The Next Chapter:
Suzy Dennis Bratton
GRSMA recognizes our dear colleague and friend Suzy Dennis Bratton, who retired last spring due to focal dystonia after twenty-five years as Principal Clarinet of the Grand Rapids Symphony. With Suzy’s permission, we are providing the social media post that she made to explain her path. GRSMA will miss her presence on stage, and we wish Suzy well in her new business venture, Yum Pouch Dehydrated Meals.
Friends, it is with a calm heart that I announce the end of my performance career.
On February 7, 2020, I woke up and couldn’t form an embouchure. Six weeks before COVID shut the country down, I was diagnosed with a nerve injury called focal dystonia.
Along with this diagnosis came physical therapy, speech therapy, and acupuncture. I saw two different neurologists and was referred to ENT, TMJ, MRI, and finally, a devastating Botox treatment that collapsed my upper lip for eight months.
What gave me the most hope and a real shot at being able to play again are the months I spent retraining the neuropathways used to play the clarinet. Every day I worked on the things I’ve always done in ways I'd never done them before and spent countless hours focusing on what happens before, during, and after my inhale.
What exactly is a healthy breathing mechanism and how does it actually work?
Good air support is the foundation of a beautiful sound and keeps one's playing vibrant and free from tension. Although there are many opinions and contradictions on how it works and how it's taught, the bottom line is that healthy breathing is the key to endurance. Much like athletes, professional musicians need recovery time to stay strong and resilient, and to prevent injury. In the midst of a busy season or heavy programming, most orchestras often overplay; pushing out sound because the show must go on. Nerves become overactive, which stresses the muscles used to play. This cycle can lead to fatigue, weakness, and more overplaying, providing a breeding ground for dystonia. Unfortunately for me, the nerve damage was too great to tolerate the retraining exercises.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have performed with some of the best musicians in the world and to have shared the stage with the amazing musicians of the Grand Rapids Symphony every week. So many opportunities, so many masterpieces, countless beautiful and transformative moments.
This journey has taught me about resilience and character. It has taught me that you are more than what you do. And it has taught me to be brave in ways I didn’t know I even needed to be. I’m excited for the next chapter of my life as an entrepreneur! For the past 25 years I spent every weekend onstage, nourishing the soul through great music. I turn now to nourishing the body: bringing delicious and healthy food in sustainable packaging to people on the trail and on the go. www.yumpouch.com
I look forward to being a supporter of the arts and to making sure our children’s children’s children have a rich and thriving classical music community.
DREAM IT. FEED IT. ACHIEVE IT.
Note from GRSMA: Focal dystonia is a devastating disorder that has ended the performing career of many musicians. This link provides more information about focal dystonia. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20795373/