As I’ve mentioned before, I have TMJ. I’ve spent longer than I’ve cared to admit trying to sleep and eat and talk and go about my day without pain or tightness, and despite my best efforts, a lot of days are tough days professionally. More often than not, playing a horn is a struggle between wanting to work toward being a better performer and wanting to keep the tension out of my body, keep myself safe, and avoid making things worse. Navigating life with my jaw is a dance between doctors and stretches and food choices and sleeping positions, and while some days are absolute crap and others are amazing, the vast majority of them are somewhere in the middle—not terrible, but not great, either.
Today, for instance, my jaw feels like crap. It happens, and I know how to navigate it. But on Monday, I had one of the best jaw days I’ve had in months. I breezed through a three-hour rehearsal (in which I was able to actually enjoy playing above the staff—a rarity these days), I sat through a full day of classes without experiencing the usual fatigue that settles into my body, I was able to focus on my muscles during dance, and I got to reclaim the performer I want to be on the chamber music concert.
It wasn’t the tallest order—Phantom was only playing three pieces, and we were in and out in roughly twenty minutes—but it’s been a long time since I could do that without pain. I had the right equipment to give me the sound I wanted and, unlike most days, the physiological ability to give myself the air support and technical precision my parts demanded. It wasn’t an entirely tension-free performance, but it was the closest I’ve been in months, and I was flying. I’ve always wanted to be the performer who jumps in where orchestra players fear to tread (isn’t that the phrase?), and for much of the last year, I’ve felt her slipping away.
But Monday night, she came back.
So it’s okay (for now) that my jaw feels like crap today. It’s okay that I still don’t know what combination of specialists I’m going to have to see before this gets resolved. It’s okay that I’m scared of what my health means for my future. Because when you have one night to remember what it really, truly feels like to be out on stage with your heart in your music, it all comes back into focus. I’m not sure if there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I remember which one I’m in now.
And for the time being, that counts for something.