A pair of mechanical gloves gifted João Carlos Martins, an acclaimed Brazilian classical pianist and conductor, the precious ability to play his favorite Bach sonatas again after more than two decades.
As a star pianist, Martins has performed across the United States and Europe with leading orchestras before his talented hands were stilled by a degenerative disorder.
Martins lost the use of his right hand after a mugging incident in Bulgaria in 1995. Four years later, he lost the use of his left hand to a neurological condition called focal dystonia, a movement disorder that causes involuntary contractions of the muscles.
Talking to The Epoch Times via telephone interview, Martins shared how he was overcome with emotions when he played the music for the first time after putting on the special gloves based on Formula One car race technology.
“I cried,” Martins said. “It’s kind of a new life for the old man and a young child at the same time. After 22 years, I can put the 10 fingers on the keyboard again.”
I believe in God … I’m trying to show that classical music can have a democratic way to get inside all, to get inside the hearts of every kind of people.
Martins said his last concert where he played the piano with both hands was on June 25, 1998, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. After that, he had surgery and lost the use of his right hand. Four years later, he also lost the use of his left hand, he said, and could only move three or four fingers.
After losing the use of his right hand, Martins took a tour of China. While touring in Paris, London, and New York, Martins sought the advice of specialist doctors. The celebrated pianist endured 24 surgeries in total, but after the last, he could only manage to play using his thumbs.
For Martins, music represents the divine.
“Then I started to go to church,” Martins said, “because I believe in a superior, I believe in God, and I believe in my determination too.”
“I always say that music explains that God exists,” he said. “You are talking with a very healthy, happy Brazilian man … because of the music, no doubt.”
“If I don’t start my day with music, it is the same thing that if I would not take breakfast.”
In 2019, Martins collaborated with the industrial designer Ubiratan Bizarro Costa to explore a solution to regain his capacity to play the piano.
“It’s an ‘extension glove’ made for me,” Martins said. “I told him about my problem, and then he built these gloves. Now I can put all my fingers on the keyboard.”
“I am not a man accustomed to technology,” he added.
Martins’s black neoprene gloves were produced by a 3D printer and are based on Formula One race car technology. They cost less than $100 to make and use rods that spring the pianist’s fingers back to a “ready” position after depressing each piano key.
On Sept. 22, Martins shared a video of himself playing the “Adagio” from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor, using 10 fingers for the first time in 22 years, on his Instagram page.
The emotional video went viral, garnering over 300,000 views. For Martins, the moment was pure catharsis.
(Courtesy of João Carlos Martins)
Reflecting on the time after doctors told him that he would never play the piano again, Martins said, in desperation, he approached one of Brazil’s most renowned universities with a new ambition: to become a conductor.
The director, recognizing the renowned Martins immediately, called him into his office with an impassioned request: would he agree to direct the music department while studying? Martins agreed; within two years, he had elevated the school to pole position in Brazil’s university ranking.
Just six months after starting his training as a conductor, Martins returned to the stage.
“I can conduct at Carnegie Hall, I can conduct in a prison, in a reformatory, in a slum,” he said, “and I’m trying to show that classical music can have a democratic way to get inside all, to get inside the hearts of every kind of people.”
Today, the acclaimed musician runs a classical music project for children and joint ventures with 516 orchestras across Brazil. He also has two promising students of his own.
And now, aided by the gift of biomechanics, Martins is playing the piano again. He cites Johann Sebastian Bach as his all-time favorite composer, and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Garota de Ipanema” as one of his favorite songs to play.
Martins will celebrate the 60-year anniversary of his first appearance at Carnegie Hall on Oct. 17, 2021. He plans to conduct the orchestra.
“At the end,” Martins said, “I intend to play one of the pieces that I played at my first concert … it’s a very difficult piece. So during the pandemic, I am practicing three, four hours a day.
“I never gave up. I always like to run in favor of my dreams. And one day, dreams will run after me.”
Watch His Amazing Life Journey in the Video below:
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