Focal Dystonia is a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles in a specific part of the body - in my case, the lip. It’s a pretty new diagnosis, with mentions in books, newspapers, and online increasing over 400% since 1980. At my most recent visit in December 2016, I asked Dr. Charness how many people with correctly diagnosed finger dystonias had recovered enough to get back to playing, and he said that there had been a handful (pardon the pun), including Alex Klein who recently won his chair back as principal oboe of the Chicago Symphony. When I asked him about lip dystonias, he said that there were no recoveries that he was aware of. I shared that I knew some folks who said that they had recovered, but he felt that they may initially have been misdiagnosed. In his practice over the past 20 years, he has not seen anyone recover from facial focal dystonia. Whether there are a few people out there or not, it clearly has been a career-ender for most.
I was 40 when first diagnosed, and it became increasing clear to me that it wasn’t fair to my peers to continue and it was also draining me emotionally. Going to work was traumatic. After two years of looking for answers, I decided on March 13, 1999 at a Boston Pops concert in Lowell, MA to let it go. I hadn’t planned for that to be my last concert, but from Keith Lockhart’s first downbeat, I couldn’t control my playing. It was embarrassing and stressful. I cried through most of the concert because I knew this was it. I went to see Keith after the concert, and asked to meet with him that week. In that meeting, I asked for, and was given, a sabbatical from the upcoming Pops season to see if I could get a handle on this, knowing full well that I had just played my last concert ever.