Skip to main content

Bellies, Sausage Fingers, and John Psathas (but not how you think)

Anxious me had a list of ways that pregnancy would completely mess with my playing and thus my self, proof that I expected the worst as the reason for the lack of photographic evidence of others performing while expecting.  Doesn't mean they didn't, but wondering about it did fuel my fears of the journey into motherhood.  (And explains why I intentionally posted videos of performances with a baby belly! Proof!!)

I figured I'd have a belly that bumped bars from time to time, fingers that would be bigger than normal, and a back that would ache.  Spoiler alert: I did. 
There was nothing to do but laugh and go with it as little boy decided to take up core real estate.


1. Bumper Belly

This one I saw coming. It took about 7 months, but it definitely happened. Goodbye, accidentals; hello, surprise muffling of bars.
But it was a great way to break awkward tension in lessons. So there's that.  


2. Bye, Bye Balance

They tell you that things like riding a bike or climbing a ladder are dangerous while pregnant due to the change in weight distribution, ergo loss of balance. They should add playing vibraphone to that list. 
They should also add putting on socks and walking down stairs to that list.

L+M Duo rehearsed John Psathas' Happy Tachyons when I was about 7.5 months pregnant. I had to play vibes and marimba at the same time and switch quickly between them. Even in passages my hands could play, the rest of me, from my tummy to my feet, couldn't get it together. I kept nearly falling over.  It was a...grounding...experience.


3. A Heavy but Absent Core

You know how tugboats drag around giant cruise ships? That's what it felt like watching my hands drag the rest of me across the marimba.  Usually I rely on my abs and back to move and support my upper body, but when your abs are stretched thin and your center is 30 pounds heavier than normal, turns out you don't go anywhere fast: behind a marimba or otherwise.

A colleague drove by me one day during a run/walk somewhere during month 6.  I saw him the next day at the university:
Him: I saw you running yesterday! Good for you!!
Me: Tugboating. You saw me tugboating yesterday. 

4. Sausage Fingers

During the last month of pregnancy my fingers were so swollen that I couldn't play any instrument for longer than 30 minutes at a time.  I wore a ring [that's usually far too big] as a gauge: once it felt tight, I knew I had to stop, lest I be cursed with astronaut hands the rest of the day. 


5. Loose Ligaments

There's a hormone called relaxin that releases in order to prepare implantation as well as relax the ligaments around your pelvis and hips to prepare for birth.  The problem is it doesn't ONLY go to those places: it goes EVERYWHERE.  For marimba hands, this meant that I had to work extra hard to get my fingers to do what I wanted them to do. Gripping the mallets was more challenging, and certain repertoire just didn't feel good to play.  

L+M pulled our first piece from a program while I was pregnant: Happy Tachyons.  It was simply too technically demanding for my super-loose fingers.  My wrists were trying to compensate, which meant I got sore super fast.  Lucky for me, M was understanding even though she was killing her part.  I plan on redeeming myself this fall!


6. Achy Back

Find a pregnant woman whose back didn't hurt, right?  

If you can get through a marimba concert pregnant with a screaming back, you can do it on any regular day!


7. Baby Brain

Before becoming a parent I giggled at the absentmindedness of those with young families. Now I get it, and I want to send them all cookie bouquets for managing to even partly have their lives put together.  
It's strange how it feels like a chunk of my brain was simply replaced.  But not with obsessive worry or facts about infant health. It was replaced with joy and extra happiness. 


It feels important to say that having a baby doesn't destroy the work you've put into your playing, but it does change it for a little while. 

Having my son helped me see that playing well matters, but doesn't have the same gravity as other things.  

He has helped me realize that everything has its place in how I view the world, with the level of my playing positioned in a way that allows me to care deeply about it without obsessively comparing myself to who I think I should be versus who I am.  

That - and the departure of sausage fingers - feels really good.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marimba Body: Back Muscles

This essay is all about the muscles of the back, since we talked about the spine in my last segment.  Since I get to talk all about shoulders at PASIC (woohoo!!!) on Friday, I thought a good connection between spine structure and the shoulder joint would be about the muscles of the back that help to protect both.

Though I've never experienced it severely first-hand, it seems like there is nothing worse than constant back pain.  Ask anyone who has dealt with it and they will say that you must protect your back so you never feel what they do.  Doctors warn their patients that once they have one surgery, chances are they will need more.  (This makes sense, as you can't fix one part of the long spinal structure without later needing to correct other areas.)

There's good news, though: keeping the muscles of the back strong, and freely aligning the spine, can help us lead pain and surgery-free lives.

Waterfall Muscles It's beautiful the way the muscles of the back cascade d…

Marimba Body: Thumbs

Thumbs.

Without them who knows how we'd play our instruments.

Interest in the relationship between the hand, wrist, and thumb began a few years ago when I took piano lessons to refine my technique. (As similar as piano and percussion are in theory, there's much less crossover than I mistakenly thought and hoped.)   Anyway, something my mentor said was when the thumb isn't being used it should relax towards the rest of the hand and fingers.  Sure, may sound obvious, but in the throes of playing - piano or percussion - it's easy to forget little things like this. 
Brain: Play a broken 13 over 7, across 6 surfaces...crescendo...oh, right. THUMB. End Scene
Thumbs that are mis-mapped, working more than they should, or working when they don't need to contribute to funny aches, pains, and numbness that can get mistaken for carpal tunnel.  
Just like all other subjects in the Marimba Body series, how we relate to the structure and movement design of the thumb is evident in…

Marimba Body: Aching Elbows

As we gear up for fall and the concert season ahead, whether as a student, professor, or touring artist, it's a good time to reflect on our technical habits.  For those that took time off over the summer, there's the process of re-integrating hours of practice. For those that are preparing entire new programs (ehhem...yours truly), there's the challenge of not rushing through the learning process, mentally and physically. 

Throughout my time writing the Marimba Body series, folks have approached me with different questions of "do you have anything about ___?"  Coming up a few times is the issue of elbow pain - what it is, how we get it, and how to heal and then prevent it. 

Here's what I've learned, experienced, and found.

Three Common Pain Areas Most commonly, percussionists experience elbow pain: - on the outside of the elbow (lateral epicondylitis, aka: tennis elbow) - on the inside of the elbow (medial epicondylitis, aka: golfer's elbow) - at the…