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After accident, life-long pianist never doubted playing again

After an accident which caused him to lose one of his fingers, Michael Coonrod had to learn to play the piano again.
After an accident which caused him to lose one of his fingers, Michael Coonrod had to learn to play the piano again.

Michael Coonrod has been teaching piano at Interlochen Center for the Arts for over 40 years.

But after a horrible camping accident, his career was put in jeopardy.

Michael Coonrod spent Memorial Day weekend of 2015 camping. He was with a local boy scout troop he sponsors. After dinner one evening, several of the boys wanted to go hiking in the neighboring cornfield, something they did the previous year.

The only obstacle in their way was a barbed wire fence.

“I have been over it many times, and so I jumped over it," he says. "I was going to find a place for them to go through the fence."

As he jumped over, the ring on the fourth finger of his right hand got snagged by the barbed wire. The skin, muscle and tendons were pulled off his finger like a glove.

"Immediately I knew it was something terrible,” he says.

Reattachment surgery was unsuccessful. 

That meant Coonrod had to do something he hadn’t done in over 60 years – learn how to play the piano again, this time missing a finger on his right hand. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever return to form, but he was sure of one thing: he’d never stop playing.

“Within a day … I was telling myself and others that I’m really grateful that it happened to me and not a student," Coonrod explains. "I’m also grateful that it happened to the fourth finger, which is the weakest finger for piano."

Remarkably, within five months he was back, playing and teaching regularly. There are still pieces that he can’t play, but that hasn’t stopped him from performing.

Max Johnston is studying journalism at Michigan State University. He came to Interlochen in June for the Transom Traveling Workshoptaught by Rob Rosenthal.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.