After Disease Forced Acclaimed Pianist to Stop Playing, a Designer Made Him Gloves That Brought Them

"At age 80, having performed to great acclaim with celebrated orchestras in the United States and abroad, Brazilian piano maestro João Carlos Martins has had a stellar career.

Unfortunately, until recently, a combination of degenerative disease and a series of injuries had all but stilled his talented hands.

No longer able master the piano, Martins turned to conducting. However, thanks to an ingenious invention of some “bionic gloves,” he’s back at the keyboard, making music again.

'To be able to use all 10 fingers again more than 20 years later is a miracle for me at the age of 80,' Martins told Reuters. The black neoprene “extender” gloves, inspired by Formula One racing technology, were the brainchild of industrial designer Ubiratan Bizarro Costa. Costa made the original prototypes using a 3-D printer at a cost of about $125.

Martins had lost almost the entire range of motion in his fingers. The gloves, fitted with a system of spring rods that draw the fingers back up as notes are depressed on the keyboard, restored his ability to play.

'I did the first models based on images of his hands, but those were far from ideal,' Costa said in an AP interview reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Costa first showed his invention to Martins after a concert in the Sao Paulo countryside. While the prototypes weren’t fully functional, they were promising enough that Martins invited Costa to his home to continue development.

'I just created this as a gift to him,' Costa told CGTN America. 'It’s not really part of my main line of work. It was something for him to have fun with… I wasn’t expecting all this interest.'

While the gloves have allowed Martins to resume playing, he doesn’t expect his full abilities to come back overnight, if ever. 'I might not recover the speed of the past. I don’t know what result I will get. I’m starting over as though I were an 8-year-old learning,' Martins admitted.

Even so, Martins has the will and the discipline to keep working toward making the most of the second chance he’s been given. He’s even set himself a goal.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Martins was slated to celebrate the 60-year anniversary of his first appearance at New York’s famed Carnegie hall this coming October by conducting a commemorative performance there. For the encore, he’d planned to play one of his favorite keyboard selections. While coronavirus protocol will likely determine whether or not the show goes on, Martins has already overcome his biggest obstacle. He believes the lesson he’s learned on his road to recovery—to never give up—can serve as inspiration to others.

'It’s a kind of hope I can give to people who think maybe they can’t do anything more after 80 or so,” he said to CGTN. “At the age of 80, I think I can have a beginning again.'

And for that, he deserves a standing ovation."

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