Sunday, June 17, 2018

Practice Journal: June 17th, 2018

I haven't had time to add some information on here about changes in my routine. Lately there's been three huge noticeable differences in my playing. 1st - I have shifted my mouthpiece to cover more lower lip than upper lip. 2nd, I've been having to do a ton of stretches - nose scrunches with the apples of my cheeks going upwards, and also moving the tops of my corners of my lips upwards towards my nose while scrunching my upper lip.

This has been tedious work because I can tell that the muscles near my eye that run down along the sides of my nose and to my upper lip are lacking control/sensation. It takes intense concentration to get them to do what I ask. I can pinpoint more clearly which muscles are limp or not around my face. Another area is my lower left lip; the muscle that runs from my lower left lip and my corner down through my chin lacks control, which I've been writing about working on. I have to use extreme concentration to practice moving those muscles back and forth while doing stretches. I find myself looking for muscles that don't want to move easily and put all my focus on those. A lot of the practice is scrunching and tensing my muscles and then releasing those muscles while looking in the mirror and being aware of what I feel.

I've started to feel strength building in my upper lip. For many years it felt dull, then it felt sore or weak, and then it felt like it could handle a little more and more over time. Now I feel it giving me signs when it needs a break...which hasn't happened since pre-dystonia. I will play for 23 minutes and it's that feeling of "okay, I need a break, my muscle can't handle much more"...when you try to exercise the day after you did a huge workout. I would stop and stretch constantly to relax and take breaks.

Lastly, I've been actually playing through some concertos. Nothing spectacular, but it's been helping me notice what signals are being sent to my brain in certain circumstances. For example; I can play a (going downwards) C, G, E, middle C, G, E,C....C arpeggio downwards......I can pivot down into my lower register with less difficulty, but if I start from the bottom of the arpeggio and go upwards, I struggle a lot with pivoting. I can tell that the opening of my aperture and the way I'm set is too relaxed and my muscles don't handle going from relaxed to tense very well, because they already overshoot into tense mode quickly. SO I have to play my higher C first and keep that setting, then drop down to my pedal C without changing anything and go up from there. It's a lot of manual work getting the ball rolling in some areas.

Anyways, I've been trying to remain optimistic and remind myself that being able to play through some concertos again or solos is a good thing. Like most others I assume with dystonia, it's frustrating to play a concerto that once was so easy, to find it is like a triathlon. The main thing is it doesn't sound bad on the surface, but underneath the hood, I can feel my muscles getting their workout and constantly adjusting to overcome challenges. It's nothing as bad as it use to be, and I'm glad that I can get through a concerto with more ease and finding that there are less and less difficulties. However, it still feels like there's a million miles to go. It's like driving your car for 10 hours and realizing half-way through it that even though you basically drove all day, you still have 10 more hours to go before you get to your destination. Glad to get so much done, but the work isn't done yet!

I won't give up, and like I've said before. If it takes me until I'm 98 years old to play horn in an orchestra again with 99% normalcy in my playing or at least have the smallest shot at earning my graduate degrees on it, I will do it. If I die trying, then so be it. Call me a fool or whatever, but I am stubborn and haven't given up yet. I've been through a lot worse than this and I know there's a way....even if it doesn't come in my lifetime, I at least I had the courage to start a trail of steps in the direction of possibly finding an answer for futre generations.

I also think moving in October will help me too. We're going to be looking at houses around Denver. I believe not practicing in a tiny apartment and instead in a more wide open room will help me practice more often too. I'm really looking forward to it. I've started traveling to practice rooms again around the city.

This summer I am excited to see my friend and horn player Thomas Jostlein and his family again! I'm also excited to be shifting my focus back on my self; my health, FTSED rehabilitation, and blog. I've made the huge decision to step away from teaching and work more along the lines of accounting/auditing at a hotel, so that way I have the energy outside of work to focus on the things I love most and that I can pour all my time and dedication into. I also need to consider other areas of my life, as it's undergone a lot of huge changes lately....I'll talk about that later! ;-)

Thank you for stopping by and checking in! :-) - Katie

Friday, June 8, 2018

Month of June Resource Links

Hi everyone! Please forgive me for not tending to my blog lately. I'll be taking some time away this summer to focus on other areas of my life. I do promise though that I won't forget to come on here and update things at least every 2 months at the latest, and hopefully by either September or October I will be diving back into focusing on my blog! I have been going through a lot of changes lately and excited to write more about that later. I just celebrated my birthday...since it is in early June, so thought I'd stop by and update things too while I'm on cloud 9. Also apologies to those who have written to me and I haven't replied back yet. I will be getting around to that tomorrow! :-)

Here are three links I came across recently that I found informative and interesting....

The first one is an article published in the Australian Dental Journal back in 2002 called Specific Orofacial Problems Experienced by Musicians.

Secondly, an article by Medical News Today called "What Causes Your Lip to Twitch?" which covers the different types of reasons a person might experience facial tremors or spasms. This isn't meant to say that what you're experiencing isn't embouchure dystonia if you think you have it, but to hopefully open our eyes to other disorders or situations that cause tremors, and what is typically done in those individual cases, and also most of all how important it is to get diagnosed by a neurologist in order to rule out any of these other possible health concerns.

Lastly, a post by Dr. Kenneth Casey at the Department of Neurological Surgery at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan over Hemifacial Spasms (spasms in the face)....published on the Benign Essential Blepharospasm Research Foundation (BEBRF) website. This one is great because it covers in more detail the neurological-related reasons of how spasms/tremors occur, and the characteristics of each one. Again, not posting this to try to prove that no one has embouchure dystonia, but the importance in understanding other disorders and causes of involuntary muscle contractions. Also studying these other maladies can help us learn to pinpoint similar and varying characterstics of embouchure dystonia, in both symptoms and treatment.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Feedspot: Top 15 French Horn Blogs and Websites to Follow has selected this blog as part of it's Top 15 French Horn Blogs and Websites to Follow based on google reputation and search ranking, influence and popularity on social media, quality and consistency of posts, and then overlooked by the editorial team and expertly reviewed. You can check it out by clicking on the highlighted link above.

A huge thank you to the founder Anuj Agarwal for notifying me and giving me a badge!! It's an honor to know that my efforts to raise awareness for musicians with dystonia has not gone unnoticed.

As I look back to 2009 when I first started experiencing onset of focal embouchure dystonia, I remember looking for more information on the subject, and it appalled me that there were so few resources or documentation of it. It's as if it were never talked about or documented. Fast forward to today, I can't explain how relieved it makes me feel to see how much both focal embouchure dystonia and focal hand dystonia (musician's dystonia) is being talked about, researched, known about, and being brought up in lectures at conferences, taught about at universities, and just spoken about in general. I feel like in a short 10 years the topic of performance related injuries and disorders has come to the forefront, and I can't wait to see how many more answers and advancements we make in helping injured and/or disabled musicians find help, knowledge, resources, and recovery methods. I am truly honored to be a small part of the huge group of musicians, doctors, physicians, teachers, etc. who have brought light to this very important subject!

...and thank you to my blog readers. I appreciate all those who have reached out to me over the years. I know most of you do in order to ask questions, find answers, find help, share stories, share articles/research, but I can't explain how much you have helped me not feel so alone too throughout all this, and you've done more for me than you know!

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Just wanted to share my mantras in both Latin and English. These give me the greatest amount of inner strength no matter when or what I'm going through. I use them during meditation or when playing horn or in prayer. One of my biggest strengths is perseverance, and these mantras accurately reflect my mentality whenever encountering obstacles/life challenges. They resonate so well with me and I always keep them close to my heart. Happy Valentines day everyone, I hope these help your inner strength shine through as well. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Rehabilitation Video Journals Updated

Just stopping by to update my inventory of videos over rehabilitation (you can see the whole inventory here: There's a couple over the last few years I haven't added on here and needed to. Just wanted to start it off with a before vs after video first to show the progress over the years. :-)

Before I got dystonia 2006-2009: I don't have many recordings except for from 2006-2009... but tried to smash a few excerpts together to show a bit of my abilities.

During height of Dystonia and right before diagnosed with it: 2011/2012:....first video of playing in January of 2011, and there was a lot I was too embarrassed to put on camera. But I had been trying to recover my playing since June 2010. The 2-4 videos are of taking an inventory of my symptoms at the time in 2012.

After: Fast-forward to January 2017 ....this is a video of me warming up before teaching lessons. I'm testing the waters and checking to see how my embouchure felt. I recovered a great deal from 2011-2013.

I stopped rehabilitation practice from 2014-2015 due to graduate school, and 2015-2017 due to focusing on teaching. I didn't necessarily stop playing, I just didn't focus on recovery efforts as much or logging things.

Now in 2017 I started focusing on regaining the last percentage of my playing again and started taking some gigs! :-)


Currently onto 2018.....I recorded this yesterday 02/12/18. Doing some light-touch rehabilitation. Testing how long I can hold a note out for and how lightly I can do it for. Notice how there is less spasms or involuntary flexes in the chin muscles as there were in the past.

When I start to get louder, I'm basically doing that to stretch/tense my muscles really quickly in order to relieve tension, and then diminuendo into a lighter sound when possible. My camera died, but I will film the rest of my upper register today.

March 2017: Filmed my playing on other instruments; clarinet, trumpet, trombone. 

February 3rd, 2017: Playing, and speaking about my progress on larger interval jumps in rehabilitation.

July 2nd, 2016: Playing and speaking about collapsed vs puckered embouchure, tonguing vs air puffs and its affects during rehabilitation.

April 2nd, 2016: Playing and speaking about puckered vs collapsed embouchure formations in rehabilitation.

May 1st, 2014: Rehab log

January 13th, 2014: Rehab Log after acupuncture

February 17th, 2013: Rehab Log...might have already posted this under my videos.