Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer Plans

Alan Sherrod of the Metro Pulse has been doing a wonderful series on the summer plans of several KSO musicians. He has posted blogs featuring oboist Ayca Yayman, cellist Stacy Miller, violinist John Fox, KnoXville BrassworkX Company, and Maestro Richman. I hope there are more to come because I'm enjoying the series very much.

I didn't respond to Sherrod's request for summer plans because mine are less than riveting. (But I'll tell you about them anyway!) I'm spending the summer rehabbing my hand. I fell last February and injured the pinky on my left hand. My doctor advised that I take four weeks completely off from playing. I compromised. I took two weeks off. Almost. My quartet was in the midst of rehearsals for our chamber concert and I just couldn't bring myself to take more time off than that.

Injury is not uncommon among musicians. Actually, at least among string players, I know more people that are injured, have been injured, or at least have played in pain than people who have not. Sometimes this is due to technique, sometimes it is due to anatomy, sometimes it is due to an inability to walk on flat land -ahem-, but mostly it is due to what we demand our bodies do on a daily basis. Playing an instrument presents a serious and often underestimated stress to the body.

In her book Playing (Less) Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians, cellist-author Janet Horvath puts it this way:

Let me offer you a comparison. A highly proficient typist can type 60 words a minute. Typing 60 words a minute (with tendons sliding thousands of times per hour) translates roughly to five letters per second, fifteen letters per three seconds. Frank Wilson, admired neurologist and author of Tone Deaf and All Thumbs and The Hand, in a 1994 lecture at an American Symphony Orchestra League conference, calculated that musicians are able to execute 38 notes in 3 seconds. That's more than twice as much!

Once injured, musicians tend to be reluctant patients at best. In the words of one doctor, we are "worse than runners" in terms of following a treatment plan that includes rest. Freelancers don't want to be labeled as unreliable or unavailable. Musicians with steady gigs have commitments that they don't want to break even if their management is supportive of their taking time off. In my case the decision to come back to playing after two weeks was mine alone. I could have taken the four weeks off, but if I had, the chamber concert my quartet was slated to perform would have had to be drastically altered. To me it was an unacceptable choice.

I came back to playing after those two weeks off in March and finished the season. My injury is pretty slight in the scheme of things. My left pinky pops and if I use it too much it starts to ache. It also feels "stupid" to me - slower to respond and less accurate. I don't think you would notice it in the audience. I'm not even sure that my colleagues would notice a change in my playing. To a non-musician it would be a non-issue. To me it feels huge.

Which brings me back to my summer plans. I'm using the luxury of time off to get myself back in shape for the rigors of next season. For my hand this means switching to violin, which I do every summer, but this year instead of reviewing some beloved concerto I'm taking it easy with slow scales and etudes. I'm also working on strengthening my hand away from the instrument.

One good thing about this injury is that I have become a lot more aware of the stresses playing presents to the body. A number of musicians in the KSO swear by yoga for injury prevention so this week I start a yoga class. It won't be pretty, but I don't want to miss a single second of next season.

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