Posted by: eaubeauhorn | March 24, 2008

Personality characteristics of people with embouchure dystonia

I learned this information from a phone conversation I had with a fellow who has had dystonia for many, many years. He has worked some with Jan Kagarice of North Texas U, and he was paraphrasing what she told him. Since I am paraphrasing him, what I’m writing might not be what Jan herself would tell you if you consulted her. But it did ring a bell with me.

He said that he was told that people with dystonia have some interesting things in common in their upbringing and their personalities. They had parents who demanded perfection, and they then applied that to themselves as they became adults. And they tend to be rigid, unbending.

I found I resembled that description. I also recognized that the progress I have made was due entirely to the fact that I was able (and willing) to depart from how I played the instrument, and seek new ways of getting similar results. What I do to make a living requires both a perfectionistic mindset and the flexibility to find on-the-fly new ways of doing critical tasks, when things are falling apart around me. So despite the demanding childhood and the perfectionist mindset (what pro musician is *not* a perfectionist???) I was lucky enough to have the mental/emotional flexibility to seek new solutions and the patience to implement them over time.

One person I know who has dystonia does tend towards inflexibility. I can’t address the perfectionism, but musicians don’t get much of anywhere without it.  And I know her childhood was not the greatest either. The person I had the phone conversation with, who has had dystonia for 20 years, struck me as being very, very rigid when I talked to him. I considered it a huge benefit that I played other brasses, because I had other similar techniques to draw from, that allowed me to figure out what needed to change with the horn playing. But this fellow, when I suggested he try another brass, answered: “I am only interested in playing trombone. I’ve only ever wanted to play trombone.” … displaying the very rigidity, apparently unknowingly, that he had just described to me as being a personality characteristic of people who develop dystonia. Fascinating.

In reading various writings by people who have overcome dystonia, it seems that the process can take years; so far for me it has been two years, and I’m not 100% back yet. So I’d say that patience, and the ability to let go of panic, desperation, and just deal with it with a level head, are very useful. Also very hard to come by if you are a pro and about to lose your livelihood because your chops have decided to do strange things. If you are a pro and have happened upon my blog, if you can track down Jan Kagarice at the U of North Texas, she has helped quite a few pro players overcome dystonia. She is very circumspect and you would not have to worry about anyone finding out.


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