Michael Harren has always been interested in performing. As a kid, he vividly remembers receiving an especially dreadful sounding chord organ for Christmas. In spite of its wheezing sound, he played it all the time, plucking out songs by ear and using the lesson book that came with the organ to teach himself. In middle school, his mother blessed the family with a piano and he was off!
Michael has quite a disparate range of influences. The big ones are Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian, and Jane Siberry. He loves such a variety of music and is perpetually trying to craft the perfect playlist to inspire him at any given moment.
Last summer, Michael was heading down a flight of stairs to do a sing-a-long with a group of pre-school kids in Brooklyn. His foot slipped and he fell, juggling his guitar and bag of other instruments on the way down. He saved the instruments, but at the expense of his hand.
Michael waited about three weeks in hopes that the pain would go away on its own, not wanting to pay for a doctor visit without insurance. He couldn’t play the piano or guitar, but luckily, was able to continue teaching. After a chance encounter with his friend and foot surgeon, Michael had his hand examined. His worst fears were confirmed — his fifth metacarpal was both fractured and displaced. Even worse, it would require surgery. After trying to scramble for last-minute insurance options, Michael was introduced to Dr. Alton Barron.
“Dr. Barron’s response was nothing short of a miracle, not only was he willing to do the surgery on my hand, but he had started a foundation to help musicians in precisely my predicament. Dr. Barron performed the surgery on my hand less than a week later.”
After a couple of weeks in a cast, Dr. Barron and his team fitted Michael with a custom splint that he wore for a few more weeks. All of his follow-up appointments were paid for by the foundation which “was a godsend,” as he was unable to pick up piano gigs.
“Recovery after the splint was pretty simple. Dr. Barron gave me some stretches to do, and now my hand is back at 100%, save for a slight bit of stiffness that is getting better each day. I am playing the piano and guitar just like I was before the accident.”
Fortunately, Michael’s injury happened at a pretty “good” time. It was a slow time for performing, so he didn’t have any gigs coming up. He did have to put other work on hold though – including directing a friend’s cabaret in which he was needed to play the piano, and his musical theater students had to sing with karaoke tracks rather than accompanied by live piano. Michael counts himself as “really lucky that there was no major immediate impact of the injury” but notes that “the potential loss was tremendous.”
Regarding MTF, Michael had this to say:
“I am just so grateful that the foundation exists. That realization that I needed an expensive surgery on my hand with no idea how I would financially handle it, was especially dark. Trying to navigate health care as an artist in a flawed system like we have here in the US is not only financially hard, but this experience really illustrated for me the emotional impact as well. It’s hard to feel that my path as an artist is valid when our society puts such importance on having a ‘real job.’ The difficulty in getting reasonable health insurance as a freelance musician only serves to reinforce the belief that my life’s work is unimportant in some way. All of this was further underscored by that moment of helplessness in discovering that I needed a surgical procedure I would not be able to afford.
Dr. Barron and MTF treated my hand, and that was amazing. Even more amazing, though, was the discovery that there are people who think that what I do matters, and they want to do what they can to keep me doing it. In many ways, I am grateful to have had this experience and been able to connect with the MTF in this way. I have a new understanding of the value others see in my work that I didn’t have before.”
Michael released a new book and album last summer: The Animal Album and The Animal Book both based on his show — The Animal Show. The book is available here with a free download of the album. The album is also available streaming everywhere including Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play.
As a non-profit, we at the Musician Treatment Foundation are dedicated to the healthcare needs of professional musicians. We provide surgical and related care at no cost so that they can keep the music playing. This is only possible thanks to our donors! We will continue to share the stories of the musicians that your dollars are directly supporting.