Not something that happens
But the way something happens
-- Charles Ives,
Essays Before a Sonata

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A keyboardist copes with a broken arm

Toe straps are dangerous! About a month ago, I had an accident on my bicycle. As I approached an intersection, a car sped into the intersection and forced me to stop suddenly. I took my left foot out of the toe strap to put my left foot down, but I was balanced the wrong way and I fell to the right. As I was going down, I knew not to put my hands out to catch myself, but I landed the wrong way on my arm and broke my radial bone near the elbow joint (an injury which, ironically, usually results from putting the hands down while falling).

As a bicyclist, I never attempted anything I considered reckless, such as weaving through city traffic or racing down a mountainside. Yet even a low-speed fall from a seated position can cause a significant injury. Here's some information on radial head fractures. The important text is at the bottom: "Even the simplest of fractures will probably result in some loss of extension in the elbow. Regardless of the type of fracture or the treatment used, physical therapy will be needed before resuming full activities." For a musician, these are scary words indeed.

After about a month, I can say that I seem to have avoided a career-ending injury. I have been able to reestablish motion in my elbow and wrist joints. I can now perform all of the motions necessary for playing the piano and organ, though not as fluidly as before. I will be working hard to rebuild my technique from scratch. The lingering issue is strength in the muscles. It is still hard to open the hand completely and to play octaves or large chords. Sometimes I can't make all the notes in a chord sound together, and it's hard to give the little finger enough strength for bravura playing on the piano. (On the organ, these motions are less often necessary.) Like a baseball pitcher, I have to use a heating pad before I play and ice afterward. But I can play, for which I am grateful.

At first I just assumed that I would have to hire someone to substitute for me in my church music job for several weeks. But the congregation has encouraged me to continue to serve them as best as I can, even if I can't do everything I normally would.

  • Some repertory can be performed without the right hand, using just the left hand and pedals. My first week back, with my right arm still in a sling, I played the Prelude in C major from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, in this manner, and I finished the service with an arrangement of Jeremiah Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary. (This is actually a good exercise for an able-bodied organist, too.)
  • A digital organ with MIDI capability can be "played" using a computer or MIDI sequencer. I accompanied hymns for several weeks using the setup pictured: a laptop connected to the organ using a USB-to-MIDI interface. I sequenced the hymns in Finale at my desk using only the left hand (first on a keyboard to give the pitch, then using Caps Lock and the number keys on my computer to give the durations). There are some tricks to making this technique work. You can't just copy the notes out of the hymnal verbatim; you must add ties and rests to mimic what a competent organist actually plays when reading from a hymnal.
  • Some solos and anthems are published with recorded accompaniment. I put CDs into my laptop and connected the audio output to the organ's auxiliary audio input. (This required some adapters, since the organ's inputs are dual 1/4" mono jacks, and the computer has a stereo 1/8" headphone jack.) As we found out during rehearsal, singing from a recording is harder than singing with live accompaniment, especially when the recording has many changes in tempo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good Luck in your continued recovery!!!