Monday, January 9, 2012

MS may talk out of turn, but I don't have to listen

Complete with a little "Blue Danube" waltz, the National Gallery of Art Orchestra celebrated the New Year in concert yesterday. The literature was light and flowing, quite uplifting, and fun to listen to. The concert was filled with Mozart works including the Overture to Marriage of Figaro, Piano Concerto No. 17, and the Linz Symphony. Our guest conductor served as the piano soloist, or maybe it was the other way around.

Most of the pieces scheduled only used two horns so I had quite a bit of time to sit back and listen during the rehearsals. If I wasn't sitting in my seat waiting my turn to play, I was listening from the audience. It's always a treat to be able to listen to the group from the front. The sound is much different than what is heard from the fourth horn chair.

If you've never been to a concert at the National Gallery of Art, we often perform in the West Garden Court which is full of marble and harsh, hard surfaces. Sound reverberates liberally and echoes through the corners of the room. The result can be lush, but it can also be mush. Very important to be as precise as possible. Unwanted sounds will certainly linger longer than desired which makes details hard to hear at times.

On Saturday, rehearsal began with the larger pieces (which four horns and full brass). Keep in mind that these musicians are a seasoned group. Adults who have played professionally for decades and are hired to do a good job. But it wasn't long until I wondered if we weren't back in middle school. Some of the musicians were creating a constant underbelly of whispering discussion while the conductor was working with other sections of the orchestra. I became amazed at the behavior (misbehavior) of some of my colleagues.

Why the talking? Some of the discussion included a quick - "Where did he say to start?" - or in collaboration - "Do you want to play the off-beats Viennese style or American?" But more often it was just chatter. I was embarrassed by my colleagues lack of respect for the conductor, fellow musicians, and the music. I kept waiting for the conductor to demand everybody's attention...but he never did. Perhaps he was more skilled in ignoring the disruption, or more focused, than I was at the time.

While I was thinking about the effect my colleagues behavior had on my own attention span, my thoughts migrated to MS. Yes, almost every experience or story can have an MS twist. While the sound of voices was low, they were contributing to a constant rumble. There were no shouts or declarations, but it was still a bit distracting and rude (in my opinion).

MS can be distracting. MS can be rude. MS can create a constant underbelly of symptoms which we might end up ignoring in order to stay focused on the positive in life. But when the rumble becomes disruptive, we might dig our heels in and say - "Whoa! Cut it out right now or else...."

Or else. What or else. What can we do about it?

If the disruption is a relapse, we can use an arsenal of steroids. If the disruption is disease progression, we learn to adapt to changing needs and abilities. If the disruption is constant, we can learn to filter it out and ignore it altogether.

In my body, I have a constant "rumbling" of numbness and altered vision. For the most part, I don't pay any attention to it, but I wonder.... What would my body feel like if MS were completely silent? Would a single symptom grab my attention as a lone musician in a concert hall might?

In a way, I like that my MS doesn't have too many soloists. The symptoms seem work more in symphony to create a blend. If my colleagues chitchatting were increasing symptoms, I might have been tempted to throw some steroids at them. But just as the conductor trusted that the voices would be quiet for the concert, I have faith that my symptoms will wane and fade into the background.

The symptoms may always be there, but I don't necessarily have to acknowledge them. Just like middle school children who seek any type of attention, positive or negative, MS always tries to be front and center. Fortunately, I'm the grown up and choose not to look it's way.


  1. This is a great metaphor! I am a middle school choral director with MS - so I can relate to dealing with both kinds of "constant rumbling."

    Thanks for all you do!