Playing Cello
With Disabilities

I am 53 years old, and I’ve been playing cello for almost a year. When I was 24 years old, I had a major stroke, with total paralysis of my right side and loss of speech with expressive aphasia. Fortunately I was cleared for brain surgery and they removed a large intracranial blood clot.

I received some spontaneous recovery. In other words, I could start making sounds again, but I had to relearn how to use the muscles of speech. Likewise, though my hand looked useless, with effort it could be strengthened through therapy. I eventually got about 80% use back – poor fine coordination; the furthest from the brain is the most affected, as a rule of thumb. I had been right handed and was forced to now be lefty.

Anyway, back then, during my rehab period, I had the idea to borrow a cello from a friend of the family and take lessons from another violinist friend. I would tape the bow in my hand, and it was a pleasant and instructive form of therapy. I did this for about three months, is all. You see, at that stage in my life I had trouble sticking with things. I was a hippie and I have no doubt that the stroke was caused by my liberal use of drugs. The expression of the times, “Speed Kills” was founded in reality.

But now, much later, I am playing again and enjoying it. It makes me chuckle when I hear of players talking about updating to a finer bow. I’m far from fulfilling the possibilities of my trusty fiberglass one.

Also, I feel fortunate to have a teacher who is willing and encouraging. This man is 90 years old and has 70 students, mostly junior high and high school age (some younger) and some parents that have gotten involved, and then some adults like my wife and I who heard about him from parents of one of his students. With so many, he has formed a string sinfonettia, which performs concerts every couple of months, and which he got us playing in at the earliest opportunity. It’s great experience and I’m sure has speeded my progress.