Tuesday, February 28, 2006

You Always Get a Second Chance

Leon Fleisher plays the piano, without the use of his right hand



Sometimes you have to wait till you're in your 60s or 70s to get your soul's desire back . . .

His joy is profound. His music is spirit-filled.
His latest CD is called "Two Hands", for a special reason.

Leon Fleisher made his piano debut with the NY Philharmonic at the age of 16.
Then, in 1964, when he was 35 years old and just approaching the pinnacle of his career as a concert pianist, he lost the use of his right hand.

For 40 years, he was diagnosed as having "repetitive stress syndrome," and was forced to play a left-hand repertoire only.

In 1992, at the age of 63, it was found that he suffered from focal dystonia*.
Shortly thereafter, he began injections of Botox.

"Within 24 - 48 hours, I knew this was working," Fleisher said. "My muscles, from being in a state of perpetual and involuntary contraction, began to de-contract . . . I had sought an answer for 35, 40 years. I had hopes for so many possiblities and always those hopes were dashed. This is quite phenomenal."

"There is always hope," he added.

The first pieces he played were Chopin's Nocturne in D flat major and "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Bach's Cantata No. 208.

In 2004, he released "Two Hands," his first recording of a two-handed repertoire in 40 years. It has sold more than 100,000 copies.

When he first learned he might never again play piano with two hands, he fell into what he calls "a state of despair and depression" that lasted nearly two years.

"Suddenly I realized that the most important thing in my life wasn't playing with my two hands: it was music," he said.

Teaching at top US conservatories, he was known for giving his piano pupils special insights into both music and life.

"My greatest pleasure," he said, "is to see the light of understanding in a student's eyes - - what I call the 'Aha!' moment."

Now 75 years old, he continues to tour, and recently had a solo concert at Carnegie Hall.

Click here to hear him play "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" and more, from his new CD, "Two Hands".

*Focal dystonia is a neurological disorder in which the brain, for unknown reasons, sends messages through the nerves that cause muscles in a certain part of the body to contract and curl up involuntarily. Usually painless, the contractions occur only during specific tasks. For instance, Fleisher's hand might fail him at a Rachmaninov concerto, but work perfectly when he tied his shoes. This is completely different from carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis or repetitive stress syndrome, which involve injured nerves or muscle, not brain impulses that govern otherwise healthy muscles and nerves.

Don't ever give up hope!

Especially if it's your heart muscle that's got focal dystonia.

You always get a second chance.

~ ~ ~

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