In the 1960s, internationally-renowned concert pianist Leon Fleisher lost the use of his right hand due to a condition called focal dystonia, a neurological disorder that can be triggered by repetitive movement and stress and attacks a particular set of muscles.
Fleisher's fourth and fifth fingers were cramping and curling up, and at the time no one could diagnose what was wrong or how to fix it. He suddenly lost his ability to play.
Instead of Fleisher focusing on his loss, he turned to teaching and continued to play pieces designed for one-handed pianists.
And in the 1970s, he took on a whole new role in his musical life: becoming a conductor. He worked with the Baltimore Symphony and with orchestras around the world. All the while, he sought treatments and help for his ailment.
Now in his 80s, he plays worldwide, performing pieces for two hands and one hand, sometimes with Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, his wife of 28 years.
"When it works, when it's going, it's a state of ecstasy. All the dendrites are firing. And we're dealing with some of the greatest creations in human history, this music," he said.
Fleisher's story is told in the book "My Nine Lives," a memoir Fleisher wrote with music critic Anne Midgette.
"Music has a structure. Even though you can't taste it, you can't touch it, you can't smell it, it's there. And a great piece of music, greatly played, is as palpable, as three-dimensional as -- as anything else in life." -Leon Fleisher
"But then I woke up one morning with the help of friends, students and I suddenly became aware that my connection, my relationship was with music, more than with the instrument." -Leon Fleisher
1. What is a virtuoso?
2. What is a disability?
3. How might a disability affect a musician?
1. How did Leon Fleisher turn his tragedy into a triumph?
2. Do you play a musical instrument or know someone who does? How would it feel to lose one's ability to play a musical instrument?
3. If you don't play a musical instrument, what extracurricular activities do you enjoy? What would you do if you couldn't participate in your favorite activity anymore?