Quake survivor fit to fiddle

MUSICIANS: Earthquake survivor Ann Brower and Al Park.
MUSICIANS: Earthquake survivor Ann Brower and Al Park.

Earthquake survivor Ann Brower says she started fiddle lessons under duress.

Badly injured in the February 2011 quake, Brower was the lone survivor of the No 3 bus which was crushed by an unreinforced brick building in Colombo St.

She broke her left leg, both of her hips and part of her spine and one of her hands was crushed.

She met Al Park, by chance or perhaps fate, in a cafe called Samo's in Lyttelton in June 2011.

She liked to go there, and other Lyttelton cafes, she says, before and after her physio appointments.

"I was going there three times a week, it's my way of supporting the local businesses. I met Al there one day after physio and we started talking," Brower says.

"There's no such thing as a quick or boring conversation with Al. He mentioned he had a band. I was looking for a band to play at a rescue party to thank the men who dug me out from the building and who took me to hospital in the back of a truck."

Park said his band the Latter Day Sinners would love to perform but he had one condition.

"He said I had to play one song on my fiddle with them. I couldn't move my left index finger far enough to reach a string at the time but Al said that if I didn't play too, well, I'd have to find another band."

Playing the fiddle was, Brower says, one of those things she had assumed she would give up.

"I worked really hard to get back to running, but fiddling ... I was never all that good at it, it was just a hobby. I tried a few times to play it but it was excruciating."

Brower recalls on the night of February 22, 2011, being introduced to her hand surgeon, a man named Tom.

"Ann, can you tell me if you're left-handed?" he asked.

Brower replied: "No, I'm right-handed, but I play the fiddle."

Tom looked at her crushed left hand and said "we'll do our best".

After their meeting outside Samo's a deal was made and Park "marched" Brower up to see Anita Clarke of The Eastern who gave her fiddle lessons.

"I thought that nothing would say more about how far she had come than if she played her fiddle again at her party in front of the people who had rescued her," Park says.

Brower spent three months painstakingly learning one song, the Waterboys' Bang on the Ear.

At the rescuers' party, held at Clink Bar in Sumner last year, she performed alongside Park, for the "kind and brave men who had saved her from the destruction of Colombo St".

"It was the same night as an All Blacks game and the bar had no TV at the time but all the rescuers came anyway," she says.

"It was a wonderful night."

Last Thursday, alongside Park, Brower made her first public debut on stage playing her fiddle, at the Porthole Bar in Lyttelton.

"It was nerve-wracking. It was my first time playing in front of people I didn't know. I just played two songs but the audience demanded an encore."

While in the Orthopaedics Ward in Christchurch Hospital after the quake, Brower listened repeatedly to the second movement of Bach's Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor - a piece she describes as a "constant yet obsessive, calming yet haunting companion".

Now she finds enjoyment in playing it in solitude - or as she describes it "squeaking my way through it".

Brower will never be able to fully straighten her finger but says it's not her injuries that hold her back when it comes to the fiddle.

"When my finger is warmed up I've got a full range of motion but I'll never be able to straighten it. But it has still far exceeded what the hand therapist thought I would achieve. For me and the fiddle it's not the injured hand that is the limiting factor. Once I master the bow, vibrato, slides and expression I'll be good.

"But Al reckons I'm not getting any younger and it's fun, so I'm going to keep playing with Al."

The Press