Pride and Pain

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.

-Bob Marley, Trench Town Rock


Very funny.

Mr. Marley, I’m sure that you intended this sentiment to be digested in the loosest sense: that listening to music is essentially listening to emotion, and that emotion cancels out all other pain. And in my heart of hearts, I hear you. I’ve been a musician since my guppy years, playing the flute, the piano, the piccolo, the guitar (I tried my throat at singing once: never again).

But no pain? The absence of pain, you say?


Very funny.

Allow me to drag you back exactly one year, to a full house and the hum of Mozart. Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet warble across the stage to each other their chemical angst, sweating under layers of period clothing and the glare of fluorescent spotlights. I sit behind the first violinist in the pit, my fingers clammy against the keys of my instrument and ears ringing from the piano behind my head.

It’s halfway through the first act of Pride and Prejudice the opera, and I begin to see spots. As the sole flautist in the orchestra, I’m responsible for carrying quite a number of the themes (my favorite of which is Mr. Wickham’s- such a dashing and demanding tune!) A binder stuffed with twenty plus pages of sheet music lies open on my stand, twenty plus pages that I only had a few weeks to perfect- no, not perfect- stumble through. The days leading up to opening night were stuffed from morning till evening with constant rehearsing, tunings, and timings. And now here I am, halfway through Act 1, and I begin to see spots.

For a bit of background info: these ‘spots’ are telltale signs that a brutal and debilitating migraine will ensue. Also called a migraine with aura, it is characterized by visual symptoms such as blind spots or scotomas, blindness in half of your visual field or in both eyes, flashing, zigzag, and prickling lights/patterns, or straight up hallucinations. They can last from five to twenty to forty minutes. And they suck.

I managed to squint my eyes through the next song, but by the time it got to Wickham’s solo, my vision could be classified as legally blind. Every huff into my flute was daggers in my temple, and I had to rely on my memory to hit the right notes at the right time. When I didn’t have to play, I sat bent over with my head in my hands, which I’m sure the conductor didn’t appreciate. I flubbed my way though till intermission, and then bolted from my seat to the backstage, where I sat in a dark room and drank three bottles of water, all the while feeling like puking and ripping my eyes out of their sockets.

Migraines can be initiated by stress, anxiety, light, sound, temperature, food- and now that I think about it, I’m sure that they all applied to me. I was stressed (having only a few weeks to learn the music and not much sleep the night before), I was anxious (it was opening night and a full house, and I was the only flutist), there were bright white lights in my face throughout the performance, the piano behind me was thundering and the violins beside me were screeching, it was uncommonly warm in the pit, and I hadn’t had anything to eat that day.

I’ve come across several studies in which the researchers claim that musical performance can ease migraines; but I call hogwash on that. It. Was. Awful. 

Just imagine a horse with rusty daggers for hooves kicking you in the head, and then maybe you’ll get the picture. Ur…or lack of picture, seeing as I had lost the ability to open my eyes.

I remember releasing the last note in the finale, and feeling an overwhelming rush of relief intermingled with agony. The next day, I slept for fifteen hours straight.

So you see, Mr. Marley- music can cause pain.

I’ve sort of dropped off the radar for the past week, mostly due to an overwhelming load of work. I wanted to try to get back on the horse though, so here’s a speedy memoir.

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