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Cynthy's Hand Surgery

August 30th Cynthy wrote:

My PT is having me use my Cygnet to do “reps” to build up strength in my thumb. I play for 5 minutes, then rest, play for 5 minutes, rest, then play for 5 minutes and that’s it for the day. Another wonderful way to use my Thormahlen harp – to rehabilitate my thumb after LRTI/CMC joint surgery!

I will be having a 2nd surgery on Sept. 2nd – this is for ulnar nerve constriction (entrapment) in my right elbow. This is causing weakness and numbness in my RH pinky finger and 4th finger. It really became apparent when I couldn’t use my left hand. I will have my RH and arm in a sling for 6 week.

I figure that when I am done with all this surgery, I should have 2 really good hands to play harp again!

I developed osteoarthritis at an early age. I used to play pedal harp and adored my Lyon & Healy 23. However, osteoarthritis in my hands continued to get worse and my doctor told me that I would have to stop playing harp! I could never do that so, I sold my pedal harp and set out to find a lever harp that had the beautiful tone of a pedal harp without all the high tension of the gut strings.

I have owned 30 different levers harps from different luthiers. The harps were all beautiful, but the tension was too high with nylon strings.

However, when I played a Thormahlen Cygnet harp with folk gut strings, I knew that I had found the perfect harp! The tone was so beautiful and the tension of the folk gut strings was less than the tension of the nylon strings. Also, the folk gut strings felt like the concert gut strings on my pedal harp, but did not have the high tension.

Today, I own a Thormahlen Cygnet in Cherry with folk gut strings and a Thormahlen Swan in Koa with folk gut strings. I use the Swan for performing because the voice is broader, and the Koa wood that I chose imparts clear and beautiful tones. The folk gut strings enable me to play the harp, even with arthritis, without any pain. I use the smaller, Cygnet harp every day for harp therapy.

If I had not found Thormahlen harps, I don’t know what I would have done; they have the most beautiful tone. The folk gut strings respond just like the concert gut strings on the pedal harp that I once owned, but the tension is much, much lower. This way, I can keep playing harp and not have the stress on my joints.


After Cynthy's second surgery, October 14th, she wrote:

Sitting at my Thormahlen harp, with a soft splint on my left hand, each note dripped like honey from nascent orange blossoms; the glimmer from my gut strings shown in the light like bright beams of gold.

It’s been an arduous six months in recovery; almost too long for my hands to be away from a harp – or any musical instrument! I was released from “formal” physical therapy last week after major surgical procedures – LRTI/CMC in the LH. Basically, the trapezium bone was removed from my LH thumb and a tendon was harvested from my forearm, rolled up like a hors d'oeuvre and placed beneath my thumb

Thus, began 5 months of intense physical therapy to regain grip, strength and then fine motor skills to play the harp. During the six months, my right arm (elbow) required an Ulnar Release. The ulnar nerve was entrapped in my elbow resulting in weakness, tingling and numbness in my 4th finger and pinky finger of my RH.

Sitting at my Thormahlen harp, I realized that playing harp is a gift. Not the kind of talent that only some people can do,
but the kind of ability that can be taken away in a moment. We all use our arms, hands and fingers for daily tasks – like typing on computer keyboards, cooking, eating, or dialing a cell phone. However, I experienced losing all that plus the capability to play any of the musical instruments I once played, including the harp.

Statistics can reveal all sorts of reasons for people losing varying abilities with their hands and arms, but what happens to a harpist when s/he loses the ability to play the harp – even for just 6 months? I know! I wanted to express my feelings and convey my thoughts of my recovery on my harp, but I could not. I was not able to play music nor was I able to write. It was like a moonless night and an endless dream.

Today, though, my hands are stronger. The notes I plucked on my Thormahlen Harp were like liquid silk slipping through my fingers as their essence wrapped a familiar blanket of sound-warmth around me. Only a few more months to regain total hand strength, to express endless joy on the harp; music flowing like honey from those sunlit strings. It is wonderful to play harp again; may each of you feel joy and gratitude each time you play, as well.

© Cynthy Johnson 10/2009




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