Episode 2: Michael Pasikov, classical pianist and cancer survivor

After performing 100 concerts for charity, he lost the use of his right hand. Never one to give up, Pasikov has taught himself to play one-handed.

The guest: Michael Pasikov spent his childhood in Chicago and began playing the piano when he was just 5 years old. He started with Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 16, learning it by ear and eventually mastering it like someone way beyond his years. Juilliard came calling, but he instead chose a career in math and computer science. He got married and became busy raising a family. He moved to Israel in 1999. Fifteen years went by and he barely played the piano. Then he got cancer, and while lying in his bed at Hadassah Hospital in Israel, he made a promise: If he survived this, he would give 100 concerts for charity. Which he did. But then something unexpected happened...

The gist: One night, more than a year after recovering from cancer, Pasikov suddenly fainted in his home. He landed on his right hand, practically paralyzing it. He was unconscious for days. When he finally recovered and left the hospital, he was unable to use his right hand – his dominant hand for playing piano. But Pasikov is not a quitter. He re-wrote famous classical compositions to be played one-handed. And he began giving one-handed concerts. Close your eyes, and you can't even tell he's playing one-handed. In this week's episode, Michael tells us about his incredible, life-changing journey.

Further reading:

"Our Friend from Israel" is hosted by Benyamin Cohen. All the piano music in this episode was played by Michael Pasikov. Our podcast theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel. Follow our podcast on Facebook for behind-the-scenes access to the show.

Host Benyamin Cohen (right) at the home of Michael Pasikov (left) in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Host Benyamin Cohen (right) at the home of Michael Pasikov (left) in Beit Shemesh, Israel. Pasikov's piano is in the background. (Photo: From The Grapevine)


Benyamin: On this episode of Our Friend From Israel; Michael Pasikov was born in Chicago and he seemed destined for greatness. He was a child prodigy on the piano. By the time he finished high school Julliard was calling, but Michael took a detour. He got married, had kids, moved to Israel. 15 years went by without him barely playing the piano at all, and then he got cancer. There he was lying in a hospital bed and he made a decision. He got in his wheelchair, just dressed in his hospital gown, and rolled his way to the grand piano in the hospital lobby.

Michael: And so I sat down and I played, and it was a big crowd that came, it was amazing. It was like 20 or 30 people.

Benyamin: And you're just a patient there.

Michael: Yeah, I'm in my hospital garment, I'm in my pajamas, as they say, and then I play and people are gathering around.

Benyamin: He was playing Chopin, his favorite composer, and from all around Israel's Hadassah hospital patients were coming to the lobby to hear Michael play, and it was at that moment that Michael made a promise to himself; if he could make it out of this hospital alive, he would give back. He would give 100 concerts in hospitals and for charity, all around Israel.

Michael: I would just go every week giving concerts, after concerts, after concerts. Just one after another, after another, and it became part of my routine. Sundays, maybe twice a week I would do it, and over the course of a year or so I had them all done.

Benyamin: Michael's story to give 100 concerts for charity would be remarkable if it just ended right there, but a few months ago he suffered a setback. Late one night he was at home by himself and he suddenly fainted onto the floor. The fall crushed his right arm, his dominant piano playing hand was left motionless. It was paralyzed. A lesser person than Michael would have just thrown in the towel, but Michael accepted the challenge, he became lefthanded, and he recomposed classical tunes by the likes of Chopin, and Mozart to be played with only one hand. What you're hearing now is him playing one handed. On today's episode Michael shares his story.

Benyamin: Welcome to Our Friend From Israel, a podcast brought to you by FromTheGrapevine.com. I'm your host Benyamin Cohen, and each week we'll have a conversation with an intriguing Israeli. They'll come from all walks of life; actors, artists, athletes, archeologists, and other news makers. In today's episode we visit with Michael Pasikov at his home in Israel to chat about his incredible journey.

Benyamin: So, you are a classically trained pianist.

Michael: Correct.

Benyamin: So, if you can just bring us back a little bit and tell us where you grew up and how you got into music.

Michael: Sure. So I grew up in Chicago and my father taught me music, he taught me the piano. He would come home every evening after work and he would work with me on the piano, and then I would learn a Mozart piece, which is a very interesting piece because a lot of other classical pianists have learned on that same exact piece. It's a Mozart sonata and he would work with me every day with it, and finally he took me to the first chair violinist for the Chicago Symphony and had me play for him, and he said, "This boy's got talent." And gave my father two options basically; be a concert pianist, or do something else, because music's a difficult career.

Michael: So what he did suggest though was that I go to North Western University was having tryouts, auditions for kids to study with the professors at North Western University.

Benyamin: About hold old were you at this time?

Michael: I was at that time about eight when I started, yeah.

Benyamin: Oh wow, a real child prodigy.

Michael: Yeah, it was a real tryout and everything, but it was a wonderful program and by the time I was 18 they trained me fully to be a concert pianist, to go to Julliard and to have a career in music. And at that time my father said, "Well, you know, if you like other things then maybe it's not the best career for you. It's tough, it's whatever." So we decided on something else, which was going to the University of Illinois and studying math and computer science.

Benyamin: That's a big difference between the arts and sciences.

Michael: Exactly. Well, what I failed to mention is that I was also blessed with a mathematical ability as well, not as profound as the music, but definitely it was connected, and language, math, and music are connected somehow, it's an abstract language. So I had other options, and so I pursued that for a while, but I was always connected with the piano.

Benyamin: What was it about music that drew you to that activity?

Michael: It's very creative. The thing that draws me about music is, it's very abstract, piano music. You have to tell a story and you can't use any language. In other words you can't tell people how I feel. Another very, very interesting thing about it is that throughout the world there is a musical thing that people do without even knowing it, and that is when they call their children they go, "Sam, Mary," right?

Benyamin: Right.

Michael: And it's a type of musical type of phrase that they call their children with. And they've done a study, I think Leonard Bernstein did the study, and he found out that all through the world that phrase, that musical phrase is used by everybody. Chinese, Japanese, right? All through the world, and it's amazing because what it means is, we are hardwired for musical understanding, let's say. In other words, there's something in us that understands a musical concept, that when you call your children you call them in this third, this type of phrase. "Mary."

Michael: So that's what fascinates me, that you can play and practice a piece over and over again, find new things in it, and bring it out to people, and it creates such joy for people. When you do a mathematical puzzle you enjoy it and it's very pleasurable for you, but not many people are watching you do it and say, "Wow, I'm really enjoying you solve this problem, it's really interesting." But in music if you start playing somewhere, people gather around and they really enjoy it, it breaks up the day.

Benyamin: Well, it's a universal language.

Michael: Exactly.

Benyamin: So, you're in college, you're studying computer science, and how many years go by before you pick up music again?

Michael: When I started raising my family is when I stopped playing, because I just didn't have the time, and that was the miracle of it, and that's why I feel that it was really destined, because 15 years after I stopped playing music and playing the piano I picked it up again and I left off exactly where I left off. In other words, most of the time if you don't practice a skill for 15 year it degenerates. In other words, you start at a much lower level and it takes years to pick it back up again. I literally started and a month later it was as if I never left the piano at all.

Benyamin: What's that famous phrase? If you don't practice for a day ... What is it?

Michael: That's right. Jascha Heifetz says that "If I don't practice one day, I know the difference, and if I don't practice two days, the critics know the difference, and if I don't practice three days, the audience knows the difference." Right, that's exactly right. That's the exact point. And that's a very funny thing because Jascha Heifetz used to take off the summers and then have to rebuild back up, they showed him how he had to rebuild back up his repertoire and it took him a while, but he wanted the summers off, so he took off the summers. But that's at the highest level. In other words, it's at the highest, highest, highest level of music. At his level, if you miss some days, it starts to deteriorate noticeably, yeah.

Benyamin: So at this point, during this 15 year hiatus you moved from America to Israel?

Michael: Yes. Exactly.

Benyamin: Okay. So now you're in Israel and you've picked music back up.

Michael: Yes.

Benyamin: How was that, just emotionally for you to begin with?

Michael: It was amazing. It was as if I was seeing it with new eyes, and hearing it with new ears. It was absolutely amazing because I started with this one piece, and I would play it all the time every day, every day I would get something new out of it, and I thought that I was hearing this storyline, and I'd never heard storylines when I played music before, but now there was this emotional storyline going on in this music. It was fascinating to me.

Benyamin: Which piece was that?

Michael: It was a Chopin etude, actually, it was Opus 25 number one. It's a beautiful piece.

Benyamin: I think you told me once Chopin is your favorite.

Michael: Oh yeah, he is definitely my favorite.

Benyamin: And why is that?

Michael: I mean, I love all the composers and I play all the composers, but there's something about Chopin that just is so soothing, so beautiful, so surprising. He has it all in one. He can do it within two minutes. Sometimes Beethoven takes a whole half an hour or something to express his music and it takes a long time. Chopin can take a two minute piece and it's just so pleasing to you in two minutes. You say, "Wow, what a wonderful piece."

Benyamin: When we return, Michael's cancer diagnosis leads to him finding new ways to play the piano.

Michael: They didn't know what would happen, it was like a touch and go, it was very advanced and aggressive by the time they found it. I couldn't walk anymore, it had grown in the back of my leg and it had prevented me from walking anymore.

Benyamin: Which, that prevented you from using piano pedals as well?

Michael: In the right leg, yeah.

Benyamin: Wow.

Michael: I couldn't even lift the leg. I had to learn how to pedal left footed, let's say.

Benyamin: A left footed pianist.

Michael: Left foot pianist, yeah.

Benyamin: This new podcast, Our Friend From Israel, is brought to you by FromTheGrapevine.com, a website that covers stories from Israel, whether it's health breakthroughs and tech advancements, or stories about traveling to Israel and maybe even meeting actress Gal Gadot. Check out our articles, videos, recipes, and more at FromTheGrapevine.com.

Benyamin: Okay, so now you've revitalized your music career, everything's going great, and then what happens?

Michael: Great, terrific. Well, then what happens is I discover that I have lymphoma.

Benyamin: Oh boy.

Michael: Yeah, and at that time, so I was in treatments in lymphoma in the hospital.

Benyamin: And you were at a famous hospital here in Israel called Hadassah?

Michael: Hadassah, Ein Kerem, right. It's a wonderful hospital, the medical care here is fantastic. So what I did, I was in the hospital and I was actually looking for just a quiet place for introspection, to think my thoughts, and all of a sudden I saw a piano in the hospital, and I thought I was having an illusion, like an optical illusion. What would a piano be doing in a hospital?

Benyamin: It's like a mirage in the desert or something.

Michael: Exactly, exactly, exactly.

Benyamin: And this is in the lobby?

Michael: In the lobby, yeah. So it was very funny and the people loved it, and they really enjoyed it. So I said, "Well, as long as I'm here, I will give concerts."

Benyamin: It was nice for other people to hear, but what was it doing for you, in your [crosstalk 00:11:34]?

Michael: It was definitely helping me, definitely. There was no question that it was helping me, because it gave me something to do and to get my mind off of things, and it was wonderful. It was like an optimistic thing in a very pessimistic world, a very optimistic outlook.

Benyamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So you're a patient in the hospital.

Michael: Yes.

Benyamin: And you're in your hospital gown, and you're going down and giving concerts in the lobby of the hospital-

Michael: That's correct.

Benyamin: On their piano. They had a nice piano.

Michael: A beautiful piano, yeah.

Benyamin: Okay, so go on.

Michael: So, what happened was that I started giving concerts every day at this hospital. I was there anyway because I was a patient there for many weeks, and it got to the point where the staff would know me, and when they would take an x-ray or something they would say, "Do you want to go back to your room, or would you like to go to the piano?" So I'd say, "Let's go to the piano." And things like that. So it was really nice, it was a really nice diversion, and it was wonderful to get the people listening to the concerts, and then something absolutely miraculous happened. The whole thing is miraculous, but this is unbelievable.

Michael: One of the chief physicians stopped off at the piano and he said, "I don't even know why I'm here today, I'm supposed to be at a meeting and they changed it last minute to the Hadassah, and your playing is wonderful, and I would like to know if you'd ever want to play at the hospice, because they need someone to play at hospice. It's a very sad place and your playing would be wonderful for them." And I said, "I would love to do it." I said, "If I get better, I will play at your hospice."

Benyamin: That's what every musician says.

Michael: Right, exactly.

Benyamin: I can't wait to play in a hospice.

Michael: Exactly. It's like the Carnegie Hall or hospice? Ah, I think I'll play at a hospice, yeah. So no, the interesting thing about it is the staff was wonderful, and they asked me why I don't just play in concert halls, wouldn't that be more appropriate, and I said, "No, because when I play at a hospice the appreciation is 100%, when I play at a regular hall the people come, they listen for a couple of hours, they enjoy it, it's a nice enjoyable evening for them, but it doesn't make as much impact on their life." This is something that makes a tremendous impact on their lives. I saw some amazing things while I was there. So it was amazing.

Benyamin: So you played for the patients at the hospital, and you played for the hospice care. So you yourself left the hospital.

Michael: Right. They cured the lymphoma, it was in remission, yes. I started gaining weight, because I was very underweight at the time, and I started playing concerts, yeah. So that's how I kept busy.

Benyamin: So, when you got out of the hospital you decided you wanted to give back.

Michael: Right.

Benyamin: By giving 100 concerts for charity.

Michael: That's correct.

Benyamin: Okay, how did that come about?

Michael: It came about because I saw a documentary about a lady who survived the holocaust, who's a pianist, and she gave 100 concerts during the holocaust, or so, something over 100. So I said, "If that lady can do 100 concerts in her condition, then I certainly can do 100 concerts in Hadassah."

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Benyamin: So now your cancer's in remission.

Michael: Yes.

Benyamin: You did your 100 concerts for charity. What next?

Michael: Well, I don't live a dull life, that's for sure. So what happened is everything's going smoothly, and I have teaching, and I'm giving concerts, and I have all different venues of concerts that I'm playing. The train station's hired me to play 36 concerts, it was wonderful.

Benyamin: Like during rush hour?

Michael: Yeah, it was wonderful. I met a lot, a lot of people, some of them became my students.

Benyamin: Wow.

Michael: I met tremendous things, I gave tremendous concerts, I learned a lot from it, how to entertain, because a train station is interesting.

Benyamin: Yeah, people are very tight attention span.

Michael: Exactly. So how do you draw people in when they're busy trying to get to work or back from work? It's an interesting concept.

Benyamin: So what's the secret?

Michael: The secret is that you have to play things that are very recognizable to them, that they love.

Benyamin: Okay.

Michael: Once they love the piece that you're playing, they'll stop by. When you play It's A Wonderful World in a beautiful transcription, they just say, "Oh, I know that piece. Okay, I'll listen to that." That type of thing.

Michael: So I actually went in and played classical music of course, because that's my base, but I started fooling around with piano covers, they called them, of very famous pieces to draw them in, and then they would buy CDs from me and they would talk to me, and it was a very, very wonderful time. I was continuing on doing this, and then all of a sudden in August, this past August, of 2017, I fainted in my apartment. Just one minute I was conscious, and the other minute I wasn't, I was on the floor.

Benyamin: And your cancer was in remission?

Michael: No, my cancer was in remission. I even felt something before a little bit, like I wasn't feeling 100% well, and I went to a doctor and they took the blood test and the blood test was fine, there was no problem.

Benyamin: So this is late at night, you're in your apartment.

Michael: Late at night, I'm in my apartment on the Sunday, wondering around, then all of a sudden I absolutely lose consciousness, and when I say I lose consciousness, when you get back consciousness you don't know where you are. I fell on my arm, my right arm, and I knocked out the entire nerve, the brachial plexus nerve structure, which controls the entire arm, the fingers, and everything else like that. So if anyone has ever slept on their arm the wrong way and woken up in the morning and they can't move their arm, well that's what it was. So I was trying to get up, back to consciousness and back up to stand up, and I couldn't because my right arm was completely wiped out. But I didn't know that at the time. I thought I was on a different planet that had a much heavier gravity. Exactly.

Michael: So, what happened is that my-

Benyamin: Let's take a commercial break, and find out what happens next.

Michael: Right, exactly.

Benyamin: When we return, Michael tells us what happens next. But first, why do people like classical music so much?

Michael: Some people don't like classical music at all. I've tried many times to convince people to like classical music. "Oh, no, no." You know, but it's funny because you'll ask them, "Do you like The Beatles?" "Oh, I love the early Beatles, they're great." "Well, that's classical music." That's very classically based, or Simon and Garfunkel, that's very classically based. What I mean by classically based is that it's harmonically similar to classical music, they're using the same structure. Billy Joel is a fantastic example, he's basically a classical composer.

Benyamin: And now, back to the show.

Michael: So what happened next is my son discovered me in the morning, and I told him to take me to the hospital, I knew exactly which hospital to take me to, and he did and did a beautiful job. He stayed with me the whole time. They brought me into intensive care, and they thought it might be a stroke, but it wasn't a stroke.

Benyamin: Were you conscious at this time?

Michael: No. So what happened was at the hospital they thought it was a stroke, but they tested me and they said, "No, it's not a stroke." And then all of a sudden they found out that I had septic shock in the blood, which is poisonous and basically kills. In other words it's a very deadly situation to have septic shock. It's the final stages of a lot of people in the hospital because it just shuts down all your organs.

Benyamin: And that's what was happening to you?

Michael: That's what's happening to me, and they were telling the kids, they're telling the kids, "There's a very strong possibility he's not going to make it."

Benyamin: And your organs started to shut down, one by one?

Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative), they did. And then it's as if God just put them back up again. In other words this organ would shut down, and then it would go back up again, and the doctors are like, "How'd that happen?" And it would just keep on, every organ would shut down and then restart, restart. Then all of a sudden in the next two or three days I was conscious, I had consciousness again.

Benyamin: For our listeners who can't see what I'm seeing right now, Michael is moving his finger up and down when he says, "This organ went on, and this organ went off." And that's a classic, you look like a conductor when you're doing it.

Michael: Right, exactly, exactly.

Benyamin: This organ up, this organ down. This organ up, this organ down.

Michael: It's true, it's true. It was an amazing experience. I didn't experience it, I was in a different world for a long time.

Benyamin: Right. So your organs were shutting down and then miraculously one by one they started coming back to life.

Michael: That's right.

Benyamin: Surprising the doctors-

Michael: That's correct.

Benyamin: Who had told your family it was time to start making funeral arrangements.

Michael: That's right. All the kids had tickets, and the ex-wife was taking care of everything.

Benyamin: Wow.

Michael: Yeah, she was wonderful, she just handled everything. So what was happening next was that I went in on Monday, I fainted on Sunday, went in on Monday, and by Thursday I was back to recognizing things and knowing where I was, but I didn't know anything about what happened. So that happened.

Benyamin: I like how you say that; "So that happened."

Michael: Well, I look at it and I say, "That's interesting." It was very pinpoint. This one was pinpoint, it took out my total arm. So I was on fluids for so long that I literally weighed 54 kilos when I went out of the hospital, I was very emaciated, and so then now I have to get back at the physiotherapy to work on the arm.

Benyamin: So your arm, when you leave the hospital, just so our listeners understand, your arm when you leave the hospital, you really don't have any movement on your right.

Michael: I have zero movement and lots of pain.

Benyamin: On your right arm.

Michael: Right arm.

Benyamin: And you're right handed?

Michael: Yes.

Benyamin: And you're a pianist?

Michael: Right, that's not so good for being a pianist.

Benyamin: Does it make you ever appreciate when it was just your legs? In your cancer your legs didn't work.

Michael: Right.

Benyamin: This is even-

Michael: This was a harder thing than the cancer, actually, it was a much harder episode, because it was much more intense, and plus I couldn't play the piano. In other words, when I walked out of it I don't have my right hand anymore.

Benyamin: So really, you had no movement, you couldn't move your right hand?

Michael: I couldn't move it at all.

Benyamin: Okay, so you come out of the hospital only able to use your left hand.

Michael: That's correct, yeah.

Benyamin: I hope this story has a happy ending.

Michael: Of course it does. So what happened next is I went for what's called an EMG, and it was a very bad report, I flunked it.

Benyamin: Right.

Michael: He took the paper over and wouldn't give me the results. He turned it over so I wouldn't see it, and they said, "You should really think about being lefthanded for a while," this type of thing, and I said, "That's not going to work for me." And they said, "Why?" I said, "Because I'm a pianist and I'm going to be playing, in a year or so I'm going to be playing concerts again. So we've got to move this along." And they laughed, they thought it was funny and everything, but I literally would not put any negative thought into my head. I never thought once, for one day did I think, "Okay, I won't move that hand again, I'll constantly just have to use the left hand." It didn't even enter into my mind, not one iota. And I just worked, and worked, and worked, and worked, and worked.

Benyamin: Getting mobility in your hand.

Michael: Exactly. And at first it was like nothing was happening, just nothing, and all I could do was just keep trying and trying and sending the message, and I would always joke with them. I'd say, "The message has been sent, I'm sending the message to move the fingers or the hand, and the arm, but nothing's happening." They said, "Fine, just keeping doing, keep working, keep working." And that's what I did, I just kept working. Meanwhile, I decided as a diversion, because at first you can't do anything but physiotherapy, because you're only sleeping an hour and a half a night because the pain is so intense, and you only have one place to sleep; on your back. You can't move, because you can't move on your arm, and the other arm, you can't move the arm. So every hour and a half you'd wake up.

Michael: So you'd be exhausted. You'd go to physiotherapy, then you'd go home and you'd sleep, and then you'd go to physiotherapy, that was just basically what was happening all the time. But then, as it got better, I wanted to get back to something. Giving back, doing something. It was a tremendous thing that I was doing for people and missed it and I wanted to get back to it.

Benyamin: But you only have one hand.

Michael: Exactly. So I decided, right then and there, it was a very interesting thing that happened to me. I said, "The music, the piano is a vehicle for me. It doesn't know if I have two hands or one hand. I know if I have two hands or one hand, but it doesn't know it, and the sounds of the piano don't know it. If I could possibly rearrange the music so that I could use just one hand doing it, I could still play concerts, on a theoretical basis."

Benyamin: But most of these classical pieces are written for two hands?

Michael: That's correct. They're all written for two hands. There are some, there are some like Ravel that wrote a concerto for left hand, and there's some Scriabin who wrote some pieces for left hand. I don't want to have a small repertoire, I want to have a large repertoire. So I started rewriting the music for left hand.

Benyamin: Recomposing it?

Michael: Yeah, well, rearranging it. So in other words, I'd take a piece that I like and I'd rearrange it for left hand. Then I would take an Elvis piece that I like, and I'd rearrange it for left hand, but the greatest thing that I discovered is, why not take some of the most beautiful violin pieces, they only play with one basic hand-

Benyamin: One hand that's moving, one hands holding the violin and one hand's-

Michael: Well, the violin has one line, let's call it. It's called a line, or a voice, a voice is even better. Here they play with one voice, in other words, is they can play multiple voices with the violin, but I can do that with my hand too. So I said, "I think I'm going to rearrange some of the violin pieces for piano that have never been rearranged before.

Michael: So I started taking Bach, and he did some solo works for the violin, a Prelude that is unbelievably difficult for them, and is unbelievably difficult for me with one hand, and I worked on it. I really worked on it hard, and it really kept me focused, and I learned a lot about music that I didn't know about. Playing with just one hand, you have to think about everything that's going on at once. It's a much different experience playing music, and I gained tremendous focus from it, I really learned a lot about music, and I learned again, that the piano is a medium for expressing yourself. If you've got one hand, if God give you one hand, use the one hand, right? So I literally developed a repertoire of about 20 or 30 minutes of pieces, and I went and played concerts.

Benyamin: And, people who are just closing their eyes and not looking at you, it sounds like a regular, it doesn't sound like a one handed?

Michael: That's it. So I did a transcription of an opera of La bohème, an aria of La bohème, and my whole purpose was if you close your eyes, could you tell if I'm playing it with just one hand or not? And a lot of people said that when they closed their eyes they could not tell that it was done only by the left hand.

Benyamin: And just to be clear, you're not only playing it with one hand, you're playing it with your weak, your less dominant hand? You're playing it with your left hand.

Michael: Yes, but to be fair, a pianist has a very well developed left hand. And it's very funny that you mention that because when I was in the program for the physical therapy they asked me if I could tie my shoe with one hand, and I said, "Sure, of course." And they said, "We would like to see it." And so I showed it to them and they said, "That's impossible, how are you doing that?" Because it was very quick, getting loop to loops with the hands. I said, "Well, I have a lot of dexterity in my left hand." He said, "For the normal person who hasn't developed it, it would be difficult to do that." So they didn't want to use it as the model to do it.

Benyamin: Yeah, the doctors probably don't want to use you as a model for lots of things.

Michael: Exactly, exactly. So even though it is my less dominant hand, it is still very well developed as far as ability to play fast and play nice passages and things like that.

Benyamin: So now you're giving lefthanded concerts.

Michael: I am, yes, and I'm working on getting the right hand back to playing. Now, the status of the right hand now is I can lift it all the way over my head and the doctors say it's miraculous, it's absolutely miraculous, because the progress has been very rapid, and they see the work that's gone into it, they've done a lot of work, and they see results, and now they think it's just strengthening. In other words, the muscles are still very weak, but now it's a matter of strengthening, and actually, piano is a wonderful way to strengthen your fingers.

Benyamin: So when do you hope or expect to get full movement again in your right hand?

Michael: Well, I'm hoping within six months to get it all back, and to start playing seriously and rebuilding the piano, because now I have to rebuild everything that the right hand used to know about piano playing, I have to rebuild it, but it'll be a faster process because I know it in my mind. In other words, somebody asked me about a piece, I know every single note that the right hand's supposed to play in that piece. By heart, I could tell you every single note of it, I just have to tell my fingers how to do it. So a lot of the knowledge is already there, it's just I have to tell the muscles, the muscles have to regain their flexibility and things like that. So I have to work on lots and lots of things to get the right hand back.

Benyamin: And what is it, so many other people in your situation would just throw in the towel, get depressed and not want to. You're taking these as challenges, and putting your foot down and saying, "I'll do it lefthanded now. No problem. I'll do 200 concerts now."

Michael: Right, exactly, exactly. Well, one of the things is I'm a Taurus, so I'm a very stubborn person.

Benyamin: A Taurus.

Michael: Yes.

Benyamin: I'm also a Taurus.

Michael: Oh okay, so you know what I'm talking about. So we're stubborn people. So that's the first thing, you have a nature of being stubborn. The second thing is, it was so pinpoint, and the arm was taken out, the right arm. So to me, it's a tremendous challenge, it's a tremendous way of saying that most people, yeah, they could get very negative about it, and it is depressing because I've been playing the piano since I've been five years old, and I've been playing all my life, and now all of a sudden it's been taken away from me. But I don't look at it that way. I look at it as a growth opportunity to learn more about music than I ever would have done had it not happened, and that's the way I look at it. I only let certain ideas into my head, and the other ones not.

Michael: So instead of dwelling on it and saying, "Poor me, I can't play with my right hand anymore," and this and that, I become a much better teacher because now I can't demonstrate what I need to do. The people that come for lessons now have to tolerate that I have to walk them through it verbally instead of showing it to them all the time. It's made me a much better teacher. I haven't taken any pain medicine because I want to be crystal clear, I don't want to be foggy. I'd rather be in pain than be foggy, and thank God now things are really starting move. The arm's moving, it's less painful, things are moving in my life, and I see that all the hard work is starting to pay off. So it's on the right path

Benyamin: In general, you have an incredible 'glass is half full' attitude towards life.

Michael: Yes I do, I developed it, yes. I didn't always have it. I was as pessimistic as the next person, but then I decided the benefits from it, it's an amazing thing, if you keep focused on optimistic things, how much you can accomplish. Your thoughts really affect a lot of your living. There's this famous story about this water carrier who's older and he has to carry these big water jugs, and he says, "Look at me, I'm 80 years old and I still have to carry these water jugs just to make a living." It's back in Poland, in the 1800s, whatever, and then the next day he wakes up and he goes, "Oh, thank God that I can still have the strength to carry these water ..." so he switches back and forth, and back and forth, but basically it determines your whole day, you get a much better day.

Michael: I look at life in a very specific way, I look at every day as being important and like a life in itself. So if you get depressed over what's happening, it's like you're wasting the day. It's fine, I have moments, everyone has moments, but I keep the moments very limited. I say, "Okay, for the next hour you can be depressed about the fact that you can't play, but that's it. Then we move on to another thing."

Benyamin: So you're going to physical therapy every day?

Michael: Almost every day.

Benyamin: Almost every day.

Michael: Almost every day, yeah.

Benyamin: And where do you see yourself, where do you hope to be in five years from now, or ten years from now?

Michael: Well, I think I've done the illnesses, okay.

Benyamin: Cross that off.

Michael: So hopefully I'll cross that off of my list, and I really hope to potentiate, as far as my music, and as far as everything in my life, but really where I see myself in five years is really teaching a lot of music, and performing a lot of music, and doing a lot of charity with the music, I think it's very beneficial, and writing a bit about it. Now, it's a very interesting thing, a lot of people have asked me. There's an old saying that says that if one person says you're a donkey, ignore them, and if two people say you're a donkey, think about it, and if three people think you're a donkey, start getting donkey ears, or get a saddle, whatever it is. So everyone's telling me, "Oh, this is an amazing story, you should write it down. Even if you write it down for your kids so that they know." So I want to start thinking about that.

Benyamin: Absolutely, yeah. That's cool. Well, we've got a name for the book; The Lefthanded ...

Michael: That's right. I thought you said Lefthanded Concerts?

Benyamin: Oh, Lefthanded Concerts, yeah.

Michael: I like The Lefthanded Pianist.

Benyamin: Okay Michael, thank you so much for joining us today, it's really been a pleasure to get to hear you tell your story.

Michael: Benyamin, it's been an absolute pleasure.

Benyamin: Thank you so much.

Michael: Okay, bye bye.

Benyamin: "Our Friend From Israel" is a production of FromTheGrapevine.com. Our show is produced by Paul Kasko. Editorial help from Jaime Bender and Ilana Strauss. Our Head Engineer is Everett Adams. Special thanks this week to Scott Jones. Our theme music is by Haim Mazar, a Hollywood film composer who grew up in Israel.

You can visit our website at FromTheGrapevine.com to find more episodes of the show. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app. Feel free to leave us a review there. When you do, it helps others discover "Our Friend From Israel." I'm your host, Benyamin Cohen, and until next time, we hope you have a great week.


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Related Topics: Music

Episode 2: Michael Pasikov, classical pianist and cancer survivor
Our Friend from Israel podcast interviews pianist Michael Pasikov, who, after a serious accident, has taught himself to play one-handed.