mother a singer and my father a bass trombonist. For as long as I can remember, there has been music in my house.

I started playing the trumpet in fourth grade and was very privileged to study with Barbara Butler at Northwestern University for my undergraduate degree. At the end of my freshman year at Northwestern, I suffered an overuse injury after playing too much and not resting enough throughout my days at school. I had torn my orbicularis oris muscle, the complex of muscles in the lips that encircles the mouth. It took several months to find a doctor who could diagnose and help repair the injury. Finally, a doctor in Toronto performed surgery to repair the muscle. For the next four months I was off the horn completely.

Due to this injury, I was unable to play to the extent I was able to before, and this lasted for several years. I started singing in choirs at school and taking voice lessons to remain involved in music. Meanwhile, while I was rehabilitating my lip and very slowly gaining strength back on the trumpet.

Fast forward five years — I feel very lucky that I am able to play the trumpet again, let alone at the possibility of a career in the music world. In some ways (though hard to admit to myself sometimes!), the injury was a blessing in disguise, as I now consider singing to be a huge part of my life.

I am incredibly grateful to my family and all my teachers at Northwestern for supporting and guiding me through the tougher times in college, as many times I wondered how nice it may feel to toss my trumpets in the lake and walk away! But, I knew I would always regret it.

I now am a freelance singer and trumpet player at various venues around Chicago, playing and singing with the Music of the Baroque Chorus, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Grant Park Chorus, and was recently cast in an opera with the Haymarket Opera company.

As for my thoughts on music, I think that music has the incredible power to affect one’s heart and soul, to bring you up (or just keep you company) when you’re feeling down, and to inspire you to infinite heights. It also is one of the few things in our world that we can all relate to. If there is one thing we need in our world, it is friendship and teamwork, and music can bring people together, whether it be listening on the radio, in the concert hall, or performing together. It has no boundaries, and knows no race, religion or political beliefs. Music has the power to bring us closer together, if we let it, and for me to think of myself as a musician, I am a very lucky man.

Michael Hawes is a freelance musician in Chicago, IL

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Would I ever be able to play the trumpet again?


by Rob Singer

In early august, 2008, I began noticing strange sensations.
One day, I felt a slight pain and stiffness in front of my ears. The next day, my tongue felt slightly scalded or numb, but I had eaten a lot of garlic that day so I didn’t think too much of it. My trumpet playing that same day felt stiff, but like the feeling in my tongue, I didn’t worry about it. The next day I taught a lesson in the morning and my playing just didn’t feel right. I got more tired than I usually do and I had trouble playing in the upper register. That night, I spent some time doing easy fundamentals, but things still weren’t working.

The following morning, I practiced at home prior to a rehearsal and I could barely play a C in the staff, and within minutes, I couldn’t even form an embouchure. I knew something was wrong, and I immediately went to the doctor. After ruling out the possibility of a stroke, I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and given and antiviral medication and a steroid to reduce swelling.

I was initially very worried as thoughts about my career and my family raced through my head. Would I ever be able to play the trumpet again? What could I do for a job? By the end of the day, however, I was a lot calmer, as I did some research and also discovered several other brass players who had dealt with Bell’s Palsy. Through the stories they shared and the advice they gave me, it seemed like just a matter of time before things would get better.

Physically, many things were difficult. The left side of my face was not responsive; I could not move it. While it did not hang down, that side would just stay limp when I tried to smile, wrinkle my nose, or raise my forehead. I couldn’t close my left eye completely so I had to tape it shut when I slept. I used eye drops to keep it moist during the day. Shaving, brushing my teeth, and eating were all difficult — and messy! Water would spew out of my mouth if I tried to swish. Over-all, I felt tired. We had a one-year old child at the time and I had not been getting very much sleep. I had also been training for a marathon that summer and the lack of rest probably made me more susceptible to illness.

I did lots of meditation and visualization, trying to imagine the nerves in my face healing
Because I needed my body to heal, I made it my first priority to get more sleep. I tried to go to bed earlier and also take naps. Open to anything that might help, I actually went to see a spiritual “healer.” I’m not sure if that visit helped or not, but it seemed like a good experience.

Instead of practicing, I used my time to explore other facets of my musicianship. I did a lot of listening and really thought about the kind of trumpet sound I wanted. I read Kenny Werner’s book Effortless Mastery and tried to boost my confidence by always thinking of myself positively and as a masterful performer. I visualized myself performing and thought about what it felt like to play — hoping to spark some kind of nerve growth.

I didn’t do anything special to facilitate the re-growth of my nerves. Some people recommended electro-stimulation (like holding an electric toothbrush to my cheek) to help regenerate the nerves, but I was concerned about “cross-wiring” them, or having them grow back in a way that may have caused problems for my embouchure. In general, I just tried to rest, think about improvement, and be patient. Less time spent practicing meant that I had more family time, which was great.

After three or four weeks, I hadn’t tried to play trumpet, but I was gaining some movement back in my face. I went to see a speech pathologist, who was very helpful. She gave me a list of facial exercises I could perform that would strengthen and coordinate the muscles in my face. Up until this point, I had avoided trumpet playing for fear of creating bad habits, but with more success with the facial exercises, I viewed practicing as just another exercise.

Once I started playing again, I was very careful to play with great form. For the first several days, all I could manage was 12 whole notes. After those long tones, I’d feel like my embouchure was going to collapse. I would stop playing immediately because I didn’t want to do something strange just to get the notes out. As time went on, I was able to do two or three sessions per day, but no longer than five minutes each! I started to introduce parts of chromatic scales with very limited range. I only went as high or as low as I could without losing a “perfect” embouchure.

Practicing became an exciting opportunity
Re-learning to play was like teaching a beginner who already had a great ear, and would do anything and everything I asked. Over the next several weeks I gradually added range, dynamics, and articulation to my practicing until I was somewhat back to normal. In fact, in some ways, I was actually better. My sound richer, my posture was better (although that didn’t last!), and I became a smarter player. I’m more aware now of the muscles involved in forming an embouchure, and I’m better at knowing when I need to stop practicing or what I need to do to get more balanced.

I was really lucky to be playing in the Marine Band while going through this illness. I was given all the time I needed to heal, and was never pressured to get back to work. I was afforded the opportunity to rebuild my playing the right way and never had to rush things to meet a deadline. When I finally did return to work, I was able to ease into the schedule. I started off playing easier parts, or parts that were often doubled. I had days of rest between my playing responsibilities so that I had time to recover and evaluate how I was progressing.

My episode with Bell’s Palsy was initially very scary, but in the end it turned out to be a positive experience. I was fortunate to be able to talk with many professional brass players who have dealt with this illness. Their compassion and advice comforted me and helped me through a troubling time. Performers shouldn’t ever feel inferior while struggling through something like this. Many players encounter some kind of physical ailment at some point in their career, and I’m always happy to offer my support and to help in any way that I can.

Rob Singer plays trumpet/cornet with the “President’s Own” United States Marine Band

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