Archive for August, 2009

Launching

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

So here I am, blogging.  I’ve never been much into the concept of blogging – I’m a pretty private person.  But things have changed since the onset of my RA – I’ve been helped so much by the blogs of other people with this ridiculous disease, and it occurs to me that maybe I can help someone else.  So away we go…

I’ve been a musician all my life.  With the exception of some summer temp jobs when I was in college, I’ve never held a non-music job.  It’s not an easy way to make a living, and I worked ridiculously hard for years and years.  One summer I worked as a pianist and coach for an opera program, and I played the piano for nine hours a day, seven days a week.  I have a small frame, and my body took a beating – tendonitis, repetitive stress injuries, even a long bout of thoracic outlet syndrome.  But I kept going.  In 2006, I was again working seven days a week, this time at about five or six different jobs, with lots of one-time gigs scattered here and there.  I even worked on all the major holidays, since one of my jobs was at a church. 

Then I developed rheumatoid arthritis.

Some other time, I’ll tell the story of exactly what happened.  For now, it’s enough to say that it changed everything.  Suddenly, working seven days a week was no longer possible.  I was waking in the morning to find that yet another finger had gone stiff and swollen overnight.  I began stumbling over notes at the piano, having trouble concentrating in rehearsals, becoming cranky with my fellow musicians.

So, as I saw it, there were three things I could do:

1. Deny that anything was wrong and push through as best I could, relying on shots and steroid pills to get me through my performances.
2. Give up music and find something else to love.
3. Find a way to adapt and keep music in my life.

If you have RA, you can guess how well #1 worked.  I was surprisingly lucky for a long time – somehow, I managed to get through the performances that were important to me.  But I finally had to accept that I needed to slow WAY down.

I tried #2 for a little while, during times when I couldn’t work.  Sometimes being around music and musicians was so painful that I thought it might be best.  Going to the opera made me incredibly sad, and I stopped listening to classical music at home.  I didn’t touch the piano when I didn’t have to.  But something important inside me wasn’t being fed.

So for now, it’s #3.  I’m still a working professional musician, but I now teach more than I play, and work only a few hours a week on average.  More importantly, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of music-making, and looking for ways around my physical limitations.  I also spend a lot of time thinking about the concept of perfection.  Classical piano is a perfectionist art, or at least it was for me – many hours of practice went into polishing a piece of music until it was as nearly perfect as possible.  When I made mistakes in public performance, it was a cringeworthy experience.  But mistakes are more likely now, and it’s harder for me to play technically difficult classical pieces than it was before.  Someday it may be impossible.

In the middle of all this struggling, I started writing music of a completely different kind.  I guess you could call it popular music – I don’t know what specific category my “sound” falls into, or even if it falls into one at all.  It is surprisingly hard for me.  Writing music might seem like a natural thing for a trained musician to do, but sometimes all that training, all those ideas about what it means to “compose,” all that perfectionism can really get in the way.  But somehow, I’ve come to feel that it’s important for me to do it anyway.  I’ve lost a lot of things to RA; now I want to start gaining some things. 

So this is what this blog is about, at least for now.  It’s a place for me to wrestle with my thoughts about RA, about music, about art in general, about my new role as a baby songwriter, about whatever else might come up.  It’s also a place for me to share the music that comes out of this. 

It’s also not going to be a “perfect” place.  Sometimes I am philosophical, or even positive, about the RA and all the changes in my life.  Other time, I am angry, rebellious, sad, self-pitying.  Sometimes I’m irreverent, politically incorrect, or crass.  All of that will probably show up here, because I want this blog to be real.  I find that sometimes I’m helped by reading blogs where other people are being brave and creative in dealing with their illness, but other times I am comforted by seeing that other people go through the same anger and pain that I do.  I don’t know yet what the balance will be on this blog – it depends on what happens to me, and how I feel about it at the time.  Life is messy; art is messy.

Here, then, is the first song I ever wrote about having RA – it’s called “Don’t Let Me.”

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