The first thought I had in the moment was that I wouldn’t be able to play piano the same way again. My life did not flash before my eyes (no pun intended), and time neither stood still nor flew by. And while stories like this are usually told in a moment-by-moment retelling of the event, for me the story is more than a series of events. I cannot instantly recall the initial pain, but I can vividly recall the panic that I’d lost a part of my piano playing ability.
To be very honest I have been attempting, and failing, to write a note to the SSO community since the attack. I have wanted to share that I am fully recovered. I’ve wanted to share my thanks for the support and love the community showed to me and my staff whose lives were all changed forever that day. I’ve wanted to talk about how at first I couldn’t listen to music, but now I rely on music to get through the bad days and the just getting by days. I’ve wanted to talk about the steps we’re taking to give the SSO a safe space. There’s much I’ve wanted to say, but I haven’t had the words.
On July 31st, I was attacked at the SSO offices by a man who we’d never seen before. In the middle of a meeting with three of the SSO team, he stabbed me in the eye. Thanks to the quick thinking and giant hearts of my team, I was rushed to hospital and I had the emergency care I needed. The next few weeks were very difficult, very painful, very emotional, and very draining.
The bruising, swelling, fractures, and eye complications have all gone, and I have made a 100% physical recovery. I am very grateful to medical team at City Hospital and the Eye Clinic for the care I received that made recovery possible.
But the psychological effects of being the victim of a violent crime don’t disappear like bruises. So while the scar on my eye is barely noticable, I’m adjusting to life with scars.
Like many people and, as studies show, nearly all musicians, mental health has always played a role in my life and I have struggled with anxiety most of my adult life. Whether it’s a musician’s innate emotional connection to their soul or the vulnerability that comes with being a music student, musicians and mental health challenges go hand in hand. I am very lucky that I don’t have performance related anxiety, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really been nervous to play no matter the size of the audience (though, my teachers Sheila and Penny somehow had the ability to make me question if I’d practiced enough….). In the mid-2000s I began living with anxiety – it took a long time to understand, and accept, and eventually I was able to manage it. I’ve even given a speech on stage at the SSO while I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack. More than once.
So new scars are just that – they’re new. I consider myself very lucky that in my life I can turn with an open heart and open mind and open ears to music. I am a voracious consumer and maker of music – it’s my life’s work, it’s my refuge, its my passion, it’s my research, it’s what I turn to when I need time and space. But this summer made me grateful that beautiful music exists and that whether its Bach or Aretha, there’s something for every feeling and every scar.
Safety is a must for a workplace – and because of that, the SSO Board of Directors and I made the decision to move the SSO to a new space.
The shock and fear attached to the attack had impact on the staff, musicians, Book Sale volunteers, and even our patrons. This isn’t about us running away from what happened, or turning our backs on the friends we’ve made in Riversdale – this decision was solely selfish: we needed to provide the team that brings you the SSO a space where they could feel productive again. While I was the one left with a physical scar, the mental scarring affected many people. We have been able to do our work, but it is taking a toll on us.
We’re thrilled to have found a great new space that has a great music room, beautiful offices, and a wonderful warehouse for the Book Sale. We’re grateful to our neighbours and landlord for making Riversdale such a rewarding home. And we’re affirming our commitment to being an orchestra for all members of our community, and in continuing the work that has been so important to us in our time in Riversdale.
I’m behind on my work – we lost a month, and though I am back to work I still have days where concentration is difficult. But I am loving being back at work. Our first few concerts of the year have refreshed my pride in the musicians of the SSO, and they’ve given me the energy to make the next steps for the SSO to be a catalyst for exceptional music making in our community.
The next time you see one of my staff, please tell them how grateful you are that they are doing what they do for music in our town and how brave they were in the face of terrifying circumstances.
A move is a lot of work and costs a lot of money, so don’t be shy about helping out! Come to lots of concerts – there is no replacement for the healing power of music. It means a lot to us when you come to our concerts.
And I’m back at the piano.
Tune your heart to brave music.
See you at the symphony,
SSO Executive Director Mark Turner wishes to thank the community, near and far, who reached out in the weeks that followed the unfortunate events of July 31st.
The SSO will be moving its offices during the month of November to 602B 51st Street East.