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Local man uses music to combat disease

September 2, 2009

“When I’m busy working — making music — that’s when I transcend my disability,” said East Lansing resident Lee Abramson. Abramson spends his time composing and producing music on his laptop using only his right pointer finger. After giving himself a goal of creating 20 songs in the year 2008, Abramson chose 10 of his favorites and produced an album title “Toxic Charm” under the name Ace Noface.

Photo by Georgia Rhodes | The State News

In euchre, when you are dealt the “ace-no-face” hand, you have the option of throwing it back, picking up the remaining cards and giving yourself a second chance. However, as Lee Abramson, who writes music under the name Ace Noface can attest, real life is a little bit different.

“That may look like a good hand — nines, 10’s and an ace — but in euchre that’s not a good hand,” Abramson said. “That is sort of symbolic over my self-perception that I got a bad deal, but I’m making the most out of what I’m still able to do.”

Abramson was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in February 2005 at the age of 34, after being diagnosed by doctors at the University of Michigan’s University Hospital, where he stayed for three weeks of testing to determine his condition.

Abramson is taking his diagnosis to heart and going above and beyond the expectations of what many people would expect someone with his condition to achieve — not only in his own personal goals, but in co-organizing fundraising events such as the upcoming benefit Sing Out for a Cure, which will be held at Eagles Hall, 4700 N. Grand River Ave., in Lansing.

A disease typically found in older patients, ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) attacks neurons in the brain responsible for consciously controlled muscles. Most people with ALS are eventually unable to move their arms and legs and lose their ability to speak and swallow.

Because the diaphragm is a muscle under conscious control, ALS patients are classified as terminal, as many with the disease eventually succumb to asphyxiation. With Abramson’s illness being one that was significantly difficult to pinpoint, it also was one that once diagnosed was even more shocking.

“You can work on bones, you can do rehab with muscles — but this was totally out of the blue,” Lee Abramson’s mother, Janet Abramson, said. His father is MSU political science professor Paul Abramson.

However, while some people assume the natural next step is to forget the plans you had and wait things out, Lee Abramson never has been one to take things lying down. A musician since he picked up an electrical bass at age 13, Lee Abramson saw no reason he couldn’t keep pursuing his passions with the time he had left.

“A friend of mine advised me that even though I can’t play, I could still go ahead and write music,” Lee Abramson said. “I decided to set myself on the path towards becoming a songwriter so I could leave behind a musical legacy of some sort, so the first thing I decided I needed to do was learn music theory.”

After taking into consideration all of his options, Lee Abramson got to work and started exploring his options for continuing to do what he loves. Spending months reading, studying and practicing the teachings in books on music and music theory, he also began taking lessons with MSU music professor Ronald Newman.

“He’s very motivated,” Newman said. “He was doing a little music study online, but he wanted a local person to discuss music theory and composition with.”

Lee Abramson’s music teacher from the ’80s and recently reunited friend Gary Lintemuth agrees with Newman’s assessment of Abramson’s determination and motivation, saying given the impression he left with Lintemuth as a teenager, his ability to keep going isn’t surprising to him.

“He has to be the most productive student I’ve ever had and as far as his abilities to overcome — it doesn’t surprise me at all,” Lintemuth said. “He’s devoted himself to his music for whatever time he has left.”

After lots of slow and difficult work, Lee Abramson was able to reach the goal he set for himself and, in April 2009, he released the album “Toxic Charm” under the name Ace Noface after a year of continuous work on it.

For many, achieving such a goal would be enough to stop. However, Lee Abramson is once again proving his motivation and going above and beyond the call of just himself, organizing a benefit fundraiser to donate money to the ALS Therapy Development Institute, a charity dedicated to researching a cure for ALS.

Beginning the planning about two months ago, Abramson surprised even his mother with the speed with which he and Lintemuth, who agreed to co-organize the event, were able to pull things together.

“I honestly thought it would take months to throw this together but because Gary has done this before, it’s moved along much faster,” Janet Abramson said.

Newman said he really wasn’t surprised to hear about Lee Abramson’s newest project of putting on the benefit.

“This is part of what seems to be Lee’s persona,” said Newman. “He’s active not only in his personal goals, but in his very public goals of dealing with ALS.”

The benefit, Sing Out for a Cure, will be held from 2-9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13. and will feature six different bands, all of whom are hoping to cover one of Lee Abramson’s original songs. The cost at the door will be $5 and all the money will go to researching a cure for ALS. There will be a raffle featuring various gift certificates, Spartan merchandise and other items.

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Now, Lee Abramson is working on another album that will feature a more slowed down, “chilled out,” genre of music, and according to those around him, he continues to amaze them every day.

“Aside from all the sad things, he’s still my kid, he’s my son,” Janet Abramson said. “He’s my hero.”

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