Dystonia in Musicians


Tribute to Leon Fleisher

Tribute to Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher

by | Jan 2, 2016

Practitioner of the Farias Technique

Dr. Monica Chen, Practitioner of Dystonia, specializing in performance training for musicians, Practitioner of the Farias Technique
About the Author

Monica Chen is a native Taiwanese violinist and the first practitioner of dystonia in Asia. She has a DMA in violin performance and currently working as an assistant professor at Taipei National University of Arts. Monica studied with Dr. Farias, a leading specialist treating dystonia with movement therapy. She is also the Chinese translator of Dr. Farias‘ book,  ‘Limitless’.

        “Musician’s Dystonia” has only gradually received the attention of the medical community in the past two decades. This change is certainly closely related to neurological research, but if there is no musician to come forward, this thorny disease may still not spread under the sun. Musicians with dystonia tend to conceal the fact of illness by considering work factors, or choose to abandon their performing career and engage in other occupations when there is no cure. This situation has undergone dramatic changes in the 1980s. Two pianists, Gary Graffman (1928-) and Leon Fleisher (1928-2020), who are famous for their dazzling skills, have publicly admitted that they have dystonia. This kind of action has caused the medical and music circles to pay attention to this disease.

        Gary Graffman’s dystonia is in the ring finger and little finger of the right hand, and the two fingers are bent inward uncontrollably. This symptom is especially obvious when playing loud passages. The way he tried at that time was to rearrange the fingerings he played. However, perhaps this made the situation worse, since his right hand could not play at all. Graffman did not give up his beloved performance because of this. He continued to play in concerts with his left hand and became an important contemporary music educator.

        Leon Fleisher, who was born the same year as Graffman, suffered from dystonia earlier. At the age of thirty-six, when his performing career was in full swing, he developed symptoms of inward bending of the ring finger and small finger of his right hand, which continued to deteriorate until he completely gave up his performing career. Over the years, Fleisher visited many specialist doctors for treatment, but no doctor knew what was going on and could not help him. Some doctors even doubt whether he really has a physical illness, because his symptoms only appear when he is playing the piano. Since the 1980s, Fleisher has once again stood onstage with unparalleled perseverance, continuing his performing career with left-handed repertoires. In recent years, he even relieved his right hand by injecting botulinum toxin. The demeanor of a master that has been resurfaced for nearly forty years.

Tribute to Gary Graffman
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