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Ep. 67: A Musician’s Path Through Focal Dystonia

A Musician's Path Through Focal Dystonia


A Musician's Path Through Focal Dystonia


Episode Reference:

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What happens when a “natural” task suddenly feels “foreign”??

For many musicians struggling with injury, the feeling of “not knowing your own body” is very common. But this feeling is usually even more prominent in those suffering from Focal Dystonia - in which their brain literally switches or crosses signals to the body!

In this episode of the Tuned and Strong Podcast, Dr. Joanna Cowan White shares with us her experience of developing, living with, and recovering from focal dystonia. Join us as she discusses her thoughts, feelings, experiments, and creative outlets during her journey to reclaim her performance abilities!

You can find more about Joanna Cowan White here:
Musician’s Focal Dystonia Resources on

ARTICLE links on that website
White, Joanna Cowan. “Musician’s Focal Dystonia: Strategies, Resources, and Hope”
Flutist Quarterly (Journal of the National Flute Association,) pp 26-36. February 2017.
White, Joanna Cowan. “Musician’s Focal Dystonia: Annotated Bibliography” Flutist Quarterly Plus. (Online Journal of the National Flute Association.) February 2017.
White, Joanna Cowan. “Musician’s Focal Dystonia: Strategies, Resources, and Hope”
Pan (British Flute Journal) reprint.

Poetry Website
Music Website
Music and Poetry CD – Poet as Muse
White, Joanna. “Musician’s Focal Dystonia.” Poetry and Medicine Column, Journal of the American Medical Association. May 16, 2017


Musician’s Focal Dystonia

It’s the voice of that person
comes through the instrument.
––Franz Welser-Möst

When dystonia scrambled my brain signals like a virus
corrupts a hard drive, I was sure I could not spend ten-thousand
hours retraining my brain to play the flute a new way,
but when I heard that a luthier and his son restored the holocaust
violins to free their lost voices, I changed my mind. If I
am silenced, you would not miss me but the way my vibrato,
on the first c# of L’apres midi d’un faune, conjures up
a sultry summer afternoon, the way your hips swing when I play
a tango, the way you hear whales when I close my lips
around the mouthpiece to hum Voice of the Whale. The original
ten-thousand hours, I will tick in reverse, a feat as tricky
as learning to ride a backwards bicycle, until once again I can curve
quiet fingers over the keys, whistle my lips to laser the tone
down the silver tube, your body ringing in sympathetic vibration.


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