Nick van Bloss

Nick van Bloss

Nick van Bloss (born in London, 1967) is a British classical pianist and author who has Tourette syndrome. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London.

Van Bloss grew up in London and, at the age of seven, suddenly developed severe motor and vocal tics. Far from being a "passing phase" the tics didn't subside; they became more aggressive. Nick was taken from doctor to doctor in the hope of an explanation for his uncontrollable movements, but the medical profession failed to find any medical explanation. It was suggested that his behaviour was "attention seeking".

School life became a a harrowing experience for Nick as he entered secondary school in London. He was bullied and mimicked for having explosive tics and his life became a misery. His home life was laced with tragedy – his brother was a heroin addict who committed suicide when Nick was 15. Nick never felt able to confide in his parents and tell them how terrified he was by the bullying he was enduring because he considered that they had enough problems in dealing with his brother's heroin problem.

Music and piano

Nick began piano lessons at the relatively late age of 11. Although his brother had been a budding pianist, Nick had never felt drawn to the piano. In fact, Nick's parents had gotten rid of the family piano when his brother descended into drug addiction. However, Nick was drawn to the piano, and he progressed quickly. He entered the Royal College of Music in London at the age of 15 to study as a Junior and then, at 17, to attend full time.

At the College, Nick excelled, but was always held back by his tics and his still undiagnosed condition. He studied with Yonty Solomon and won numerous prizes. In a master-class held at the Royal College of Music, the great Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva described Bloss as "already a pianist".

However, Nick never felt he was appreciated or encouraged fully by the Royal College of Music: he was in constant conflict with the authorities there and felt that they neither appreciated his talent nor the affliction he was living with.

Diagnosis

After years of enduring a condition with no name, Nick was finally correctly diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was 21. Although Nick felt jubilant in finally having a name for his condition (after a 14-year wait), he felt anger towards a medical profession whom he considered should have detected that he had been displaying all the trademark signs of Tourette syndrome.

Career

Nick van Bloss played recitals, concertos and chamber music in the UK and around Europe for a number of years before "retiring" from public performance because of his Tourette syndrome. Up until this point, he had remained "tic free" whenever he played the piano. He claimed that playing the piano was the only solace he was ever granted from a body that never stopped moving. However, in a major international piano competition, he eliminated himself from the competition mid performance when, for the first time in his life, his tics exploded throughout his body. He has not played in public since. He claims that his Tourette syndrome has increased in severity as he has gotten older.

Busy Body

In 2006, Nick van Bloss's book, Busy Body - My Life With Tourette's Syndrome, was published by Fusion Press in London. In it, he vividly describes living with Tourette syndrome and tries to dispel some of the myths that surround this misunderstood condition. He says that he tics somewhere in the region of 40,000 times a day. Bloss clearly states that he has embraced his Tourette's and now lives alongside it.

BBC Horizon

In April 2007, Nick van Bloss was the focus of a BBC Horizon documentary called Mad but Glad. The programme follows Nick on a journey of self-discovery, in which he hopes to find the answer to the question that has been posed for so long, "Is there such a thing as the mad genius?" Nick seeks to determine whether his talent for the piano might have in some way been caused or enhanced by his Tourette's. Nick meets many other "afflicted" people on his journey, with conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and automatic writing, all of whom show some strange and unexplained talent in one of the art forms. Nick also chats with clinicians about his condition and the musical connection, notably Oliver Sacks. The programme ends with Nick being asked whether, given the severity of his Tourette's, he would ever consider playing in public again.

In 2007, Oliver Sacks wrote about Nick van Bloss in his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Sacks writes that in conversation with van Bloss about his piano playing and Tourette's, van Bloss speaks in terms of his Tourette's constituting an "energy", one that is "harnessed and focused" when he plays the piano. In a paradoxical way, Sacks says, Tourette's plays an essential role in Nick's piano playing.

References

  • Nick van Bloss Busy Body - My Life With Tourette's Syndrome. London: Fusion Press, a division of Vision Paperbacks.

Notes

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