SOPP368: There is at least one level of my lumbar spine (at L-4) where the nerve into my right leg is compressed by severe arthritis
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 368 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Nancy, and she writes:
Thank you for the information, Vidas. I have followed the suggestions on the link, and I think all is well with my Total Organist subscription.
You asked about my playing now. There are two issues that I am dealing with:
(1) The first, and most important, issue is my physical limitations. I have been muddling along as best I can, playing almost exclusively on manuals--not how I like it to be, at all, and certainly not how I learned to play the organ fifty years ago. Unfortunately, there is at least one level of my lumbar spine (at L-4) where the nerve into my right leg is compressed by severe arthritis. Until I have major surgery to release the compressed nerve, I simply can't cope with the pain in my right leg and lower back long enough to return to pedal-playing. The medical testing to locate exactly where the anomalies are, has been ongoing since early this past spring; the neurosurgeon to whom I have entrusted my care is in no hurry to operate. This is a long-standing problem that affects not only my organ-playing, but also my ability to carry on the ordinary activities of daily life.
(2) The second issue is that this coming Sunday is the last day the congregation of my church will worship in the sanctuary for several months. To save money on heating, for the past ten years we have vacated the sanctuary after the last Sunday in December and moved into a much smaller space in our Vestry, where we have worshiped through Epiphany and most of Lent. Return to the sanctuary is on Palm Sunday. For that period of time, music is provided on the piano (and sometimes via the pastor's MP3 player). Although I have a small portable heater that sits on the organ bench, the sanctuary is simply too cold to allow for realistic practice time. Having the heat in the sanctuary turned on up for practice time is an extravagance the church cannot afford. I effectively cease being an organist during this hiatus.
My hope is that both issues might be resolved in the ensuing months, but that may be asking too much. I intend to keep up with my keyboard practice and to do as much with Total Organist as I can, short of actually having a pipe organ to play. As I am expected to provide the music for our winter worship services, the keyboard part can continue to improve. Just not with any registration. Or pedals.
I hope this gives you at least a partial picture of the environment in which I work. It has been over thirty years since I have had any instruction, and it is time for me to get serious again--my love for the organ in our sanctuary is a powerful motivator.
Thank you for all that you do to encourage those of us who try to be faithful organists while living and working in less-than-ideal circumstances.
All the best for the New Year,
V: That’s a long story, but quite a colorful description of Nancy’s situation, right, Ausra?
A: Yes, it’s fascinating, and I can only guess how many organists would share the same experience, or similar experience, because if we are talking about a back problem, about a spine problem, I think it’s very common nowadays, not only for organists, but in general for people who are working with their computer every day. I think they have a lot of trouble with their spines. But that’s a serious thing! And all those surgeries, they are quite a risky thing for the back, because it might help, but it might also hurt.
V: Do you think that swimming is an activity that might be beneficial in this situation?
A: Well, in general, it is thought that swimming is easier and less dangerous for people who have joint problems and back problems.
V: So you would say yes, probably?
A: I would say yes, but I’m not a physician, so…
V: So anything we say here has to be taken just as our understanding, not necessarily an advice, because we are not clinicians. We are not physicians. We are not medical doctors. And therefore, if we advise, for example, to go to the swimming pool from time to time, first of all, Nancy should discuss this with her doctor.
A: Anyway, I think some kind of physical exercise is necessary for everybody, and you need to find something that works for you, of course, in consulting your physician. But anyway, if you have to do that back surgery, I would say do it now, and not later, because my mom was struggling with her spine all the time. She had various problems with it. And now, when she almost can’t walk because the damaged nerves will not allow her to use her right leg at all normally. It’s already too late to have a surgery, because her back is so problematic that no surgeon wants to operate on her and to take a risk.
V: And this back, spine situation is because of her overworked joints. Not joints, but…
A: Not joints…
V: But joints too, probably.
A: Well, that’s not her main problem.
V: Are there any risks while doing operations like that?
A: Of course! She might not be able to walk after surgery at all!
V: I mean Nancy.
A: Well, I’m talking about my mom! But yes, definitely, there is a risk, depending on which part of the spine is operated on. Because, if it’s near your neck, you might get paralyzed completely, full body. And the lower you go, the lower the paralysis might go. Like, let’s say lower than your neck, your spine parts will affect your arms, and then the lower you go, it will affect your legs.
V: Yes, it’s a complicated issue, and all we can do is to say how, for example, Ausra’s mom is feeling. But it doesn’t mean that this applies to anybody, or everybody, it’s just her situation. And everybody should consult their own physician and neurosurgeon.
A: But still, my mom does exercises every morning, so…
V: What kind of exercises?
A: Specific exercises that she was taught at the hospital.
V: So it’s not like a regular yoga.
A: Oh, no, she could not do yoga!
V: But, some exercises might be similar to Pilates, right?
A: Yes, definitely.
V: But with variations, adjusted to her condition.
V: So, Pilates might be another set of exercises…
A: But anyway, we are talking about what we are talking about, but you need to consult your physician.
V: Yes, of course. But we could direct….
A: Don’t pretend that you are a doctor, Vidas, you are a musical doctor, not a physician.
V: I know! I know. But we are giving ideas about what to talk about with the doctor.
A: That’s right.
V: Swimming pool, and, for example, Pilates!
A: Now, let’s go back to the organ, shall we?
V: The organ! Which is a problem, because it’s cold in the winter, and the vestry is not heated for Nancy, so what would you do in this situation? Would you wear gloves and thick winter coats?
A: Well, I don’t think it’s worth doing this, because I think the health is the most important issue for everybody.
V: I see.
A: And, you don’t need to sacrifice your body just to be able to practice the organ. I wouldn’t do it. Maybe 20 years ago, yes, but not now. And I would not suggest anybody to sacrifice themselves and just be able to play the pipe organ. What I would do is that I would check in the neighborhood to see if there is the possibility to get access to an organ which is in a heated room.
V: In another church, maybe?
V: With pedals! What about practicing on the keyboard that she’s already doing, but taking advantage of what a keyboard can offer? For example, she’s already our Total Organist student, and we have courses on music theory and harmony! Would that be a good activity during winter months?
A: Of course, it will never hurt, knowing more music theory and harmony.
V: And especially now, because she is kind of not limited to learning music for church. It’s like a short break from church for several months, and imagine in the warmer times, she would have to prepare hymns and church music for services every week, probably. And then, she wouldn’t have much time to do theory and harmony. But now, there is an isolated period of time where she has access to a keyboard, but not necessarily a deadline to work on hymns or music for church. I mean, that could be a great time to develop her theory and harmony skills.
A: Yes, I think so, plus if you have access to the piano, it means you can keep in good shape with your manual technique, and this is also very important.
V: Exactly. So, everybody who is with physical limitations or a situation where pedals are not available could find some creative ways to practice, and I think the most important thing is the will to improve. “Where there is a will, there is a way,” they say.
A: That’s right. Sometimes even people with great disabilities do great things and create art.
V: And maybe there is hope is that those problems and challenges might be temporary. Maybe she will transfer to the warmer environment later on. Maybe that operation will be successful on her back, and she won’t have those physical limitations. This is hope for the future, but in the meantime, she and others could do what they can, and consult their physicians, of course. Thank you guys, this was Vidas!
A: And Ausra!
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen!
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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