My left forearm twinges as I sit down at Kathleen M. Riley¿s piano. An hour of scribbling notes and two days of working on a laptop computer have in-flamed my repetitive stress injury, an ailment common among journalists¿and musicians. In fact, hardworking musicians can develop a much more severe condition, known as focal dystonia, which cramps the hands so badly that it often ends a promising career. Injections of botulinum toxin can relieve dystonia for some, but the effect lasts only a couple of months.
I never had a career at the piano. But I have played Haydn¿s Sonata No. 50 more than 100 times over the past 20 years and at one point had even committed much of it to memory. What is unnerving me, in part, is the computer attached to the Yamaha Disklavier piano that will record just how I touch each key. Also unsettling are Riley¿s refereelike gaze and the video camera trained on my left hand. But mainly my trepidation is fed by a gloomy certainty that that sore hand will lag through the opening bars. As indeed it does: what should be a quiet, perfectly even motif of sixteenth notes comes out as a skewed, off-tempo jangle.
This article was originally published with the title Musical Medicine.