Daily Bow: Paralyzed Music Student Plays On

Daily Bow LogoIt’s safe to say that 21-year-old Paul Murray had a rougher first year than most new music students. Murray, a British piano student enrolled at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, had barely arrived at school to begin his degree when he started to experience crippling headaches. He was quickly referred to a hospital for a general examination, which yielded a more urgent referral to a neurologist, and the diagnosis was enough to knock the wind out of anyone’s sails: Murray was suffering from a massive brain tumor and would need immediate surgery.

Murray, who had earned his spot at the University of Aberdeen after discovering musical talent in himself at age 15, had a total of four brain surgeries–the first of which lasted for a grueling fourteen hours. Says Murray, “I had four brain surgeries in total and the first lasted for 14 and half hours. I was told the tumour was very large. I had to go through a long period of rehabilitation which meant I spent my 18th birthday in hospital….I was told it would take two and half years recovery time but I’m always very positive with these things and I was determined to get back to university and continue my studies.” It goes without saying that Murray’s goal was far from a sure thing.

Matters were further complicated by the outcome of the four surgeries. After the tumor had been excised in its entirety, the then-18-year-old Paul Murray had lost the ability to move the right side of his body. With the right side of his body paralyzed, Murray was told by doctors that he would never play the piano again. Against all odds, though, Murray has effected an astoundingly speedy recovery, and he says that his love of music is to thank for his will to persevere: “The thought that I would never play the piano again never crossed my mind, I was determined to carry on and play with what remaining ability I had.”

He is still without the use of his left arm and hand, and, as such, he has devoted himself to the not-inconsiderable portion of piano repertoire written for the left hand alone. He is back to performing, and will be featured in an upcoming BBC documentary on the life of Chopin. Not content to restrict himself to the margins of piano repertoire, Murray has turned his attention to a considerable challenge: rewriting major works of piano literature for performance with only the left hand. While many others may have given up in his place, Murray has chosen to swing at the curve ball that life threw his way–and he’s hit it out of the park. Dr. David Smith, the head of the music department at the University of Aberdeen, calls him “a truly inspirational student, totally dedicated to his studies.” Perhaps Murray himself speaks of his dedication the best, saying that “just playing music is fantastic. It might sound strange to non-music players, but I get transported into another world when I play. I forget about all my problems when I play, it’s a fantastic way to escape.” With music and a remarkable will to achieve, Murray has truly made all things possible for himself.


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