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This is a personal story of why I chose to be a Comeback Player and how it influenced my life. I played the trumpet as child, but gave it up in my early teens. 20 years later I was subject to a serious car accident with head and neck injuries, and I just couldn't recover. After some years I turned to my old trumpet and tried trumpet playing as a rehabilitation method to regain my health.
Along with an increasing number of girls in Norway in the 60s, I became a proud cornetist in our school band. White gloves, shiny medals, and a red silk scarf around my waist, were all part of the picture.
Nordstrand School Boy's Band (click on the image to see a larger)
3 times a day I practiced Hering, Arban and Clarke. In those days it was state of art to "smile" as much as possible to get the high notes.... I never figured out why this didn't work, and finally gave up the battle for extended register and endurance. Instead I went for a happy life without embouchure problems. Later I should find out that happiness never serves as an independent goal, but often appears as a side product when one is fighting for something valuable.
Vera 1965 (click on the image to see a larger)
In 1981 I graduated in dentistry and moved 2500 km to North Norway to start work. I had married while still a student, and we celebrated our new life by starting a family. Unfortunately, the confinement was to herald eight years of chronic pelvic relaxation syndrome - a disability which put a definite stop to a career as dentist. In 1988 I retrained in administrative data processing, applied to forty different posts and was accepted for none. The stock marked crack in New York 1987 had left many programmers and systems developers jobless. After a year spent temping, I ventured upon a second course of retraining. I passed the psychology foundation exam in 1990, and was suddenly offered the post as student counselor at the Faculty of Dentistry, University of Oslo. Wonderful! Now I could draw on my competence in all three areas: dentistry, data processing, and psychology. My happiness was complete.
At the age of 35 I had all I could wish for: a good husband, two healthy sons, supportive colleagues, a rambling old house with a great view, and a chocolate colored Honda Civic.
On Wednesday 8 May 1991 whilst driving home from work on the motorway, I was rammed from behind by a twenty ton petrol tanker. The driver was unaware that the traffic had come to a standstill. A week later I learned from the police that it had been a multiple pile up; the tanker had written off four cars. I was very lucky; the truck had stopped with its bumper just behind my headrest.
Vera 1991 inside (click on the image to see a larger)
I was stitched up and discharged from hospital after 3 days. After a period bed-ridded at home followed difficult years of intense pain, nausea, vertigo, hypersensitivity to sound, tinnitus, blurry vision, double vision, and attention deficit combined with a grossly impaired short-time memory. Concussion and whiplash had left me with a permanent hangover. « I've lost myself!» I thought. «Is there any point in living like this?»
My private physician, a wise, Jewish doctor, came to the rescue and prescribed a little pill. «Take one of these every evening. The first four weeks you'll sleep most of the time. But then you'll start to recover.»
One month later the pain was on the decline, the howling tinnitus no longer woke me up at night, and my initiative resurfaced: «What if I have lost myself? Perhaps I can build a new self?» I set about analyzing what resources might be left to someone who could neither think straight nor see straight. Then I crawled into the darkest corner of the cellar, and came out with my Conn Victor, bought for me by my far-sighted parents twenty-seven years earlier. Next I visited a specialist in psycho-motor physiotherapy. «I want to play the trumpet,» I explained her. «But when I try to blow, I get shooting pains in my neck, and my eyes feel like they're going to explode. Can you help me?»
The `Nodding Joint'
The physiotherapist gave a quick course in anatomy: "There are six vertebrae in the neck. The upper two are unique. The top one is called Atlas, next comes the Axis. The joint between your skull and Atlas allows you to do the "nodding" action. The joint between Atlas and Axis permits side-to-side movements, as when you shake your head to say «no». Whiplash may impair mobility in both these joints, they are, in effect, sprained."
The physiotherapist taught me how to relax the `nodding joint'. Relaxation of the neck muscles which connect the scull to the Atlas results in a little nod. Confirmation that the nod is not the result of a contraction of the opposing muscles, but genuinely caused by relaxation, is the accompanying respiratory response as the breathing becomes deeper and more natural. This was exciting. The psycho-motor exercise program involved relaxing every single joint in the spine from skull to tail bone. With only the neck relaxed and the spine still rigid, my forehead would project beyond my knees if I did a forward curl whilst sitting on a chair. But when all joints relaxed, my head would tuck neatly in with my forehead resting against my knees.
I picked up my trumpet, relaxed my neck, and used the respiratory response to sound the horn. A relaxed neck meant a pain-free neck - essential if I was to play the trumpet. In addition, a relaxed neck also meant a relaxed and open throat, which contributed to a more rewarding sound. This was musical bio-feedback at its best!
Each morning I include these exercises in my limbering up routine. Close at hand I have a large mug of hot tea, swallowing also helps relax the neck and throat. A bigger sound is the result, so I kill two birds with one stone: Still the pain and enhance the sound!
In addition to musical progress and reduced pain, a relaxed neck gave other benefits too! The vertigo, nausea, and tinnitus gradually diminished as muscles and tendons healed. My rehabilitation by `trumpet therapy' had begun. Three months it took to work through Arban. Now I was hooked! I got myself a private teacher, a young academy student. Every other week for two years Monika regularly came to my home (I was still not well enough to journey out myself). Slowly my neck grew stronger. I took grade III and grade IV trumpet proficiency in the municipal music school with a true sense of achievement!
At the local church I was given the chance to accompany hymns and play other short pieces at services. Kind organists ferried me back and forth. At first I was forced to wear ear plugs because the powerful organ was so searingly painful. All sounds hurt the first years, the trumpet too. But when I was playing myself, I had control, which reduced the stress-related component of the pain. Again the trumpet was my therapy, and I began the long, slow trek away from aural hypersensitivity.
My vision was a problem, though. I suffered both from a loss of accommodation, resulting in blurry vision, and from crossing double vision. I saw two of each object everywhere, they even moved sideways in relationship to each other. For distant objects the right-most `twin' was seen by my right eye, but for close-up objects the right-most `twin' corresponded to the view from my left eye. At seventy centimeters (2 feet), where the paths met, I saw just one of everything. But what on earth is there to see at a distance of seventy centimeters? Musicians know the answer - sheet music! I enthusiastically ordered music spectacles, in addition to my four other pairs of glasses, and took great pleasure in reading music.
Re-training those multi-tasking abilities.
After playing for two years I joined the local amateur symphony orchestra. As they had no trumpet, I was very welcome. Suddenly I had to transpose, count breaks, and follow the conductor. How on earth could my Swiss cheese brain manage to do all this at the same time? The first two months I counted breaks in Schubert's Unfinished and came in wrong every single time. F-transposing was just about possible, but E-transposition was terrifying. What that poor orchestra had to suffer! Coming in too early, one trumpet can easily floor twenty violins. Embarrassing situations were numerous and frequent. Fortunately the violinists saw the funny side. I explained my situation to the conductor and told him to give me a «time out» if my disruptions became too disturbing. But Arne, who is patience personified, kindly let me continue trying and failing until I finally succeeded. The training in the symphony orchestra went on for 3 years, and it proved crucial to regain my ability to perform simultaneous activities. This coordination had been lost in the accident.
In November 1996, before I left the orchestra, I played first trumpet in Rhapsody in Blue. Just two weeks prior to the concert I actually handed my music back to Arne and told him to find someone else. However, Birger, who played the trombone next to me in the orchestra, said I should go for it. He took me home and taught me the wah-wah mute technique, and compatible fingering for the difficult runs. The concert was a milestone. Working hard for something, almost giving up, then the terrifying joy of attempting what two weeks earlier had seemed absolutely impossible - and succeeding! That was a real thrill.
Springtime 1996 my sight improved dramatically, and I was again able to go for walks in the forest and even drive a car again! A new life began for me. No longer dependent on lifts from kind people I could accept more invitations to play. Now I play regularly in 5 different churches at services, confirmations, funerals and weddings. Afterwards I proudly offer the organists a free ride home! I love the acoustics in churches. It is exciting to let that first note sound from the gallery. You get so much back - in one way or another - from the church.
A Useful Citizen Again?
August 96, I started to instruct the young cornet players in a school brass band near by. It was very rewarding. Now I have 24 students pr week in two different bands. Working with youngsters and using music as a catalyst to facilitate their personality development is a wonderful responsibility. Children need to develop self-confidence, stand in complete balance on both feet, breath naturally with both shoulders relaxed, and produce a good sound. What level of ambition shall I set for each student which will be a challenge and yet realistically achievable? I want them to achieve the happiness of developing skills and mastering difficulties. I want each student to feel the thrill of stretching towards his potential.
The experience of trying hard and succeeding helps building a strong identity. Parallel with my students' personal and musical development, my own cure continues. As I reach my goals, I move them forwards and invent new ones. Every part of the road is tiled with hard work and disappointments though, that's the stake. But the prize, a versatile life in progress and wonderful new friends makes it all worth while.
During times when I felt emotionally low, I tried to work through these feelings by giving them musical expression. This resulted in a number of ballads in minor keys and 6/8 time. I bought a Benge flugelhorn and found solace in playing my tunes. The women at Solgaarden home for the elderly formed an appreciative audience. The flugelhorn hurt a lot less in their hearing aids compared to the B-flat trumpet. In March 2001 some of these tunes were published in Germany, "21 Norwegian Trumpet Soli", by Wolfgang Haas in Cologne.
Note: (June 2003) Vera has now publised another set of trumpet solos, called "28 trumpet soli".
Now, 10 years after the accident, I have found myself again. A professional musician I shall never be, but luckily, in music, unlike in medicine, one can be an amateur without being locked up for mal practice! A heartfelt «Thank you!» to professional musicians, who are willing to train us amateurs and help us find a place in the musical community. Music offers a life-affirming cathartic of unsurpassed curative effect. Communicating through music gives positive reinforcement, which spreads via parasympathetic responses through the whole body. The comfort gives instant feedback as one strives for greater mastery. This explains why trumpet music proved a most effective therapy for me.
To my own surprise, I have recently been able to reclaim some of my intellectual capacity. Thanks to International Trumpet Guild, who has assigned me Membership Coordinator for Europe and European News Correspondent, I now perform administrative work and author articles on trumpet events in Europe.
In the ITG conference 2001, I served as digital photographer for the online coverage of the conference
Through my involvement with ITG, I also develop working relationships and friendships with their officers and staff. This means a lot to me, more supportive colleagues aren't possible to find.
Vera 1998 (click on the image to see a larger)
Being alive feels good again, thanks to trumpet therapy!