Last night was my first post-FMS diagnosis orchestra rehearsal, and I was observing my energy levels and physical activity and things like that in a completely different way, instead of just being tired and depressed about my inability to pull it together and play properly. The concentration problems that have slowly crept into my orchestra experience — focusing on the score on the stand, staying in the rhythm, predicting the next bars of music rhythm- or note-wise– may very well be connected to FMS. I used to be able to know what came next without being there yet, when listening to or playing a piece of music. I used to be able to do this with a piece of music I’d never heard or played before: I could predict it, and if it wasn’t dead on then it worked musically with/against what actually did come next. I’ve slowly lost that ability over the past year. I’ve been having problems feeling the music, getting inside it in order to feel what comes next so that what I’m playing now flows into it the right way. It’s not related to how many times I listen to a recording to be familiar with the way the music goes, or how often I practice it, either. It’s a disconnect that happens somewhere in my mind as I’m playing. (Thanks so much, cognitive dysfunction.)
My fine motor control has grown a bit clumsier, too. I can’t do finicky things like trills or mordents like I used to, or throw out thirty-second notes in rapid scale-like patterns without lots of practice at slow speeds. I was putting all this down to not enough practice and the natural ageing process, but looking back I can admit that these sort of things don’t hit to this extent within the space of seven months. My hands and fingers are clumsier, which makes sense from a medical viewpoint now I know that FMS affects the musculoskeletal-CNS dynamic and creates a weakness in the limbs (and by extension, the limb extensions, hello clumsy fingers!).
The drive home had me thinking about the commitment to orchestra. At its most basic, it’s a way to make sure I play at least once a week. Now I need to look at it as a way to work on my hand and finger fine motor control, my focus and concentration, and the process of wrapping my mind around the image of the music as a whole to help me get from point A to point B. I have to cut myself some slack about my level of performance, which has, I admit, decreased: I can’t handle quick complicated passages like I used to, or be as accurate rhythm- and phrase-wise all the time. And yet at the same time, my position work has improved even more over the past six or seven months, which confuses me. Evidently shifts don’t require the same kind of fine motor control that quick fingering does, although it asks for fast precise movements in a different way. Somehow my understanding of how notes relate to one another in high positions and how my fingers have to move to play them has developed without conscious work on my part. It’s good to know that positive things are still happening in my brain beyond the fibro-fog while other musculoskeletal-related things are experiencing technical difficulty.
Last night I didn’t hurt as much as I used to after or during the rehearsal, either. Hurrah for medication.
I have to allow myself to accept that it’s not all my fault. I’m not playing less well because I’m not practising; I am not failing to be as good as I was because of lack of application, but because my mind and body aren’t co-operating. Practice would help, of course, because as I keep hammering into my skull (with limited success, evidently) if I’m this good without regular or structured practice, just think how good I could be if I did practice more often, and properly. But with the challenges and limits the FMS is trying to set on me, practice could be a very good exercise in pushing back the cognitive fog and keeping hands and arms limber, with the bonus of, you know, helping me play better.
I need to carve out a routine where I play at home more. Fifteen minutes in the morning before the computer gets turned on on work days, at the very least, would be better than nothing. I think repetitive work on the places where I fall apart at orchestra is a good place to start. (Gounod second movement of symphony numero uno, I’m looking at you, you example of rhythm going somewhere other than my brain expects it to go every single time, you. Behave.)