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  • Writer's picturesarahschmalenberger

Music therapy for musicians...nope

No, I don't want to play with the boom whackers. And please turn off the music

No, I won't relax to the sounds of Bach

The last thing I wanted to hear during my chemotherapy treatments was "soothing music" because, as musicians all know, the second a tune begins the analytical thinking kicks into gear. First, identify that tune. Second, classify it into either "yes I have played this" or "no I have not played this." If yes, then "ohh, it was back in ____ when I was working with ____, and ____happened...." If no, then "ohh, I remember this from _____ class or ____ audition/concert and ______happened."

There's nothing neutral about music

“I tried to explain to the ER doctor that I had to get my fever under control, so that I could get to rehearsal the next day; we were going to perform Mahler 5 that weekend.”

I didn't get why two big burly RNs were coming in to help out with administering a spinal tap. I wasn't thinking too clearly with a fever of 104. They gave me a pillow to curl around, grasped my arms and shoulders, and tucked my head into the pillow so that my spine stretched into an extreme curve. When the needle jabbed into my spine to extract the fluid, I understood why I had to be held so tightly.

There will be other opportunities to play Mahler 5, the doctor soothed.”

There was an ice storm the night of the concert, and attendance was sparse. But I hear that Peggy played the horn obligato part with scary good amazing precision. Dave had to play the concert - he was the timpanist, and I sobbed at the prospect of being alone in the hospital while everyone else got to play this piece. Kurt drove through the ice storm from the North Shore to sit at my bedside.

I'll never get to play Mahler 5. Or Brahms 3rd. Only big-shot orchestras play these tunes, and my window for getting into the big-shot club closed years ago. I was too busy trying to not die.

I did draw great joy, however, from hearing Rebecca play Mahler 5. She was a freshman at Harvard, and she had called me in the fall to inquire "How does Mahler compare to Beethoven, in terms of horn glory?" Rather than answer her query, I directed her to find the school library and locate score and recording. "Ohhhhhhh, I think I'll try out for that solo part!"


Musicians need Therapy - for loss

March 2022

Mask mandates are ending. Half the country is vaccinated and/or boosted. Fewer deaths from Covid, the latest surge in new cases a far off memory. So it would appear we can all go back to how it was before the pandemic shut down everything.

Of course, there is no going back to that time. Few get far with evoking warm fuzzy memories about how great it was to be a musician before the pandemic. It's always been tough; now it's tougher.

We are all mourning so much, and on so many levels. But I swear, if someone trucks out that damn Bernstein quote, "We...will make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before...." in the face of the violence in Ukraine or anything else, then I will break their damn instrument over their backside or yank their vocal cords down to their kneecaps. Posting some pithy statement on social media doesn't make someone appear profoundly wise. None of us knows a dang thing about anything right now.

And yet...there is for me something deeply healing when I pick up my horn and just play long, somber tones. Or when I get a call to play something, anything. I'm approaching it all much more humbly, with much more gratitude than before. That is all the therapy I have for now. So far, it is keeping me going.

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