A Cancer-Surviving Composer’s Extraordinary Movement
A sudden and rare brain tumor leads to an accomplished musician’s brush with death and a gap between his brain and his body – but Anthony Ptak will make music any way he can.
Photos by Oresti Tsonopoulos
Being in the cancer ward felt a bit like being in a jazz ensemble. The doctor controlled the tempo like a drummer, the nurses cheered him up like the trumpets, and the screaming patients sent shivers down his spine like the crashing cymbals.
All Anthony Ptak wanted to do was play the piano.
“While I was in the hospital I would tell them — all of the players, the doctors, the nurses, the security guards — I would tell everyone that I play the piano,” says Ptak, a forty-four-year-old composer. “I just wanted to reaffirm something that I thought I was losing. I also wanted to set up a safety net, a way for them to remember to take care of me.”
Before being confined to the cancer ward, Ptak was a music professor at NYU and a respected composer. He performed all over town and was known as much for his creativity as for his ability. He founded the New York Theremin Society — a theremin is an electr…