It might come a surprise that I chose this recovery time after being concussed to try the French horn again. After all, loud noises and concussions don’t exactly work well together. But I was feeling frustrated by not being able to read very much, or type very much, so I looked at my horn, there in its case. I’ve played on and off through the years, but not regularly in at least 12 years or so. When I do take the horn out, I feel rusty. I can’t quite find middle C. I sound better than the “sick cow” my parents eventually told me my playing resembled when I joined 5th grade band, but not exactly something that the Phantom of the Opera would want to hear, either.
This time is no different, except that I have an eager audience of a five-year-old and a toddler. I try a scale. It doesn’t go too badly. Neither does a chromatic scale, slurred, then tongued. I’m thinking of switching to an old warm-up exercise I used to do, lots of long slow notes starting in a middle range, then working slowly up to higher notes.
My head, which remains concussed, or at least, with post-concussion syndrome symptoms of headache, dizziness, nausea, etc., starts to feel bad, I’ll stop, I tell myself. I’m hoping that the deep, focused breathing might be a good thing. A friend once told me I seemed like I’d done a lot of meditation, but I haven’t – unless you count the focused breathing of playing the horn. Breath in, play, slowly breathe out. Control the air. Feel it going through the horn, warm on my right hand resting in the bell. Feel the oxygen entering my mind, too, helping it heal. Feel the vibrations of sound and timbre floating through me as I play. If I can warm up enough to sound less like a cow with a cold, and more like the musician I once was, maybe the vibrations will do something good for my brain. Maybe.
“Mommy, can I play now?” It’s Laurel, my five-year-old. It’s been all of two minutes, if that.
“Yes, honey,” I say, settling the horn on her lap. She’s a very good horn player for someone of her age and size. She buzzes her lips just right, and can make high, low, and mid-range sounds by changing what her lips are doing. Every time she plays, she ekes out more notes. I can’t wait till she’s old enough to to actually hold the horn properly; the body of the horn is as tall as her torso, and the horn rests in her lap, rather than being propped on her knee.
Laurel is wiggling her fingers when the toddler comes by. “Baby, baby!” she says, pointing at her mouth. Clearly Holly wants in on the action too. I set her on the couch and put the mouthpiece to her lips. She sticks her tongue out and slobbers it, while singing gleefully into the horn. “Eeeew!” says her sister. The baby sticks the mouthpiece in her mouth and continues to sing with glee. Concerned for the horn, I take it from the baby, and hand it back to her sister, who demands I wipe off the mouthpiece. I do, using the green towel I’ve been using for such purposes (like dumping the spit into) ever since I started playing, some good twenty-five-odd years ago. I don’t tell her that about the towel, or that yes, it’s been washed, but I wipe the mouthpiece and she takes it back. Buzz buzz buzz.
Eventually I get the horn back. It’s warm from their hot breathing, and so is my lip. I can sound somewhat high notes, and they aren’t too embarrassing, so long as none of my former horn-playing friends are around to hear. I play scales, arpeggios. I think about Dvorak, Mozart, musicals, but stick with long sonorous tones. I look at the piano — maybe I’ll take out some music from where it hides in the bench. Not this time. The kids want the horn back, but I put it away. Tomorrow. My head isn’t hurting, thank goodness, but I don’t want to push it. Maybe this time, I’ll stick with it. Maybe this time I’ll practice, find a group, start again. I can hear it, feel it in my head, the sounds of an orchestra warming up, tuning, the hush in the hall, the bright lights, the counting, joining in with the music. I never would have guessed that a brain injury might lead me back to it.
But first, to keep healing, to get where I can write this post — which took about 15 minutes — without nausea or any other unpleasantness. But hey! Even writing this much is an improvement.