For famed Brazilian pianist Maestro João Carlos Martins, music has always been a part of him. For decades, Martins was Brazil’s most acclaimed classical pianist, from his time as a child prodigy to playing and recording with the world’s top orchestras. He even recorded a 20 CD collection of Bach’s complete works, which stands as the largest series of Bach keyboard recordings by a single artist. But at almost every turn, life placed seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his path that combined to nearly deprive him of the ability to pursue his passion altogether.
In the 1950s, Martins was diagnosed with focal dystonia—also known as the yips—which is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscle spasms. He was just 18, and the condition threatened to end his career just as the prodigy was on the verge of world fame. However, he managed to get it under control. But then, when Martins was in his early 20s, a soccer accident inflicted severe nerve damage to his arm that caused the muscles in his fingers to atrophy. But even when all seemed lost, the determined pianist kept going. Even as his body continued to betray him, he still found a way to play.
Then one night, when he was traveling to record in Bulgaria, Martins was mugged, and his attackers hit him over the head with a metal pipe. The attack resulted in injuries to his skull and brain that left him with extremely limited use of his right arm. And after many years of surgeries that attempted to restore functionality to his limbs, the passionate musician was eventually left with little ability to use his hands at all.
“After I lost my tools, my hands, and couldn’t play the piano, it was as if there was a corpse inside my chest,” Martins explains. Luckily, he managed to reinvent himself as an orchestra conductor. Occasionally, he'd attempt to slowly pluck out tunes on the piano using just his thumbs and occasionally his index fingers, but things were never the same. Since the early 2000s, Martins’ career as a classical pianist was all but over. That is until one inventive industrial designer named Ubiratan Bizarro Costa approached him with an ingenious invention that could restore movement to his fingers, allowing the passionate musician to return to his beloved keys once again.
Back in 2019, Costa created a set of bionic gloves covered with neoprene and held together by carbon-fiber board. The inventive mitts function by bumping Martins’ fingers back up after they push down on the keys, restoring critical movement to his fingers that he was unable to perform on his own due to his injuries. “I did the first models based on images of his hands, but those were far from ideal,” says Costa. “I approached the maestro at the end of a concert in my city of Sumaré, in the São Paulo countryside. He quickly noticed they wouldn’t work, but then he invited me to his house to develop the project.”
After months of testing, they finally arrived at the perfect iteration of the gloves that have allowed Martins to slowly but surely play again. A touching video shows the pianist’s first time using the bionic gloves as he gently plucks out a tune, tears coming to his eyes as he sits at his beloved instrument again and the music flows through him. “To be able to use all 10 fingers again more than 20 years later is a miracle for me at the age of 80,” the musician remarked at the time.
“I might not recover the speed of the past. I don’t know what result I will get,” Martins continues. “I’m starting over as though I were an 8-year-old learning.” But he’s determined to keep going. And in the years since the bionic gloves restored the use of his hands, he has practiced nonstop, hardly even taking the gloves off to sleep. The musician’s next goal is to be able to perform an entire Bach concert like he used to. “It could take one, two years. I will keep pushing until that happens,” he insists. “I won’t give up.”
Scroll down to see the touching video of Martins using Costa’s bionic gloves for the first time. To keep up with Martins’ latest musical stylings and accomplishments, check out the pianist on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
Famed Brazilian pianist Maestro João Carlos Martins has always loved music, and his passion for the piano brought him worldwide fame.
But severe injuries sustained throughout his life limited the use of his hands, eventually preventing him from playing the piano at all.
That is until an inventive industrial designer named Ubiratan Bizarro Costa created a set of bionic gloves for the pianist.
The ingenious mitts are held together by carbon-fiber board that springs Martins' fingers back up after he presses the keys.
This touching video shows Martins being moved to tears as he plays the piano for the first time using the bionic gloves, allowing him to play the instrument with all 10 fingers for the first time in 20 years.
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