September 1, 2021

“Dystonia can be overcome!” says Maestro Accardo



Maestro Accardo

Taking part in the first National Day against this rare condition, the famous violinist said:” At the Don Gnocchi Foundation I found outstanding doctors and physiotherapists, thanks to whom I’ve learnt to    understand my body”

Salvatore Accardo, the internationally acclaimed violinist, was a testimonial of the professionalism and humanity of the doctors and health workers who within the Don Gnocchi Foundation are committed to treating neurological conditions, and dystonia in particular. This happened during   the first edition of the National Dystonia Day,       promoted last September in virtual mode by ARD (the Italian Research on Dystonia Association) together with the Foundation, and the contribution of experts, patients and their relatives.

Maestro Accardo, together with his wife Laura Gorna – also an internationally renowned violinist – talked about his experience with doctors Anna Castagna and Rosa Maria Converti. Dr Castagna, neurologist, is head of the Movement Disorders’ and Botulinum Toxin Clinic of the IRCCS (Scientific Institute for Hospitalisation and Treatment).

“Don Gnocchi” in Milan. Dr Converti, medical physiatrist, in charge of the “Sol Diesis Clinic ” of the same IRCCS. Both doctors have been working for years on the treatment of dystonia, and both are passionate about music, and with music degrees too.

Music moves hearts, and often helps to overcome difficult moments. How did music help you, Maestro, to address and overcome dystonia?

Music really is therapeutic, as it helps to overcome difficult, sensitive issues: not only dystonia, but also, for example, autistic disorders and many others. Music- and specially for me Mozart, whom I believe was a really magnificent composer- has offered me an extra hand in my specific path as musician.  Mozart’s music puts you in touch with something pointing to divinity; he is the best. During the past few years I have been lucky enough to tackle these scores of Mozart’s with my daughter, and you may well imagine the incredible emotional value of   deepening these masterworks together with a ten- year -old…

What changes in your personal and professional life has dystonia brought? What has having a  movement disorder allowed you to discover, maybe about yourself?

As professor Albanese, who was the first doctor I contacted at the start of my disorder in the Eighties, can testify, at first I simply could not understand what was happening, why this could be possible…. Then, as time went on, this condition has allowed me to know my body better, much better than I did before.

When you start playing at a young age, everything is done by instinct, with little or no understanding. This disorder, on the contrary, offers you the opportunity to understand what’s going on in your muscles and in your tendons. Thanks to the care and help I’ve  received from professionals these last years- and I’m talking especially about the splendid team of the Milan IRCCS Don Gnocchi Foundation- I’ve come to understand what happens when you do a certain sort of movement, and how it is possible to make a different and more helpful one instead. It would be important that these facts and suggestions were made known to all musicians at the start of their career.

Our brain’s ability to correct and overcome dystonia is fundamental. How important was it for you to have the assistance of experts (neurologists, physiatrists, physiotherapists) and to be able to discuss your problems with them? At our     Foundation we try to divulge the idea of tackling dystonia in many different ways, sometimes even by means of a psychological approach, trying to understand our reactions.

I would say that it’s not just important to receive medical, neurological and psychological integrated support; rather, it is essential. In the Eighties, when I began to have my first problems, I was even afraid of having to stop playing. It is important to understand that it is instead possible to move forward, to fight this disease, to live with these disorders.

We musicians are also lucky enough to be involved in music, and music is that therapeutic help, as we have already said, that can make you get through the most difficult patches.

Research on dystonia also is of basic importance, as we haven’t yet well understood which are the pathophysiological causes of this disorder.  We have to continue studying because we have to   understand what happens in our brain before we can put forward a good rehabilitation project. We need everyone’s help, and holding events like this one is very useful. The slogan for this day is very meaningful: a rare disease doesn’t mean an invisible one, and together we are stronger!

What would you like to say to people suffering from this disorder?

You can overcome dystonia, especially if you are lucky enough to meet doctors like the ones I did at Fondazione Don Gnocchi. So: take heart! I’m also sure that we will be more and more involved in this field . And as musicians we say: up with music.   Because I’m persuaded that- as Nietzche says – “Without music, life would become impossible!”

In these years we have been lucky enough to also get to know a superb musician, Laura Gorna, wife of maestro Accardo and she too is an inter-nationally renowned violinist. She also teaches music. How important is it in your opinion, Mrs Accardo, to give students in Music Conservatories and Musical Academies correct information about preventing disorders like dystonia?

Focal dystonia, the disorder that has affected my husband, has given me the opportunity to get to know some wonderful people and a splendid professional team. I’ve come to understand how important their work is, not only in overcoming the disorders, but also in helping to face the many  other problems that can affect us musicians. As   all categories of workers we too have our occupational diseases. Athletes are closely followed, whereas we are often without this focus on body awareness. I have also realised that as teachers, both of children and young adults, we have important responsibilities. We often have  students with great technical abilities and notice-able musical knowledge but no body awareness- though the latter is of paramount importance. I would like to put forward a proposal in this direction, seeing that we have some extra courses in the biennium and Bachelor’s degree. It is essential to play well, to study a lot, to nurture talent, to know music theory and harmony, with the addition of the ability to assert oneself, and much more; but it is no less important to have a correct body awareness.

This cannot be reduced to a mere exercise class, but should be conceived in Musical Conservatories, Academies and Schools as a multidisciplinary course led by teams like those working in the “Sol Diesis” Don Gnocchi Foundation’s clinic. Often, when students have a problem, they go to their general practitioner, who then refers them to a specialist- but often these medical and paramedical figures don’t talk to each other. On the contrary, work done at the Foundation is guaranteed to be multidisciplinary: they all speak to each other, work with the musicians themselves with shared purposes, and devote themselves to the musician and his problem. And they do this with competence and passion: the best guarantee for the patient’s health.