arts   |   jacobs school of music

Cellist recovers from hand injury after risking scholarship


Jacobs student and cellist Zach Barnes recently recovered from muscle and nerve damage in his left hand. Marlie Bruns and Marlie Burns Buy Photos

Cello performance major Zach Barnes hadn’t even finished his first semester at IU when he had a tough decision to make last December.

He could risk his scholarship and withdraw from all classes or stay in school and risk further muscle and tissue damage to his left hand.

“See this hand? I guess there’s a central nerve that goes up through the index and middle fingers. I injured the one that goes to your thumb, which is important,” Barnes said. “I showed it to my cello professor, and he said, ‘I think you ruptured a tendon. You need to go get it fixed, or it’s going to take a long time to recover.’”

While playing a performance of IU’s production of “The Nutcracker,” Barnes’ mom Susan Barnes said he said he heard a pop.

“At first I wasn’t thinking about leaving school at all. It was more like ‘My hand hurts,’” Zach Barnes said. “I was in shock because I’ve never sustained an injury from playing an instrument.”

Zach Barnes, who started playing the cello in the sixth grade, injured his left hand one year later in a go-kart accident. Although Zach Barnes said the go-kart injury was even more serious, he didn’t have to worry — he wasn’t enrolled in one of the most prestigious music schools in the country.

Zach Barnes said the injury was most likely due to a culmination of factors. While Zach Barnes said he was expected to practice four to eight hours per day, he also wasn’t getting enough rest.

He lived in Read Center, where he said fire alarms between 2 and 6 a.m. became almost nightly for a period of time last year. He said it got to the point where he was afraid to go to sleep because he knew he might be woken up by an alarm.

“I’d go a week without real sleep, and it doesn’t give your body enough time to basically be healthy,” he said.

The same night of the injury, he was expected to perform a piece in front of his studio class, but when he showed up, he told the teacher he was unable to play. After the teacher poked and prodded around, Zach Barnes said he was told he might have a torn ligament and should see a hand specialist.

“He originally thought it was a torn ligament, and he said go to a hand specialist. I called hand specialists in the area and the earliest appointment time was in two weeks,” Zach Barnes said.

However, Zach Barnes didn’t have two weeks. The academic withdraw period was soon to expire, and Zach Barnes said he knew he had to act fast.

“He called me that night,” his mom said. “I wasn’t sure how serious it was, but he was telling me the pain of it and the response from the IU clinic.”

Ultimately Zach Barnes made the decision to withdraw from his semester of classes and didn’t enroll in the spring semester.

“It sucks to pay for school and not get anything out of it. I paid for a semester’s worth of tuition and housing, and I came back this year with zero credits, but my parents are very understanding,” Zach Barnes said. “I didn’t just flunk out of school. I had a real reason to go home.”

His parents took him to a clinic at home in Atlanta, where Susan Barnes said the orthopedic specialist informed them the injury would not require surgery, just time to heal.

“This young man presents to see us today with a recent history of volar radial left wrist pain and some tingling in the radial aspect of the palm and the thenar eminence area. He is on a music scholarship at Indiana University,” the orthopedist’s note read.

While Susan Barnes said Zach Barnes planned to return to IU in the fall, they received an email saying his scholarships had been revoked because he hadn’t made adequate yearly progress. Since he is an out-of-state student, his mother said he probably would not come back to IU.

“I don’t want to say depressed, but I was a little more apathetic towards stuff because I wanted to pursue my dreams,” Zach Barnes said. “I want to play for the symphony, and eventually I want to teach music.”

But two days before the semester started, Zach Barnes received a message from his IU instructor. His scholarships had been reinstated and the instructor was eager to have him back as a student.

Now Zach Barnes is back to work on his cello performance degree, and said he feels he has come a long way given his lost time. While this is technically his second year at IU, he is considered a freshman student.

In years to come, Zach Barnes said he wants to eventually play in a symphony and teach music. He said his private cello instructor in Atlanta plays for the Atlanta symphony and also teaches about 30 full-time students. Zach Barnes said this would be an ideal situation for him in the future.

“Of course, I’ve got tons of stuff to do,” he said. “I just need to develop myself as an artist.”

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