Friday, October 23, 2015

An American Guitarist's Perpective

Had my first lesson with Pedro Sierra today. Maestro of the highest level. Another game changer. Flamenco is a never ending journey. I will forever be a student of this beautiful art. It's hard to describe how amazing it is to be an American flamenco guitarist in Sevilla sometimes, but I'll try to give the perspective of my first trip many years ago as I captured a touch of that joy again on this trip.

Imagine you've dedicated your life to rock/blues/metal in the 80's and you grew up in let's say, Russia. You've heard the music that is your passion for years, but never really seen it in it's natural environment, and it has yet to become widely available on the internet, so you have a limited amount of records. Youtube does not exist yet. A good group only comes once every two years to your hometown if you are lucky. You save for a couple years and fly to LA to finally see the real thing, study and soak in the roots for 5 months. 

First you are surprised how friendly people are, and how open they are to share their way of life with you. You end up jamming night after night playing the classics, sometimes till the sun comes up. There are pros that are glad to give you constructive criticism and give you props when you get it right. The Moroccan hash flows freely and contributes to the general good mood of all attending. 

Kids on the street can play Hendrix better than you. The food, drinks and clothes are half the price and of higher quality. Rent is half as well. No need for a car whatsoever, and it's absolutely normal to have your first ice cold beer at noon or whenever the fuck you feel like it, because most folks know how to drink without getting completely wasted. 

You can walk into a neighborhood bar, and on any given night you could run into Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana or any American guitar hero you can imagine. They're usually down to have a beer with a stranger and talk rock and roll. They don't give a shit if your English sucks as long as you try and have listening skills, and your new friends give you plenty of time to catch up. These famous guitarists might have a big concert that week, but you also might see them in an intimate bar or rock venue for $10. Some of the artists go to bars after their concerts and play for fun as well. That might be when the real magic happens. 

Imagine you can approach most of them, and get a lesson for a great price and decide who is the best fit for you. I always say why would you learn from an asshole if there are twice as many master players that are super cool? There are no secrets or mysteries that cannot be unfolded for you. They will show you anything they know, because they have already arrived. It's all a matter of how hard you work, and how strong your desire is to get better.

This is not a total exaggeration. At times, Sevilla can be a wonderland for an ambitious flamenco artist. If you want the real deal, you gotta go to the source. You'd be crazy not to. 
Abrazos desde la tierra flamenca, Eric

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflecting on 14 months therapy, and a return to the stage.

It has been a long year. Maybe the most difficult one of my life. Career coming to a complete stop, and facing the challenge of a full recovery from Focal Dystonia. With this came great moments of realization, awareness and growth. 

At times it was nearly impossible to stay positive. The ups and downs so extreme made the urge to doubt myself irresistible. Then would come the breakthroughs, that I learned to ride as long as I could.

The fact is if you want to recover from FD, you have to accept how hard it is going to be, and learn to be happy with the smallest of victories. Doubt is an empty thought, with nothing behind it but your bullshit, and has no use whatsoever. See it for what it is. 

After my time with Dr Farias in Spain I continued to learn and apply what I was taught, and stayed diligent, creating new neuro-pathways though slow movement exercises and cognitive retraining, working the left and right side of the brain. I had a Skype session with Joaquin every two months or so when I would start to lose my shit, and he'd get me back on track. Mindfulness meditation played a huge part in overcoming plateaus and learning the patience required to heal yourself properly. 2nd only to creating new compositions. These new compositions combined the easiest movements for me with the most difficult, in order re-program the dysfunctional movements with fresh ideas. A musician cannot live on exercises alone. Inspiration is crucial. 

After making a new video demo in September(7 months in) I started doing limited, private shows, that went well for the most part, but there was still a lot of material I had to avoid. I had moments toward the end of the year where I was able to giggle to myself performing the most difficult passages as they were so easy. I realized how long it had been since I felt that way. It was liberating.

At the same time, I could seize up in the most easy material for no reason. My brain would simply go back to the dysfunction memories. Or I could be playing fine, enjoying the moment and my brain would still trigger the fight or flight response and turn my hands to ice. I learned to be able to ease out of these states in the moment, and was able to pull it off when I had to. 

By the end of the year, I was spiraling downward again, as I had many times throughout the year. It was even more frustrating as I had come so far. My guess is this is what takes out most the folks who start to make a comeback. It is terrifying to watch it go to pieces again, like reliving a nightmare. Again, maintaining your positivity, patience and faith in your ability to heal yourself is essential. 

I decided I had to maximize every possibility for peak brain function and overall health after throwing out my back over the holidays. A renewed dedication to health really turned things around. I went with a Paleo type approach to eating with moderate exercise, and took a few months off any alcohol consumption. I lost 30 lbs. My sleep got better. My brain worked better. My posture and technique improved. Everything got better. 

I started playing limited shows for the public and finally went on the road for back to back shows this week. I can't remember the last time it felt that good to play on stage. The few limitations I have left have been temporality replaced with alternate techniques that I can use tension free, while I finish off the last of my recovery at home in private. Much of what I played this week was better than I've ever played. I have so much to share now, I will be purging my soul onstage for a while from this last year's experience.

I've written 4 new songs, I believe some of my best work to date, and finished pre production for 5 pieces. I'll start recording again within the month with Encarna and various guest artists. This week we will announce our official comeback concert in Seattle with special guest artists. Life is getting good again. 

I plan to make a complete recovery this year through continued rehabilitation and pushing myself(in a healthy way) through performance once again.

I have to give Dr. Joaquin Farias proper credit once again. Without his guidance I'm sure this would not have been possible. His knowledge, wisdom, and compassion is such a rare find. His ability to convey this in a way I could assimilate and use to heal myself is even more impressive. I would consider him one of my most influential music teachers as well now.

Thanks to Dr. Selena Chan, who really served as my physician during this time. Acupuncture, herbs, massage and the overall health advice her and her father's clinic gave me were essential in my recovery. 

Thanks to all of you who have supported us in this difficult time and those who helped get me to Spain for treatment when I needed it most. Special thanks to Brett and Erica at MusicCares for their help as well. We promise to bring you all many great shows and recordings in the near future. 

Abrazos, Eric

PS, for those musicians struggling with FD and may have stumbled upon this blog, you are not alone. Never lose faith in your ability to heal yourself. We have an extraordinary ability to do so, and many have. In Joaquin's words: "We all have the power to get over challenging situations. In order to heal we must abandon the victim and connect with the warrior within. That could be the secret of recovery."

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Promo Video for Duet Flamenco

Hey folks, I'm surprised in my last long post Oct. '13 I did not include our new video that shows proof of my recovery. This was recorded the end of Sept. '13. My progress has accelerated significantly since then.

In 2 days I will be exactly 1 year into treatment. I'll be making a large post then. Keep your heads up my fellow musicians with FD. With all have the power inside us to heal ourselves. Best, E

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Within reach of a full recovery

I've not written about my recovery much since I became active again professionally, but thought it was time. I'm making progress in a way that is hard to describe. Certainly composing new music and recording as well as limited performance has brought about a new hope for the future. This has also created a need for a more "controlled ambition". It is tempting to go full force already, but I am forced to learn patience on a new level. So much of this problem called Focal Dystonia and the recovery is hard to describe. So I will do my best by referring to a couple excerpts form Dr. Farias "Rebellion of the Body" that have helped me lately. 

One was the story of Miguel, a soloist in a major orchestra who had severe MFD. He was advised by his doctors to give up and move on, which he did, not playing a note for 2 years. Then, a year after working with Farias he returned as a soloist in the orchestra. Two years later he claimed "I've solved the problem with my fingers almost completely; I  haven't made a single mistake in concert since I started work". 

This quote really stuck in my head, and before reviewing it again tonight, it was stuck in my head for months as him saying "I figured it out". There was some sort of important connection that those words created in my mind and body; so I've meditated, played and contemplated over that phrase for hours. Before, I had made a lot of progress over the last 8 months, but was still playing with too much tension and struggling with certain techniques. This phrase or thought has created a new breakthrough for me. The ease and joy that I am playing with is increasing rapidly, though there are still days worse than others. I'm sensitive to the tension in a new way and can usually gently move it to the side now in the moment. There are simply things that have to be played either lighter or slower temporarily. Now what is stuck in my head is "I almost have it figured out". I can feel it in my mind, body and spirit.

It's hard to realize that there will be no true "physical" breakthrough upon fully recovering like those mentioned in Farias' studies, Jon Gorrie etc. It will simply be a change in the way our brain works, mostly through how our mind works which results in the physical freedom. I fully believe that this can happen for us, and that we can go on to grow as artists, teachers and human beings in a way not possible before.

Again, it is hard to imagine this recovery without the unwavering support of my wife and artistic partner, Encarnación. Her endless optimism and ability to live in the moment is something I aspire to. 

We are so excited for the coming year and to reconnect our art with fans, friends and supporters. See you all sooner than later. Abrazos, Eric

I'll leave with one more excerpt from Farias for those struggling through this maze of MFD:


You do not need to develop what you already have developed in the past, but to recover what you have left behind. The control has been with us all the time; it has merely been temporarily distorted. 

When we perform, a multitude of motor gestures are carried out automatically, following a sequence predetermined by the repetition in the learning process.

Control over the execution is not based on action, but on not acting so as not to interfere with the automatic coordination of the acquired motor reflexes. 

In order to succeed in restoring free movement on does not need to do anything. In order to continue the pattern of lack of control one needs to make an effort. 

Excessive control leads to a lack of control. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Composing, playing new music and faith.

As my journey and struggle with focal dystonia continues, I’ve found it is much like life. When times are really hard, the universe seems to shit on you. Upon trying to clean yourself, it kicks you in the head once more for good measure. I’ve been around long enough to know this also a sign of good things to come if you can stay positive and focused. Not that it makes it any better in the moment.

I played my first live show in 7 months last month. Though not completely without dystonic symptoms, I was able to quickly adjust and free my mind/body in the moment, so I could implement alternative techniques I worked on, tension free. This allowed me to go back and successfully use these most dystonic-tending techniques later with success in the show. Just as important, I was not devastated about my performance like the last 2 years.  The weeks leading up to this were my most successful rehab-wise.

Aside from my continued Skype sessions with Farias, there were two factors that helped facilitate this. The fact that I could start practicing for a show again created momentum. This created a good environment for creativity again, which led to a focus on composing and playing new music. It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to either create new music, or if that is not your thing, choose new music to work on for both your dystonic and non-dystonic movement(I know for some it is all dystonic). The brain has locked into these bad memories of dysfunctional movement in the pieces we played leading up to our demise. It’s not that we can’t ever play them again; we just need to take the focus away from them. It’s easy to get stuck playing a 10-20 second section of music that you don’t do well. Start playing through whole pieces. New music helps bring back the pure joy that got us into our art in the first place.

After this show I was mentally exhausted for a couple days, but continued my rehab practice. After this was the worst 3 days in months. Again it felt like I had slid backwards significantly. The difference was this time I knew what to expect. It didn’t make it easier, but I put faith in my ability to bounce back. After 3 days things got a bit better. I still felt at 50% capacity compared to the weeks before the show. Everything was an effort, nails scratching out crappy tone again, and the most dystonic areas of my playing were not doing well and I lost most of my speed.

This whole dystonia thing is a real bitch, even when you are getting better. You can only overcome the physical if you can get over the psychological. Focusing all my effort to creating new music and playing super soft and slow again brought about a complete change within days this week. I feel very much on track once again and I’m composing my best music to date. If you are recovering and struggling with the bad days that are inevitable; focus on all new music, and have faith in your ability to heal yourself. After all, you are the only one that can do it. Abrazos- E

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

5 months into treatment - Thumbs up

Great session with Dr. Farias today. He feels my rehabilitation is 100% on track at this point. I am far from where I was in February thanks to his guidance, a lot of hard work and focus, and the support of my wife, family and friends.

I now have the tools to make a full recovery. Lots of hard work ahead still, but I'm playing and composing again. Next is recording and performance. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

4 months into treatment - Performance on the horizon

Heads up, I'll likely will be moving these blogs to do with Focal Dystonia to another address for those who want to follow my recovery and will keep this one focused on our art as in the past. 

I had another session with Dr. Farias today. I'm 4 months into my rehab. Here is my status: 

I've made some real progress on many levels, but not fully recovered.

I've relieved a lot of the tension in my playing already, though I still have to stay on top of it and make sure not to play too hard(one of my issues). Many areas of my playing have improved beyond my pre-dystonia time. Before treatment, the tension created from FD had created big physical issues through my arms, neck and back(even my legs), including tendonitis in my left elbow. In mid November I could not even really play more more than 5-10 minutes, and very poorly at that. Now the elbow is almost completely healed and overall my body feels much better. Simply understanding what was wrong with me and finding a path to recovery made a big difference. Acupuncture and massage helped a lot.

The issues in my right hand vary. I've done well correcting positioning and tension issues, but the most persistent problems in my ring finger still exist. Progress is very up and down there, which is to be expected.

The emotional/psychological end of things feel about halfway there if that makes any sense. I'm aware of the issues that are both a by product of FD and the behavioral patterns that need to be changed. I feel now I can identify these things quickly as they happen, and deal with them over half the time. Meditation helps a lot in this area.

So where does that leave me? Though I decided to fully dedicate myself to recovery for up to a year, just recently the longing to do more has started to eat at me. After playing for Dr. Farias today I got the thumbs up to start practicing to perform again. He felt I could safely use my re-fingering techniques now without taking away from the progress I've made. The idea is if 70% of my playing is working, that's how much I should be practicing around my issues, addressing the dystonic movement with the remaining 30% of my time(rough numbers obviously). This might sound dangerous to some familiar with FD but for me it is very liberating. His approach is not rigid. I believe Farias has given me the skills and knowledge to pull this off while consistently working on my FD issues and gradually implementing the skills recovered as they come. I'm sure in 2 months I will be playing better than the last year.

So there you go. Not a complete success story yet, but I'm overjoyed to be close to a return to the stage. Starting to write cool new stuff and my heart is ready to give again. Time to step up, face the fear and see what lies ahead. We'll keep you all posted. We will be back in the studio soon as well. Time to give you all some new music . . .