S5 E25 | CLIP

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.

AIRED: March 27, 2020 | 0:09:24

("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.

Are they?

- 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.

(exciting music)


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