Pain No Game
I recently moderated a session at the Peabody Institute of Music: “Why Health for Performing Artists Matters,” addressing the impacts of performance related injury and illness on individual performance careers, arts organizations, and teaching and learning.
Participants included someone who knows the subject all too well, pianist Leon Fleisher. Soprano Elizabeth Futrell and dance instructor Danah Bella were also on the panel.
Here was the shocker for me: “upwards of 70 - 90% of professional musicians face playing-related health challenges, and the average length of time before seeking medical help is 5 years.
My first question for the panel was, what is the first sign you might have an injury. What is the indicator that things might be amiss, and need to be addressed sooner, rather than later.by a professional? Sooner, as in immediately.
“Pain,” replied Mr. Fleischer.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Are you experiencing practice related pain?
Leaving blood on the keyboard or other instrument keys might not be a sign that you are doing things “right,” and that this is “normal.”
Does that sound like anyone you know?
In our culture of “no pain, no gain,” anecdotal data finds that “there is considerable shame and stigma, as well as fear of career repercussions, associated with open, honest dialogue in this area.”
When I asked the Peabody students in attendance if they were afraid to tell their teachers they were experiencing performance and practice related pain, a shocking number of those present raised their hands.
One student revealed that he was afraid that if he made it known he was injured, he would be passed over for performing opportunities.
Does that sound like anyone you know?
Maybe the days of 6-hour practice sessions are over. Practicing a phrase over and over, as we are all taught to do, puts you at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome or other repetitive motion disorders (RMDs).
Maybe it’s time to look for ways to practice more productively in shorter time frames. It could benefit your creative and healthy well-being in dramatic ways.
I’ve interviewed a number of musicians who after giving birth told me about how they merged the reality of motherhood and their active performing career.
“When my baby was born, I found that I only had 20 minutes to do what was best for me: My choices were, should I take a nap, should I take a shower or should I practice?”
What these new parents ultimately discovered was that they now had to get 2, 4 or 6 hours of productive practicing done in 20 minutes. They found out they could be remarkably productive in 20 minutes by becoming more mindful about how they practiced.
“I had no other choice.”
Even if you are not the parent of a new born, there might be a practice routine game change that will reduce the risk of a repetitive motion disorder (RMDs) like carpal tunnel syndrome, and generate a better performing life style that will benefit your performing life now and forever.
Are you in physical pain related to your desire to nail the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 or to crush the Sibelius Violin Concerto?
The Peabody Panel assured those in attendance that teachers and coaches have had their own day of reckoning and revelation. Their world has changed, and they now take your pain seriously. They now understand the realities of pain no gain.
Each panelist repeatedly stressed it’s not how long you practice…t’s how you practice.
Here’s my pitch: In the uncertain and divisive world in which we live, your artistic gifts have never been more important and more necessary. You won’t make the world a better place and enjoy artistic and career fulfillment, as all great artists do, if you are experiencing physical practice and performance related pain.
Please don’t wait five years. Pain no gain.
The world will thank you for it.