A Tempo: When Arthritis 'Abducts' a Musical Dream

Jul 8, 2017

Andrea Avery had just begun to entertain the possibility that playing the piano would figure prominently in her career path when, at the age of 12, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

“When you’re 12, you’re a little bit older than a six or seven year old who’s pretty good at the piano,” says Avery. “You’re starting to sort out what aspects of your life that were once afterschool programs or hobbies are actually going to be able to be in your life, like, ‘Am I good enough at this that I could, you know, do this?’ So it’s around 12 where you’re really starting to envision the adult you want to be, or at least I was. And so to have this crash appearance of arthritis to complicate things, it was particularly fraught.”

Music and the piano would continue to be a part of her life – including a particular love of Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat D.960. Now Avery has captured the challenges of defying and dealing with the debilitating ways arthritis can and did affect, delay and waylay many aspects of her life, from playing music to enjoying her teen years, in her new memoir, Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano. 

Andrea Avery, author of Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano, published by Pegasus Books.

This Saturday (7/8), A Tempo host Rachel Katz interviews Avery about her book and her relationship with music and some of the musicians who have become touchstones in her life, including Schubert and Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right arm during World War I.

“I struggle with whether I can still claim to be a musician or not,” she says. Then she adds, “It’s not dead. It’s abducted. Death is a closure. If I could just not play piano anymore and it was for sure gone, then maybe I could listen to piano literature, I could go to piano concerts, and I could be very happy. It’s more like it’s abducted, and I don’t know if it’s coming back.”

A Tempo airs Saturday at 7 pm.