Harry played in the orchestra pit for 15 years till a stroke numbed his left hand.
This Week’s Story: A Stroke Disables a Theater Musician
Harry played keyboards in the orchestra pit for dozens of Broadway shows over the years. Now his left hand lay numb on the keyboard after a debilitating stroke.
Half a Keyboard
Harry spread his fingers over the keyboard. A deep breath filled his lungs. His right hand began playing a high, delicate melody. Harry closed his eyes. Let the music flare up inside him, burn out his fingers. His left arm lay at his side as melodies danced in the air.
For Harry, the piano was life. That life was cut down with the stroke that disabled his left hand. A life cut in half. There was no bass for his melodies. No bottom. No foundation. Playing melody with his right hand felt like riding a bike with only one leg. Not just difficult. Near impossible.
Harry continued playing. His left arm instinctively raised to the keyboard, but there was no movement, no feeling, in his hand.
Tears seeped from his eyes. Ran unchecked down his cheeks and splattered on his shirt front. He continued to play. He felt lopsided. Off balance. He closed his eyes again, this time to offset the dizziness he felt.
Today marked a month since his stroke. They caught it early. Limited damage, the doctors said. Limited, yeah. Maybe for them. For Harry, the joy of his life cut in half. His friends told him he could still play melody. That was better than losing his right hand. He could live without the bass, they said.
Harry knew better. Bass was the bottom. The support for melody. Without the bass he felt like he was dancing without shoes. Without feet.
His career was over. He would never play in the pit again. Eight shows a week. Eight times a week for the last fifteen years. Pure joy. He had his favorite shows, but he would play even for the bombs. Live performance was his life.
And the beauty of it. He played unseen in the pit. His joy bloomed nightly in the cocoon of the theater pit, shared with his fellow musicians. For the audience, the music was background to the stage action. They did not feel any need to see the orchestra. They knew it was there. That was enough.
After each show a few theater goers gathered at the edge of the pit, pointing out the instruments to their kids, their nieces and nephews, their grandkids.
Harry would make their night by waving from his piano bench. Then he’d stand and head for home.
Home. Where he sat now. Nowhere else to go. Disability insurance would cover some of his previous income. The rest? Who knows?
Harry reached deep into his memory. The muscle memory of playing for a lifetime. He began playing “Try to Remember” from the Fantasticks. “Deep in December.” This was his December, he thought. Reaching back like some old guy to recall the good times, the Septembers of his life. The times when the embers burned brightly. When life was good.
His left arm twitched. Harry moved the arm up to position his numb hand over the keyboard. The melody continued to flow from his right hand.
The pinkie finger on Harry’s left hand ticked. Twitched. Hit a deep C note.
Harry took his left hand in his right. Massaged it gently. Another tic. Slight.
He let his left arm fall to his side and resumed playing with his right.
His pinkie finger twitched again. Twice. Harry smiled. Played on with his right hand. Played on and on…
An Interview with a Film Composer
Here’s a link to an interview I did a few years back with film composer Thomas VanOosting. You may enjoy reading it. And thanks for stopping by.
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