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Performing and HIV+. How well do they mix?

Jun 9, 2008

Hi Dr. Bob.

If you can read IP addresses, you will notice I have written to you in past ocassions. I am will, my partner cheated last year, got HIV. We had unprotected sex but I remained uninfected. I collected 3 negative results at 3, 8 and 13 weeks and don't plan to continue the anxiety for another 3 months, so I think I am done with testing.

My concern is in regards to the piano. I am a pianist myself and just come from a small tour I gave in my country (I'll send link of me playing to a private address if you feel like it) and all this HIV story I lived made me think how could I go on with my professional life taking potent antiretrovirals with side-effects day after day, If I had the virus. I know from his relaives that the bulgarian pianist Alexis Weissenberg got HIV sometime down the road. I obviously can't prove it but I think it may be a cause why he started to perform less and less. In your case, how did it go? Did you had the piano carrier you hoped for? are HAART's side-effects strong enough to make a carrier impossible? Do you know of other stage performers that have HIV and had to quite their job because of it?

I guess you can answer " I don't know, everybody is different" but the point of my question is: Is it realistic for someone that devotes themselves to a very physically, mentally and spiritually demanding activity to continue going on in the long term when HIV and HAART is present? is the answer " just try and see what happens" or is there more to it?

I hope I can read your insights about this and that your readers find it interesting as well.

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello Will,

Welcome back to the forum.

Yes, I'd enjoy hearing you perform. You can forward the link to my foundation's e-mail address at Thanks!

Did I have the piano "carrier" I hoped for???? Hmmmm, well generally all reputable piano movers are about the same, don't you think?

As for my "career," well, as you probably realize, my primary career is as a physician. Music transitioned from a vocation to an avocation when I entered medical school. I gave one benefit concert as I graduated from medical school to raise money for a grand piano for my medical school. (It's still there 30 years later!) During my medical career, I played primarily for myself and close friends. I returned to the stage in 1996 for a benefit concert to raise money for an AIDS hospice that was in financial straits. That event was so successful it launched what would become the Concerted Effort AIDS Benefit Concert Series. That in turn led to the formation of my tax-exempt charitable organization, The Robert James Frascino AIDS Foundation, whose sole mission is to provide crucial services for men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world and to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic through advocacy and education.

My life partner and, as a consequence of the California Supreme Court's recent decision, my betrothed Steve (Dr. Steve, the expert in The Body's Tratamientos forum) is also a trained concert pianist. He and I, along with some professional pianists (friends) like Barbara Nissman, now give benefit concerts to help my foundation fulfill its mission. Consequently, we get to perform as often as we like, but it's always linked to HIV/AIDS awareness and fundraising.

Has my 17-year cohabitation with HIV taken its toll on my ability to perform? Yes it has, primarily due to side effects from one of the old HIV drugs (D4T), which caused peripheral neuropathy. That condition causes numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. As you can imagine, that altered sensation can be a real handicap when trying to negotiate demanding passages from Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Scriabin or Ravel, etc. (The silver lining is that when my Chopin begins to sound like Shostakovich, at least I'll have a legitimate excuse for the wrong notes!) That said, there have been marvelous pianists who performed brilliantly despite being HIV positive. Jorge Bolet immediately comes to mind. And although not really a classical pianist, Liberace! There have also been remarkable artists and athletes in other disciplines that also gave stunning performances, despite their being infected by the virus; Rudolph Nureyev and Greg Louganis, for example. My take-home lesson is that HIV should never stop anyone from pursuing their dreams. As we learn more about HIV pathogenesis and develop less toxic, more effective anti-HIV therapies, I'm confident HIV will not inhibit anyone's career! So keep practicing. Gaspard de la Nuit is not going to play itself, you know!

Be well. Stay well.

Dr. Bob

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