It’s been a while! I’ve accumulated several posts with that very same opening sentence – I’ve started several drafts, then decided I didn’t really know where I wanted to go with the post and eventually, I sort of let them be. I’d like to write meaningful things about my journey in medicine, but I can’t share the most interesting stories because they’re much too recognizable. I think it just takes time – when I’ve seen more patients, I can merge stories and change details more efficiently. Also, every post about medicine eventually ends up with me contemplating depressing things like death and suffering and is it all worth it and if there’s a God (which I sort of think there is), why would he allow so many innocent people to suffer — there are a lot of questions that I’m trying to find anwers to, while also trying to learn something about medicine. So I think I will let these stories stew and brew for a little longer – but that doesn’t mean I can’t write about the harp, does it? .
During internships, the harp is really my escape, my way to focus on something entirely different than patients and medicine and trying to cram all kinds of facts into my head. I can’t always work up the energy to actually practise – doing more than playing through a few pieces – but when I manage to, I can really get into a flow.
As this year is the last internship year that is slightly compatible with having ‘a life’, I’ve started taking folk harp lessons with Cheyenne Brown. There are a lot of teachers around here that can teach you to play classical music, but there are few who really know what folk is – the rythms, the ornaments – the art of making a rather simple melody sound like it’s a virtuosic piece – which is related to the art of touching people’s hearts by just playing a ridiculously simple arrangement. It really takes skill and musicianship to make such melodies come alive.
Any classical performed will agree that you can’t properly play a piece if you’re just playing the notes. Unfortunately, due to a lack of good folk teachers (and lack of exposure to folk performers), in the Netherlands, a lot of people ‘just play the notes’, reducing folk music to something that’s only suited for beginners. I even fell into the trap of thinking that folk music was ‘too easy’! Fortunately, I was cured of that mindset by Youtube movies and harpist-friends who were really into folk!
So, I started doing workshops – some specifially geared towards the harp, others more focused on ensemble playing (arranging tunes for a group etc) – but I noticed there were certain things I just couldn’t do. Like triplets. I’ve gotten loads of advice, even a few informal private lessons with a folk harpist, but I was never really able to do them.
I still can’t do them. I love them, but I hate them as well. I’ve overcome most hurdles – there was a time that I just couldn’t do four-fingered chords, a time when I couldn’t understand how to do syncopatic chords – but eventually it clicked and I was able to do it. However, I still can’t do triplets properly, they become strange muffled ‘things’. Having regular lessons with a folk teacher is a really good incentive to practise them daily – but it’s VERY frustrating that I don’t seem to make any progress. I can sort of ‘fake it’ by playing the tune at full speed, but in my fingers, I feel it’s still not quite right.
It’s entirely different from trying to learn the Händel concerto. There it’s just guiding my fingers into the right shapes, memorizing the patterns and then building up speed (which also takes LONG but at least, there’s progress if you work on it diligently). The quality of my triplets seems to worsen when I try to analyze what I’m doing and what’s not going right. So then I stop trying to analyze it and I force myself to just practise it and hope it gets better…
Perhaps it’s a little bit similar to what I’m going through with learning medicine. There are some things that you just can’t understand, you only need to trust that it will be alright in the end, that the hard work will finally pay off…
Here’s a little recording – the harp wasn’t totally in tune and the tempos are a little bit off, but I wanted to share what pieces I’m practising for the folk lessons.
I often get ideas for comics a la Dr. Fizzy’s but I can’t draw at all. Alright, you don’t need to be good at drawing to make nice comics, but creating a comic does require that you put the idea in comic format. And that’s where I fail. So, without further ado, the text version of my comic ‘idea’, which I really needed to share.
A lot of medical students in the Netherlands are required to take a progress test four times a year. The idea of this test is to gauge your level of knowledge and see how you progress – in year one, you only need to get a few questions right, but after 6 years you need be able to answer all of them. (not really true, I think it was about 75% or so but they say that these questions are things every doctor should know. As if every doctor knows the exact prevalance of pyloric stenosis in the population…) Anyway, four times a year, medical students from all over the Netherlands are put into a sports hall for four hours and made to do this test. It’s a great moment to meet up with people from past tutor groups etc.
Shivering (it is ALWAYS cold in these halls!) you open your test booklet. Some questions depend on pure knowledge (I still can’t remember dermatomes) but others can be answered using the most efficient cheat sheet ever – your own body.
1. Lesion of which nerve causes the so-called ‘dropping hand’?
Being Pencak Silat player, this is rather easy to find out. Just hit yourself in various places and examine the result. This may impact your ability to hold a pencil, however, as I found out.
2. The m. supraspinatus assists in which movements?
This muscle is located at the top of the schoulder blade, so you can actually feel it. Try various movements to determine when it contracts.
3. Which muscle is responsible for lateral flexion in the ankle?
This question can be answered similarly to question 2 – try to do the movement and feel which muscle contracts. Of course, this only works if it’s a multiple choice question.
4. The diaphragmal muscles have a function during vomiting, true or false
This question actually made me feel sick – I tried to simulate vomiting movements (silently of course ) and tried to feel whether I felt my diaphragm doing anything. I think I slightly overdid it.
5. What happens when the Thomson test is done on a person with a ruptured achilles tendon
The Thomson test involves squeezing your leg calf – the foot is supposed to go in plantar flexion when everything is alright. Yes, I looked that up because I couldn’t remember – I tried pinching my leg during the test but you can’t really bend sideways so you can see what’s happening under the table…
The new harpcolumn is awesome! It’s like a social network for harpists! I still prefer having a blog – it’s a bit odd that all blogposts are synched to a central page where all recent entries appear – but I’m starting to fall in love with all the features it offers (just go and look ).
Regarding harpcolumn.com – partly through reading such forums, I got back to the harp. Reading about everything that’s possible with the harp, issues people encounter (and recognizing, hey, I’m not the only one who has difficulties with x), interesting posts about effective practice… I’m not really active there, because there are much more knowledgable people than I am. But it’s great to read along with the discussions and sometimes contribute something.
Other new things: a new year has started, I’m a fifth year med student now! Only 2 years to go and I’m a ‘basisarts’ (junior doctor). I haven’t found a new harp teacher yet, but after a very nice three-hour session with my first harp teacher, I feel confident to really get started on the lever harp version of the Händel concerto.
Also a rather sad new development – rat #2 (Mr White Rat with a Slightly Darker Stripe than the other one) seems to have developed a tumor. After the events of last year, I’m rather reluctant to go to the vet again, so at the moment I’m trusting my clinical judgement that immediate action isn’t necessary. Actually, he’s not ‘ill’ at all – he’s still eating, drinking, he can still climb (the tumor is the size of a small chestnut!) and it doesn’t appear to cause him pain. And he’s two years old – we’re not expecting him to live forever anyway… but I’d have preferred to discuss appropriate end-of-life care for him. Perhaps we’ll give the vet a call next week…
Yesterday I had an awesome lesson with my first harp teacher. It was great to see her and she had lots of useful feedback. She’s really able to discern what a particular piece needs and her suggestions just felt right.
In Nataliana, we worked on adding silences, letting the melody ‘breathe’ and generally taking a step back. It doesn’t need to be fast and loud all the time, there is lots of space for decelerations / accellerations and dynamics.
In the Minstrel’s Adieu, we also worked on the same, adding much more pauses and trying to incorporate the sense of loss that is present in the piece. A lot of parts started to make so much more sense! There’s an entire page of flageolets and I didn’t really know what to do with them, how they fit into the whole of the piece. Now I know .
In Danse d’ automne #3 we worked on emphasizing specific notes and on letting the notes last their entire duration. Somehow, I sort of forgot that several notes are really meant as ‘pauses’ in this very fast piece.
All in all, it was about taking a step back, leaving silences and removing the unnecessary clutter. Actually, it felt a little bit like sculpting – removing outer layers so the inner music can be revealed.
*notices strange red rash/bump on right leg*
OMGWTFBBQ IT’S CELLUTITIS I NEED TO GO TO THE DOCTOR!@#$%!!!!!!!
Wait. I bumped into the table this morning.
Being a doctor in training: freaking out over totally innocent skin lesions…
How can you be sure you really studied enough for orthopedics? If you can name exactly which muscle is aching after a particularly intense Pencak Silat training.
When your most profound and touching experience of the day consists of finally understanding the inguinal canal.
I don’t think I’ve ever been an easy student. When I was little, I never really practised but still took lessons for 9 years so I think, in retrospect, that my teachers must have been quite frustrated with me. They never really showed it, though, finding other ways to get me to practice. A favourite of theirs was to have me participate in a recital, preferably in an ensemble so I just had to practice. I didn’t realize this at the time, but looking back, I can say that the most difficult pieces I ever played, those requiring most practice, were the ensemble pieces.
Now, I’m almost the opposite of the student I used to be. I wasn’t able to practice as much as I want due to medical school internships, but I still try to get the most out of it as possible. This also applies to my lessons – I ask a lot of questions, ask specifically for feedback on problem areas, etc. The drawback is that not all teachers are used to this. When I go to a lesson, I expect to learn how I can improve my playing. Positive feedback is nice, but I don’t go to a lesson just to hear how awesome I am.
As I’ve got a very unreliable schedule that changes every week, I can’t take regular lessons at a music school, so I take private lessons. My teacher is quite affordable and also very flexible. However, I’ve found that I don’t really learn what I want to learn. She’s an awesome player and she is certainly an example in terms of musicality – I’d love to be able to play the way she plays. Unfortunately, she’s not too good at teaching – she doesn’t really offer feedback. Some lessons, I can direct the conversation in the way I want – useful tips etc, but in other lessons, I don’t get anything substantive to work on. It’s starting to become a bit tiring to be completely responsible for my own learning – in medical school, you can look anything up in a book, but in music, you really need external feedback, especially on technical issues.
So I’ve been thinking – aside from some scheduling issues with lessons being cancelled at the last moment (I always make room for them in my schedule, so I’ve ended up waiting three hours several times for a lessons that didn’t take place) — perhaps I should go looking for another teacher. Those are not very easy to find and isn’t it a bit arrogant to decide that a person can’t teach you enough? And changing teachers also involves telling the teacher I’m leaving that I’m discontinuing lessons with them…How to do that without hurting someone’s feeling?
I’ve got an entire summer to think about that – I won’t have a lessons for at least two months. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to practicing, of course! .
I’ve always wanted to study the martial arts. I loved watching these national geographic documentaries which featured hundreds of people doing kung fu and at age 10 I even developed my own martial art, largely based on a judo book I lent from the library. My parents disapproved – they tried to keep us from playing ‘war’ with sticks (toy guns were forbidden in our home) so they’d never allow a child of theirs to practise a sport as ‘agressive’ as martial arts.
My dream of becoming really good at ‘kung fu’ gradually diminished as I turned to other interests. However, when I was in the fourth year of high school (10th grade) I discovered that I had absolutely no physical fitness at all. We had two hours of physical education every week and I noticed that I suffered muscle aches after every lesson, worsening to the point where I was aching all over during the weekend. So something had to be done – I wanted to join a sports club because it was just too embarassing. This led to a lot of dinner table discussions about the merits and dangers of martial arts – I didn’t want to do judo because it was too soft and I thought you didn’t need a lot of endurance to do that – I didn’t like karate – and my parents thought ‘kung fu’ was not compatible with a Christian lifestyle.
I’d almost resigned myself to more muscle aches and still no martial arts, when a friend from church told me about an obscure art in which she’d had a few trial lessons in through her school. She showed me a couple of things and I really liked what she showed me. After a short google search I found the instructor’s e-mailadress and I e-mailed him, telling him about my concerns (I also didn’t really like the spiritual aspects of some martial arts*). He responded with the one thing that could convince my parents: he was also a Christian!
Almost 6 years ago I started training in the art of Pencak Silat. At first, I mainly trained to become fitter – I could barely survive our warming-up – but then I rediscovered my love for the actual martial arts. I joined a martial arts forum (MartialTalk) and learnt all about the various arts and styles that were out there. I even started training in Iaido once a month in Amsterdam – another art from my ‘wish list’. This list encompassed (still does) European medieval sword fighting, tai ji quan from a decent instructor who doesn’t teach all of the fluff, a qi-less chinese martial art and aikido.
However, the annoying thing about martial arts is that it takes a long time to master even one and that the path to mastery is rarely straightforward. In pencak silat, there are no belts or ranks, nothing to keep you going when intrinsic motivation fails. My instructor only teaches how to learn, not how one should exactly perform the technique, so sometimes you really start doubting yourself. There is no fixed curriculum – we learn what we are taught that lesson – sometimes really advanced material, sometimes stuff that is boring to everyone but the beginners.
And yet, just like I did with harp lessons, I stuck with it and kept training. The last few years I couldn’t attend training twice a week anymore due to medical school, but I went whenever I could and continued to absorb as much as possible. I passed a couple of ‘exams’ that tested our knowledge of the jurus (comparable to kata) – and suddenly you find yourself among the more advanced people of our group instead of being a beginner.
And now I’ve reached the point where I can seriously start training to reach ‘black belt’. As I said, we don’t have any ranks aside from ‘instructor’ and ‘student’ (one head instructor and 3 other instructors). Our training isn’t geared to get everyone to reach the instructor rank as soon as possible, it’s meant to gain a full understanding of our art instead. There are a lot of people who really should be an instructor, judging by their skills, but who decline and are content with learning. However, for those who want to, it is possible to earn a more tangible proof of their abilities by demonstrating all 36 jurus from both sides and passing a few other skills tests (self defense, being able to construct new jurus etc).
It will take at least another year to reach this level, but I’m very honored to have been told that apparently, this goal lies in my reach. It’s another challenge, next to surviving med school, becoming good at the harp – training for my ‘black belt’.
Still, I’m more than aware that the road doesn’t end there. There is so much more to learn in our art – as far as I know, after the 36 jurus there are langkah (longer forms in more directions), weapons forms, etc. etc. Sometimes I was jealous at karateka whose path to their Dan ranks is much more straightforward, but now I’ve discovered the importance of getting to know the art itself. Yesterday, our training consisted of something ‘boring to everyone but beginners’ – and I still enjoyed myself immensely, discovering interesting aspects to techniques I could do in my sleep, being taught how to ‘unlock’ them.
I’m really grateful to my instructor, who doesn’t demand perfect repetition of forms the way he does them, but rather to make the form our own, to make it adapt to our body and skills. Perhaps he’s a bit like a good harp teacher – one who emphasizes musicality in favor of just ‘playing the notes’.