Gohei Nishikawa, World Class Pianist, Refuses to Let his Illness of Dystonia Keep him from Performing
Source Newsroom: Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation
Newswise — (New York, N.Y. – April 21, 2014) Gohei Nishikawa, a classical pianist who stopped performing for years due to dystonia, will perform a benefit concert with Nori Inoue, another pianist with dystonia, at 4:00 p.m., Saturday, April 26th at Diamond Hill Methodist Church in Cos Cob, Connecticut. Proceeds will go to The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation.
Nishikawa, who is 39-years-old and lives in New York City, was a rising young star who had performed at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. But in 2003, he was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that causes painful and uncontrollable muscle spasms, which halted his promising career. Unable to use his hands normally, Nishikawa stopped performing and thought about ending his life. Instead, Nishikawa decided to do whatever it took to play again and help others with dystonia. Although he still does not have the full use of his hands he has given comeback performances in New York, Tolentino, Italy, Vancouver and Tokyo.
The involuntary muscle contractions caused by dystonia cause repetitive, often twisting movements and awkward, irregular postures. It can affect the hands, feet, neck or other parts of the body. It may be genetic in origin or appear spontaneously, and dozens of diseases and conditions include dystonia as a major symptom. While not widely known, dystonia is the third most common movement disorder, after essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. It affects as many as 500,000 people in the United States, one-third of them are children. There are very limited treatment options and no known cure.
Nishikawa didn't start playing piano until he was 15. He supported himself by working in a department store and factory and gave occasional concerts. "My big break came when my piano tuner said to me "Gohei, there is a concert in which two professional pianists from New York will be playing as a duo in Osaka. Do you want to fill the opening? You practice so hard you should perform more.
Although Nishikawa was afraid to play at the concert and initially declined, he decided to play. "I am glad I did. This is the concert that completely changed my life."
The names of the pianists from NY were David Bradshaw and Cosmo Buono, founders of the Bradshaw & Buono International Piano Competition. After the concert, they invited him to study piano in New York. A short time later, Nishikawa made his debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall and performed at Carnegie Hall/Weill Recital Hall, which he had dreamed of playing as a little boy. But his Cinderella-like tale came to a crashing end when he was diagnosed with dystonia and lost the ability to play the piano.
"As months went by, my career seemed to be going well, but I gradually started to feel stiffness in my left hand. Then the fingers of my left hand started to curl into the palm against my will only while I played the piano," Nishikawa said. "I tried massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and anything I could possibly think of. But it got worse and worse. And my right hand became affected as well. Within a couple years, I couldn't even play ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’."
Nishikawa went back to Japan. "My doctor told me I would never be able to play the piano as well as I used to for the rest of my life." I was depressed and thought about ending my life. But I was determined to play the piano again and went back to stay with the Bradshaw family who told him never to give up hope."
While he underwent rehab, Nishikawa realized that he could create his own way to play the piano without utilizing all his fingers. "It was not easy for me to forget everything that I had gained from practicing day and night everyday for almost two decades. But when I broke the routine, I was able to move on."
In 2008, Nishikawa made his comeback at the Bradshaw and Buono International Music Festival in Tolentino, Italy by performing in a 1,000 year old cathedral in Italy. The following year he played at Steinway Hall in New York City and in Tokyo. He entered into the international piano competition for disabilities held in Vancouver in 2010 where he placed fourth out of 138 competitors. Nishikawa also gave a comeback concert at Carnegie Hall/Weill Recital Hall in 2010 where he received a standing ovation.
"I will never forget the view from the stage, Nishikawa said. "While receiving the standing ovation I recalled the moment that I wanted to end my life and thought how glad I was that I didn't give up on myself."
In 2012, Bonnie Strauss, president and founder of the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation. who also has dystonia, arranged for Nishikawa to perform at Gracie Mansion, home to the Mayor of New York City. Nishikawa told those in attendance "Today, so many people are suffering from dystonia. Although there is no certain cure for patients, my message is don't give up, to remain positive and help raise funds for research.”
Gohei Nishikawa's music has been uploaded onto YouTube. You can see his performance for the US/Japan Leadership Program in Tokyo in 2014 at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ykm4N9wiVBs&feature=youtu.be
You can also see a piece that was composed for him by Japanese composer Yuri Matsufuji at http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4lxI1mofy_A
About the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation
The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson Foundation is an independent, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that was established in 1995 by Louis Bachmann (1916-2000) and Bonnie Strauss in order to find better treatments and cures for the movement disorders dystonia and Parkinson’s disease, and to provide medical and patient information. Key among its efforts, the Foundation funds scientific and clinical research and helps raise awareness of dystonia and Parkinson’s disease among the general public and the medical community.
Since its 1995 founding, The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation has given over $16 million to seed 233 research projects. Along with research projects, the Foundation established four Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia & Parkinson’s Disease Centers of Excellence around the U.S. The Centers are located at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of California, San Francisco, and University of Florida. The scientists involved were able to leverage that funding to secure an additional $108 million from the National Institutes of Health and other prestigious institutions. For more information please go to: www.dystonia-parkinson.org.