This semester, I tried a new type of assignment in my college class. My students were supposed to listen to a podcast and then answer a few questions about what they heard. Karen Bulmer’s podcast “Music, Mind and Movement” (https://musicmindandmovement.com/) features all sorts of people who are interested in musicians’ health and wellness and it is a fantastic resource for information. Episode 21 (https://musicmindandmovement.com/podcast-2/2019/11/4/ep-21-bronwen-ackerman) is with Dr. Bronwen Ackermann, an Australian physiotherapist who is a leader in the field of performing arts medicine. In full disclosure here, I have been a guest on Karen’s podcast and Dr. Ackermann was the Keynote Speaker at the 2019 Andover Educators Biennial Conference in June 2019. I was thrilled with the amount of vitally important information covered in the podcast and wanted my students to listen to these gems.
One of the things I asked my students to list was the risk factors for injury that Dr. Ackermann discusses. This is important information for all musicians to have, but it was also presented in the last third of the podcast and I wanted them to listen all the way to the end. (Sneaky, I admit.) One of the biggest risk factors for injury is a sudden increase in playing time, such as the first semester every as a collegiate music major, preparing for recitals and grad school auditions, or attending an intensive summer music program. I think we can agree that doing multiple performances of the Nutcracker in the span of 10 days qualifies as an increase in playing time, especially when there are multiple shows on the same day! Tissues of our body need time to adapt and the risk of injury is reduced when playing time is gradually increased. Sometimes this factor is out of our control, but not always. Time management skills are important here and sometimes, despite our best efforts, we run out of time!
My students were amazed when they heard the next three factors on Dr. Ackermann’s list. Drum roll — proper hydration, nutrition and sleep!
We can all drink more water and chose healthy snacks. In the world of high performance athletics, recovery is a big deal. The best athletes plan time for recovery, which includes hydration, eating the right kinds of food at the right times and getting enough sleep on a daily basis. Athletes actively compete for quality sleep! Being over-caffeinated, under-slept and existing on a diet of pizza and fast food is not ideal for humans, yet many of us could be doing better in at least one of these areas. Music making is a whole body activity which requires muscular effort. We simply must have adequate fuel in our engines for the actual performance itself AND we must replace what we use up, in terms of water and all the good things we must get from the food we eat.
Three of the four risk factors mentioned are fully under our control. We absolutely control what goes into our mouths and, to some extent, we have a choice about when we go to bed. (If you’re a parent of a newborn or a toddler, this isn’t up to you. I used to practice at night after my baby and then baby + toddler were sleeping and this was never efficient because I was starting out already physically and mentally exhausted. If I could do it again, I’d sleep more.)
Despite the hustle and bustle of the season, we can make better choices that reduce our risk of injury. It’s as simple as carrying a water bottle and drinking from it often and packing an apple, some cheese or some trail mix in your gig bag. It’s really our responsibility and our choice!