I’ve followed this discussion with interest. My opinion is a bit elaborate, so please bear with me.
I’ll begin by saying I’m pleased that David Leisner recovered from focal dystonia. Players who reach a high level of accomplishment have a commitment to music beyond the average ken. Having to give up playing is something not to be wished on any concert artist.
That said, I’d like to revisit an old parable that seems germane to this discussion:
Long ago, people ate meat raw. Then one day a farmer’s barn was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Surveying the charred ruins, the farmer came upon a cow that had perished in the blaze. He sliced off a piece and ate it. It was delicious, better than anything he’d ever tasted. He told everyone around. They all came over and cut themselves a slice. All agreed it was delicious. They decided that from that day on, they would always cook meat before eating it. And so every time they wanted cooked meat, they burned down a barn.
The moral here is familiar to anyone in medical research. Too often, an apparently effective treatment can be attributed to the wrong thing. This is why medical research is such a rigorous process. Researchers must sift through many possible reasons why something happened. Without sufficient rigor, it’s hard to know what is and isn’t relevant to a cure. In essence, doctors might end up burning down a barn to grill a steak.
For this reason, I’m skeptical of those who make claims unverified by carefully controlled and open observation. It’s one thing to work in private, gather success stories, and then portray yourself as an expert. It’s another thing to work with other experts, keep meticulous records, and openly report the results of all who’ve sought help from you.
In every profession we see practitioners who, far from prying eyes, seem to produce results beyond their peers. But often when their true methods come to light, their apparent success fades. For example, the secretive Bernie Madoff appeared to be an uncommonly successful investor. It wasn’t until the secrecy was lifted that he revealed himself as something more quotidian.
To be clear, Leisner makes an extraordinary claim. Here’s a passage from his book:
“My work paid off with steady progress, and by 1996, I was completely cured. Ever since then, I have been playing totally free of focal dystonia. I am also one of the few people in the world who has been able to help and cure many others with focal dystonia (not just guitarists, but players of all instruments, except brass.) Bear in mind that this condition is otherwise regarded by the medical establishment as incurable!” (Playing With Ease: pp. 4-5)
So Leisner is claiming a success rate beyond that of almost all medical experts in playing related injury. Well, he’s free to do so. But I need more evidence to accept his claim.
I’m also not encouraged by Leisner’s language in portraying the “medical establishment.” The medical community holds itself to peer reviewed standards—a process to which Leisner seems indifferent. For that reason, by the way, most medical professionals with long clinical experience in playing related injury seldom use the words “completely cured.” It’s a prudent attitude Leisner would do well to adopt.
Finally, there’s a disquieting irony being overlooked. Consider this passage from his book:
“While totally devastated on every level by this sinister condition, I pursued one specialist after another, seeking a cure. I consulted practitioners of Eastern medicine as well as Western. Unfortunately, no one was successful.” (Playing With Ease: p. 3-4)
Leisner’s frustration during this time was understandable. Yet he seems unaware that he’s now working the other side of the street. Today, he’s the practitioner to whom stricken players are coming for a cure. So it’s jarring when Leisner curtly dismisses someone who sought help and was neither cured nor improved. I expect a more solicitous response to the frustration of a failed cure, especially when it mirrors the frustration Leisner himself felt. And it might alert him to the possibility that he shares more than he’d care to admit with those who failed to help him.
South Euclid, OH