Fam­ily, faith, mu­sic re­new cel­list Hooker

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS - GWENDA NE­MEROF­SKY

FOR many peo­ple, at­tend­ing a per­for­mance of Nutcracker is a trea­sured tra­di­tion at this time of year. When the over­ture be­gan on open­ing night of the Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let’s pro­duc­tion on Thurs­day, it was es­pe­cially mean­ing­ful for one mu­si­cian in the pit.

Win­nipeg Sym­phony Orches­tra prin­ci­pal cel­list Yuri Hooker was mak­ing his first ap­pear­ance with the orches­tra since last sea­son. In early Septem­ber, Hooker was in Ot­tawa, re­hears­ing with the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre Orches­tra (NACO) for the up­com­ing run of La Bo­hème with Opera Lyra Ot­tawa. Af­ter a dress re­hearsal, he went out with a friend to a lo­cal club to lis­ten to a klezmer band. That’s the last thing he re­mem­bers.

The 37-year-old woke up days later in the Ot­tawa Civic Hospi­tal. He had col­lapsed in the club with what turned out to be car­diac ar­rest. CPR ad­min­is­tered by an anony­mous by­stander at the club saved his life.

“I’ve been told that if you are go­ing to have a heart in­ci­dent, this is the place in the coun­try to have it,” says Hooker of the hospi­tal’s Heart In­sti­tute, where he re­ceived treat­ment. “They call it ‘the palace.’”

Hooker spent three weeks there, be­ing mon­i­tored, cared for and tested. His wife, con­duc­tor Michelle Mourre, flew out to be with him, as did his par­ents and two chil­dren, Ari, 8 and Elly, 10. “I’m sure it was very har­row­ing,” said Hooker, a 13-year veteran of the WSO. He re­tains lit­tle me­mory of the early days, ex­cept for pain from the CPR. “The first days were the most un­cer­tain.”

Sur­geons in­stalled an ICD (im­plantable car­dioverter-de­fib­ril­la­tor) in Hooker’s chest on his birth­day, Sept. 25. It works by de­tect­ing and stop­ping ab­nor­mal heart­beats, de­liv­er­ing elec­tri­cal shocks to re­store nor­mal heart rhythm when nec­es­sary. “They told me it feels like be­ing hit by a base­ball bat,” said Hooker.

The next day, Hooker flew home to Win­nipeg to be­gin re­cov­ery. The doc­tors couldn’t un­cover what caused the in­ci­dent and there is no his­tory of heart disease in his fam­ily. “I don’t have any di­etary re­stric­tions,” he ex­plained, “but I am not al­lowed to do any stren­u­ous com­pet­i­tive sports be­cause of the ICD. My day-to-day ac­tiv­i­ties are not af­fected.”

He re­sumed play­ing the cello and teach­ing four weeks ago and when we spoke last week, was ex­cited to get back to work. “I miss be­ing there and see­ing my col­leagues. It’s won­der­ful. I re­al­ize what a bless­ing it is to play with other mu­si­cians of such high cal­i­bre.”

The Cal­gary na­tive put it aptly: “When you grow up in the moun­tains, you don’t al­ways re­al­ize how beau­ti­ful they are. The sound of an orches­tra is over­whelm­ingly beau­ti­ful.”

Mu­sic cer­tainly played a role in Hooker’s re­cov­ery, but his faith was the pri­mary tool to heal­ing. He and Michelle shared their ex­pe­ri­ence with the con­gre­ga­tion at their church last month. Michelle re­called how some of the first words out of Hooker’s mouth af­ter tubes were re­moved were “man­u­script pa­per.” She ran to a hospi­tal com­puter and printed some out. In a weak voice, Hooker dic­tated to her the open­ing phrase to Bach’s Mu­si­cal Of­fer­ing. “I don’t really know why, ex­cept that I love Bach and the work. I spent a lot of time on it, ar­rang­ing it for cello en­sem­ble,” Hooker ex­plains.

Raised in a Chris­tian house­hold, faith was al­ways an in­te­gral part of Hooker’s life. He and Michelle en­sure that their chil­dren learn th­ese val­ues as well. But there’s noth­ing like a neardeath ex­pe­ri­ence to re­new one’s faith and since his car­diac ar­rest, Hooker has spent more time read­ing the Bi­ble and scrip­tures.

“It kept the anx­i­ety level down and gave me a sense of hope re­gard­less of the out­come. Ev­ery as­pect, from this hap­pen­ing to the way peo­ple re­acted, has been very af­firm­ing of my faith. Through it all, I feel mostly blessed for this event — I al­most don’t be­lieve it. It has af­firmed my be­lief in God and the kind of trans­for­ma­tional work he can do.”

Hooker has noth­ing but amaze­ment and grat­i­tude for the re­sponse from fam­ily, friends, their church and the orches­tra com­mu­nity for the love, sup­port and prayers of­fered his fam­ily through­out their or­deal. “I am so thank­ful and grate­ful for Michelle,” he said. “She cared for me phys­i­cally as my nurse af­ter the surgery and stayed with me day and night in the hospi­tal. She made sure my and the kids’ emo­tional needs were be­ing met and she has been my spir­i­tual sound­ing board as well. She kept us or­ga­nized and worked end­less hours so that I could rest and so we could re­main fi­nan­cially afloat… the whole ex­pe­ri­ence has drawn us even closer as a cou­ple and taught us to value each other in a deeper way.”

The Grant Me­mo­rial Bap­tist Church choir and funds from NACO paid for his chil­dren to fly to Ot­tawa. “My par­ents were also a great sup­port. Ela­tion Pauls (WSO vi­o­lin­ist) took up a col­lec­tion to help out with our ex­penses. She even or­ga­nized friends to bring us din­ner ev­ery day for three weeks straight af­ter we got back from Ot­tawa… we are very grate­ful to the WSO mu­si­cians and ad­min­is­tra­tion — ev­ery­one has been in­cred­i­ble.”

Hooker is a gifted mu­si­cian, who, through his im­pas­sioned play­ing, has touched count­less lis­ten­ers. We may never have known quite what was be­hind his pas­sion, but now we do.

As he re­turns to the work he loves so well, he thinks more deeply about why. “I am just wired that way,” he says. “I like to think that what I do can pos­i­tively af­fect peo­ple’s lives — change their out­look. It gives me the op­por­tu­nity to serve peo­ple in a way not many can do.”

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