Charleswood’s Connor Derraugh has loved music and performance since before he could talk.
The 21-year-old recently completed his third year at the University of Manitoba’s jazz studies program, where he continues to hone his skills in piano and saxophone. He will lead a performance at the Leo Mol Sculpture Gardens on Sun., June 26 from 3 to 4 p.m. to kick off the Jazz in the Garden series.
Seeing him play, you might never guess that at one time, Derraugh thought he had lost his musical abilities forever.
"Six years ago in May, I went in for a routine day surgery to revise my cleft lip and fix a deviated septum in my nose, and something happened during the surgery," Derraugh said. "Part of the bone in my nose was bumped into my brain, causing a brain hemorrhage, so instead of coming home that night, I ended up in the hospital for a month."
Derraugh was in Grade 9 when the surgery took place, which resulted in a severe weakening in the right side of his body. He had been taking piano since he was five and saxophone since Grade 7, and knew that music was his passion.
"This was my life-changing moment, obviously," he said. "It was hard at first because I don’t really remember the first two weeks in the hospital. It was just a complete washout. When I got home I saw the piano and I didn’t really think straight and thought, well at least I can play piano, and then I put my right hand on the keys and my right side was so weak that I couldn’t even press on them.
"So at that point I was like, oh great, there goes my potential career, so that was obviously hard… but music has been my best therapy."
Derraugh’s occupational therapist assigned him finger exercises, which he quickly grew bored of. Instead he focused on moving his fingers across the piano keys. Even now, the dexterity and speed in his right hand is significantly less than in his left, but Derraugh is playing again — with a few modifications.
"Now I’m a left-hand dominant piano player, which is kind of weird because most piano players are chords (left hand) and scales (right) and I’m kind of the other way almost," he said. "It’s not the style of music that’s changed, but more how I approach it."
Fortunately, saxophone relies mostly on the player’s left hand, and has been easier for Derraugh to relearn.
"I know my career will be music-related somehow, but I don’t really know what yet."
Derraugh is grateful to still be playing music at such a high level, and said had he not been injured, he might not have been as focused as he is.
"Before the surgery I did play music but I also loved basketball and other things, but after my injury I couldn’t play basketball anymore," he said. "I look at my injury as a blessing in disguise because if this didn’t happen, I’d probably be really into other things… I wanted to play music again so bad, near the ability where I was, that I kind of pushed myself to get there.
"One of the mottos ever since my surgery was, I got a second chance at life, so I’m going to make the most of it."
For more information on Jazz in the Garden, visit www.assiniboinepark.ca/park-landing/home/plan-your-visit/summer-entertainment-series
Community journalist — The Metro
Alana Trachenko is the community journalist for The Metro Email her at alana.trachenko@canstarnewscom Call her at 204-697-7132