After I retired in 1999, I never picked up the Trombone again, and within 2 years had sold my collection of instruments. Attending concerts was very difficult during that time. I found myself quite emotional, especially watching friends perform - it was just too raw. It’s been many years since then, and over that time I’ve met many professional musicians whose career was ended by Focal Dystonia - each one of them has a story. Some have moved away from music, like a friend of mine who is now a jeweler. Some stay in music by teaching and others take quite a while to find a direction. Ask yourself - how would you handle it if the career you had prepared for over most of your lifetime fell out from under you? It’s an uncomfortable and challenging question, which everyone answers differently.
In addition to a robust administrative position that gave me financial stability and used much of my skill set, I stayed in music as an educator. I still teach trombone, chair a brass department, teach brass fundamentals and brass seminar, and conduct the brass ensemble at our school. In addition, I conduct orchestra repertoire, the ballet and modern dance productions, and cover the first week of orchestra when we have a guest conductor in. I must admit that it is all very fulfilling, and there are days I’m grateful for losing the ability to play trombone. I know, it’s a shocking statement. But to age in this business, and continue to learn every day is a gift – one that I appreciate daily when I wake up and look forward to going to work.
It’s true - you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. As my playing became less and less reliable, I realized how lucky I had been to work at the highest levels in my field. It never felt like a struggle – not even once. Now that those were days behind me, it was easy to look back and see how much opportunity had come my way, and at a very young age. Knowing how fulfilling this could be, I wanted to help future students and recent graduates to be successful in their own way. I asked myself if this could be my new mission.
As a department chair and advisor at one of the top ten music conservatories in the country, I find that students come into my office – usually in the spring before the graduate, with eyes wide as saucers – wondering what they are going to do next. It was during one of those meetings with a student that I committed myself to helping the next generation as fiercely as I could. Not everyone is going to have that magical career as a full-time performer, and not everyone wants it, but everyone deserves a satisfying career in their chosen field. I want to ensure that each young musician has every chance for self-defined success, and the opportunity for financial stability to support their dreams.