She Still Plays

Marty has been changed—but not broken.

by Larry Kinard

When you think about the science of playing the piano, your brain translating black marks on paper so the left part of your brain can tell the muscles of the right hand to move the fingers and push black and white keys in a rhythm to make music, it’s amazing.

When I watch Marty sit at the piano, her arm mottled from medication, her right hand poised over the piano keys, her eyes intent on the music, her brain slowly calculating and making the complicated connection of the marks on the page to the keys on the piano, I am amazed.

The piano has always been a refuge for Marty—a place to be an artist, a place to pound out frustrations, a place where she belonged, a place to bring people around her to sing or to simply listen.

The piano was the catalyst for recovery, and the piano continues to be a test and exercise for her broken brain.

While her mind is compromised and her right hand is halting, her understanding of the music is still there.

There was a time when Marty played and practiced the piano almost daily. When we lived in Hillsboro she played for the community college’s choir. Her hands would basically float across the keyboard and she could take a staid traditional hymn and rock it into a toe-tapping gospel rendition in her head. She once told me she cheated because she converted a lot of the notes into chords, which to me seems pretty complicated but she played a lot and played well.

While her mind is compromised and her right hand is halting, her understanding of the music is still there. The brain is sometimes slow to translate the spots on the page to her hand, but she knows exactly what the spots mean, an F sharp, a C chord, a flat, an eighth note.

At times she hesitates in the playing, but at other times she is as fluid with her right hand moving across the ivory keys as she ever was. She occasionally plays the wrong note and grimaces as the disharmony is apparent, but she keeps reading the music. She keeps playing the notes, looking for the sharps and the flats and the rhythm of the music.

It’s worth the time to watch her eyes and to see her intensity as she reads the music. I ask her if it comes easy, she says not at all. She has to strain and consciously act to read the notes and play the music. It’s not instinctive or intuitive. It’s her broken brain translating a process she has always loved.

If you were to meet Marty now and hadn’t had the chance to get to know her before the strokes, you might immediately develop an opinion of what she can do and believe that she is limited by the traumatic brain injuries. If you watched her play the piano, though, you would form a different opinion. This woman has been irrevocably changed, but not broken, by strokes. Watching her play the piano you see someone who is different.

When she sits in front of the piano, her right foot on one of the pedals, her right hand hovering over the keys, her gaze on the familiar notes she gets lost in the music and she forgets for a brief time the strokes, her disease, and her disability.

When she gets lost in playing the music she feels free and in charge again. Her self-worth rises and she smiles.

I love to see her play.

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