Anna Détári – focal dystonia story

Anna Detari

My story

My name is Anna Détári, I was born and raised in Hungary. Music entered my life quite early: at the age of 3 I found a recorder at home, and the next thing my parents heard were the Beatles songs they listened to, and the music of the TV commercials – played by me, with perfect rhythm and notes – so they tell me.
They looked at each other and said: the kid should probably learn music. And so I did.
First piano, from the age of 6, and later flute, which became my ultimate love.

Long story short, I became the number one favorite at my teacher’s class, and also a cherished student at the school. I won a few competitions, played a lot of concerts, and I decided to be a flutist. And not just any flutist, not me! I decided to be the best ever.

Becoming a professional musician, and laying the foundations for MFD
I won an audition to a very special high school, the Kodály School, which specialized itself on classical music, and started the life of a professional musician. Like most of us, I collected a lot of very bitter memories as well as good ones and had a teacher who decided that the best way to teach me was pointing out all my mistakes all the time, in a very upsetting way, and never ever praise me. And I wanted to be so good, I still wanted to be the best, and I worked so hard! But it was never enough for her. As I look back now, the foundation of my focal dystonia was laid down then, changing my mindset about playing the flute.

I was accepted to the Franz Liszt Academy, and later to the University of Pécs, had some pretty amazing teachers, started to build up a career as a soloist, but always carrying something I like to call the „not good enough” feeling.

Unusual feelings in the embouchure
In 2010 after a set of very successful concerts (mostly contemporary solos) I found myself tired, and – unlike me – I couldn’t make myself work and practice, I just didn’t feel like it, I didn’t care. But the concerts kept coming and I played them all until I got invited to play two concerts in the Valley of Arts, which is a quite famous festival in Hungary.

After the first one, I had some very unusual feelings in my embouchure, like I couldn’t control it well enough. I told myself that the reason was the lack of practice (although I still practiced 1-2 hours a day at that point), so I played sound building exercises and scales before the next concert. It went well enough, but some of my delicate pianos were ruined by this growing sense of discomfort in my lips.

Full blown focal dystonia
When I went back home, I decided I needed a break. I closed the flute case, went on holiday, and opened it a week later to start to practice to my concerts in the fall. But during that week, my embouchure simply disappeared. I couldn’t play a single note. My upper lip curled forward and out, and I simply couldn’t move it the way I wanted to.

I have no words to describe the distress of the next couple of weeks. First I told myself that I’m only tired, and it’s going to go back on track in a few days. But it didn’t. I started to practice hard, try to produce a note, one single note, worked on and on for hours, but the lips did the same thing: curled out and gave no sound. I was forced to cancel my concerts, one by one. I had no idea what was going on.

No medical solution
In the first year, I visited several doctors, dentists, neurologist, all the specialist I could think of. No one knew what was going on (luckily, because if they did, they would most probably tell me it’s not curable), and I had no one to turn to. For a long time I was too bewildered to think clearly, but after the first year, I started to form an idea about this illness.

Figuring out the problem, and the solution
I was able to talk, to whistle, to blow into any other instrument (formed quite a decent trumpet embouchure for a flutist 🙂 ), so I decided that my muscles and nerves were okay. I figured that it must be deeply emotional and physical, so I started to search for the reasons, the problems, and pains connected to the flute. At the same time, I started to work on a therapy for myself, which included yoga, meditation, visualization, and of course many of exercises on the flute itself.

It took me four years, working mostly alone, with little help from healthy flutist friends, but I nursed my embouchure back to health. The last concert I gave before my focal dystonia was on the 28th of July, 2010. The next solo recital I played was on the 12th of September, 2014. Now, looking back on all this time, I say it was worth it. Not only did I get my playing back, but I also was able to form a better and healthier idea of myself, the flute and my playing. And through the special practicing, analyzing, reading and thinking I achieved a level of consciousness in playing which I never had before, and as a result, my playing improves every single day.

Starting to coach

My first recital after my recovery was a quite interesting one: my poems were recited by an actress between the solo flute pieces. Since it was so unusual, I was interviewed by a ‘flute blogger’ afterward, and I shared my experiences about MFD as well. From the next day, I received countless phone calls, e-mails, and messages from musicians: they all wanted to know how I managed to recover. I met them one by one, trying to translate my methods to their specific needs, and the therapy – which I use to this day  -started to develop. Since then, I never missed the opportunity to learn more: I talked to medical professionals, neuroscientists, other coaches, Alexander Technique and other movement therapy teachers and read countless books on the subject. And above all, I talked to over two hundred musicians who were affected by MFD. I think I learned the most from each individual case since I always have to figure out new ways, new strategies to tailor my therapy to each musician’s needs. I truly admire their bravery and dedication which I experienced every single time.

Scientific research

As I was working with musicians based on my own experiences, I grew more and more curious about the scientific background of the condition. Mostly driven by the desire to become a better and more effective coach, I decided that I needed to continue my studies, so I could conduct an official research. In 2017, I got accepted to the very prestigious Royal College of Music to complete a Master of Science course, majoring in Performance Psychology. After I finished my course with distinction, I continued my work as a Ph.D. student at the University of York. I am funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK and the Music Department of the Univerisity of York and supported by my group, the York Music Psychology Group.

I am dedicated to finding the most effective and quickest way to recover from this challenging condition, and I hope to inspire others to accompany me on this journey.


3 Responses to Anna Détári – focal dystonia story

  1. Ulrich Thevißen August 21, 2016 at 8:41 pm #

    Dear Anna,

    Back home from an inspiring session in Budapest I feel the urge to say that I am really happy that I took the effort. When we worked on different issues like posture, breathing and mental direction and many more, you were always empathic and positive. You told me the things you would have liked to hear from somebody when you were in the situation yourself some years ago. The information was really valuable. I understand a bit more what is going on now and how to organize my way out of it.

    The good thing about this approach is that it addresses the problem from different perspectives and takes care of the individual situation as well. I still have to do the careful retraining in the practice room by myself but I know where to walk and have got some more tools for the way. Thanks a lot for that. All the best for you.

    Ulrich Thevißen, French horn player, Germany

  2. Guyla Czeloth-Csetényi August 23, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    I recommend Anna as an experienced and empathic coach for musicians with Focal Dystonia. She knows the condition very well, as she has suffered with MFD, and recoverd by herself.

    She has a very careful and detailed approach to retraining, and tailor-made our sessions for me as an individual.

    The information Anna has given me is very valuable, and I made significant progress after just a couple of sessions. I am now on my way to recovery and can continue my retraining alone.

    Thank you very much, Anna!

  3. Attila Pécz August 26, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    I started working together with Anna on my MFD in the beginning of May 2016 after having suffered from symptoms for 2 years. Her friendly, positive attitude and professionalism made me confident right from the start that the retraining is going to be successful and that I will be able to play my instrument again symptom-free.

    All of our sessions were spent in a playful and upbeat atmosphere and I could feel the positive benefits right after our first meeting. After diligently practicing the breathing and mental excersises I was already able to play simple rudiments on the drums without any symptoms.

    After one month of coaching sessions we both agreed with Anna that I was ready to continue the retraining on my own. After 4 months I am glad to tell that I am 100% MFD free and I am able to fulfil my role as a drummer in my band again after a long time.

    I can feel that thanks to the retraining I did not only regain my ability to play the drums, but developed such a high level of consciousness to my own playing that I became a much better drummer and musician than I ever was before.

    Thank you Anna for everything!

    Attila Pécz
    Budapest, Hungary