Pamela Frank: Fit As A Fiddle
Pamela Frank: Fit As A Fiddle
The celebrated violinist Pamela Frank was at the height of her career when she suffered a life-altering injury. After nearly a decade, she’s playing again, but now with newfound purpose.
("Bach Sonata for Violin in C minor")
At the turn of the last century,
Pamela Frank was one of the brightest stars
in the classical firmament.
Earning rave reviews performing
with the world's greatest orchestras
and amassing a legion of loyal fans.
At age 32 she became the recipient
of one of classical music's highest honors.
But then, in 2001, the music stopped.
After hurting her hand in a household accident,
a botched acupuncture treatment made things worse.
- And so, I basically looked like a stroke victim.
My ulnar nerve had been injured.
I couldn't use this side for six months.
I couldn't drive, I couldn't write,
I couldn't do it, let alone play the violin.
Forget it, I couldn't hold anything.
- [Jim] Sidelined from performing,
Frank discovered how she could still be a musician
without picking up an instrument.
This revelation changed both how she thought about
and taught music.
- The thing that I hope to help my students the most with
is how to practice less and better.
People spend five, six, eight, 10 hours a day
in a practice room learning notes
but they're not thinking.
I'm trying to get them to think and therefore
to practice what matters.
Which is what are they saying,
not how are they playing.
- [Jim] But Frank missed performing.
So much so that she'd often play through the pain.
Until, in 2012 she suffered another debilitating injury.
This time to her neck.
- I was in complete agony
and I just thought, you know, just help me.
And I will do what anybody says now.
(mournful violin music)
- [Jim] It was then that she heard about Howard Nelson,
a physical therapist known for his pragmatic approach.
Helping patients change their pattern of movement
and posture to promote healthy, sustainable alignment.
- It was an empowering thought.
It was an empowering idea,
that you could actually influence
how your body works and feels.
And if you can harm yourself, you can also help yourself.
- [Jim] But at the time of their first appointment,
Frank was feeling anything but empowered.
Howard Nelson still remembers
the day they met eight years ago.
- She walks in the room
and she's got a cervical collar on
and she's cold and clammy.
And is very freaked out about doing anything
because the doctor had said
she probably would need surgical fusion of your neck.
- [Jim] But it never came to that.
Nelson put her firmly on the road to recovery
by altering the way she held her violin
and moved her body as she played.
It was a steep re-learning curve
but she says she was able and willing to climb it
because making music is all she's ever known.
It's in her DNA.
Her parents, Lilian Kallir and Claude Frank,
were both celebrated concert pianists.
- Oh, I think I was spoiled, genetically.
Nature and nurture, actually,
because they would always just be talking about
what the music means.
And it wasn't in any kind of academic, cerebral way.
It was just, they were always searching for more
and more content.
You know, when they would just talk about music
between themselves, and my father, of course,
he was so reverent of the composers.
He thought this was like God.
I know that he felt that he was the vehicle.
He was the middle man between the composer
and the listener.
And so he was totally selfless in that way.
And I think he accomplished that goal.
- [Jim] Throughout her early life,
Frank performed often with her dad,
and later they would record together.
When she got hurt, she found a silver lining
in the hiatus because it gave her more time
to spend with him and with her mother
in their final years.
But Frank too needed someone to lean on
and she soon came to rely on Howard Nelson.
Not only for physical therapy,
but more and more for friendship.
Nelson, who as a teenager
was a nationally ranked tennis player,
spent most of his life working with atheletes
and had no experience with classical musicians.
So Frank took him to concerts
where he could analyze performers' movements
and refine his approach to her treatment.
They'd debrief over dinners.
For five months it was all very business like
until it became something more.
("I'll Be Seeing You")
- He went to visit his mother in Florida
and he said something very uncharacteristic of him.
He said, "I think I'm gonna miss you."
And I thought about it for a second,
"Yeah, I think I'm gonna miss you too."
- [Jim] While he was in Florida,
serendipity brought Nelson's feelings to the fore.
- She texted me a picture of the moon
while I was looking at the moon
and we both realized that we were looking at the same thing
from New York and Florida.
And that was sort of a big moment of connection.
But when I got back to New York
I said let's meet for, let's go out to dinner.
And we went out to Pisticci in upper Manhattan
and we had some food or a drink
and I went over to the bench next to her
and I just said, "I love you,"
and I gave her a kiss at that moment
on the bench at this restaurant.
- The thing about Howard is that
it just seemed like he was in my life all along somehow
and it just took a long time to find him.
There was a rightness about him,
a familiarity about him almost immediately.
I mean it was just a different level
of comfort and trust that I had with him.
And I mean, of course I joke that, you know,
anybody that gets you back to playing you better marry
because that's the, you know.
But that ends up sounding like it's a gift to him.
You know, to marry him, it's not that.
I mean, he gave me my life back
and we happen to love each other.
- [Jim] Five years into their marriage,
Pam and Howard are now also partners in a venture
that helps others understand
how it's possible to make great music
without damaging the body.
- I think working together is exponentially fantastic
for me because when we look at a musician,
I mean yes, the analysis
is a big thing that we have in common.
But you see things in people that nobody does.
- How do you think you complement each other?
Conversely, what are the things you think
that she puts up with from you?
- I think we're perfect for each other
in the sense that I'm really fast about everything.
Fast thinking, fast speaking, fast acting,
I wanna get things done as quickly as possible
and not necessarily to the best that they can be
but just things need to be done.
But I think fast and speak fast
and expect speed from everybody.
And you are incredibly methodical
and you take your time and you think things through.
You don't do anything irrationally.
And you always say speed kills.
- That's a great answer, because,
no because I need to speed up.
- No you don't.
- I think I do.
- He's just asking for compliments.
- And you need to slow down.
- Yes and that is true.
- Not big problems then?
- No, not big problems.
- No, no.
♪ I find you in the morning sun ♪
♪ And when the night is new
♪ I'll be looking at the moon
♪ But I'll be seeing you
(upbeat orchestral music)
- [Announcer] "Articulate" with Jim Cotter
is made possible with generous funding
from the Neubauer Family Foundation.