Sunday, May 26, 2013
By Bob Keyes firstname.lastname@example.org
If you relied on your hands for your livelihood and a disease robbed you of your ability to control your fingers, most likely you would seek out a medical solution.
Guitarist David Leisner
Clarinetist Todd Palmer
PORTLAND CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL
WHEN: Concerts at 8 p.m. Thursday, Saturday, Aug. 16 and Aug. 18.
WHERE: Abromson Community Education Center, University of Southern Maine, 80 Bedford St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $30; free for ages 21 and younger; student rush tickets are $10
INFO & CONCERT DETAILS: (800) 320-0257; pcmf.org
FAMILY FUN DAY: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, featuring the Peekaboo Children's Center and a children's concert. Free.
And if the leaders of the medical community that specialize in your disease told you they could not help you, you might accept their assessment, put your career aside and find something else to do.
You are not David Leisner.
The classical guitarist was diagnosed with the debilitating hand condition known as focal dystonia in 1984, then spent a dozen years in search of a cure. He did not find one among the many doctors he consulted. He found one himself by looking inward and trusting his intuition.
Leisner, who headlines the Portland Chamber Musical Festival beginning this week, is considered a medical miracle. He beat the disease and has helped others find a cure that allows them to continue in their chosen profession.
"It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life," Leisner said by phone last week. "It is a devastating condition that is painless, yet it stops careers dead in their tracks.
"When I contracted it, not many people had a name for it, let alone know how to cure it. To some extent, that remains the case. I am one of the very few who have cured it."
Earlier this spring, Leisner spoke at a convention of the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Doctors now seek him out for information and ideas.
The disease is not new. It has been documented for at least a century, and is often associated with musicians and writers. It is a neurological condition that affects muscles, causing contractions. In hand dystonia, the fingers often curl into the palm or extend outward uncontrollably.
Leisner, who lives in New York, spent a dozen years fighting for his career. By 1996, he was symptom-free. "It has never come back," he said. "Not once."
His lesson is one of persistence and instinct. He refused to give up "because my whole identity, or a great deal of it, is bound up in my guitar playing. To call it devastating was an understatement. It was the equivalent of the loss of someone very close to you."
After traveling the globe in search of help, Leisner found it by looking inward for answers. He did his research, gathering the best information he could, and realized the answer must come from within.
He found his answers intuitively. It was not mind over matter, but more an absolute rejection of failure.
"Sometimes, your instincts know more than all the specialists in the world. It's really important to follow your instincts and be as persistent as you are able to be," he said.
Leisner will demonstrate his abilities when the festival begins its 19th season on Thursday, with concerts through Aug. 18, at the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.
This year, 24 musicians and composers will participate, including nine first-timers. In addition to Leisner, among those making their festival debuts are soprano Tony Arnold and composer Sebastian Currier.
Returning artists include musicians from the Chicago and Houston symphonies, the Minnesota Orchestra and the Orpheus Ensemble in New York.
In addition to such traditional summer festival offerings as the Schubert Cello Quintet and Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," the festival will include music for soprano and guitar by Dominick Argento; a work for soprano, two violas and two cellos by Paul Hindemith; and trios by the resident composers, Currier and Michael Alec Rose.
Concerts begin at 8 p.m. Thursday, with music by Boccherini, Hindemith and Dvorak. Leisner and Arnold are featured performers.
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Soprano Tony Arnold
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Suzanne Nance of MPBN, who will host the Aug. 18 concert