Back on song

TEN days after a stroke walled him off from words, Mossy Point’s Damian Coen reached for his other mother tongue – music.

In hospital, with encouragement from his wife Leslie Braman, the singer and musician picked up his harmonica … and played.  

“To put it in context, at the time I could not even say k … k … K,” Mr Coen said, imitating his early attempts at speech.

“It was a month until I could have thoughts. At two weeks, I thought ‘I am glad that I am alive’. But it took a long time. For two months, I could not speak.”

The stroke in January last year took out the language centre of his brain, a 5.4-centimetre catastrophe in his left hemisphere.

“But music is everywhere,” he said yesterday.

Unlike his classically trained wife, the psychologist had never learned to read music, relying on a good ear and passion.

It repaid him that day in the hospital, as music he had never written down came flooding back.

“I always said, ‘you should learn to read music’, and he always said, ‘no, that would block my artistic side’,” Ms Braman said.

Mr Coen says his wife turned to the internet after his stroke.

“She knew that there was a lot of research that paved the way,” he said.

And her harmonic hunch paid off.

“I thought he could do it. I said, ‘don’t worry if you can’t do it, give it a go’,” she said yesterday. 

The resulting burst of song for his audience of one brought the house down and, on Sunday night (from 3pm to 6pm), the former Fathers of Necessity frontman will do the same with longtime friend and jammer Paul Johnston at Tyler’s Pantry in Mogo. 

Mr Coen will sing 15 of his own songs, after painstakingly relearning to speak and sing them again.

“It took me six months to learn five songs, but now I have 15,” he said.

“I can only do what I can do. I have the credo that I can perform 85 per cent of them, and the other 15 per cent, Paul should be on top of the guitar and I can play harmonica. 

“I will be nervous for two songs but then I will be hitting my straps.

“In terms of one year I did not think I would be able to do it”.

Mr Coen’s words still come slowly, but each is well considered. 

He has performed for friends and at the Moruya Markets.

“Hughen had a belief in me,” he said, referring to Vanuccino’s Hughen McDonaghy, a market vendor.

“He had belief I would be able to do it.”

He believes music has helped his recovery and, besides, was a whole lot more fun than speech drills. 

“Speech drills, after 360 days, I can get jack of it,” he said.

It’s been a journey for Ms Braman and the couple’s three children. She says she is delighted to have her music man back, but does not undersell a horror year.

“Without this community, we would not have survived,” Ms Braman said.

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