Repetitive Motion Injuries
The Lewisville Lake Symphony has taken a look at how repetitive motion injuries suffered by musicians can be mitigated by proper training in childhood. As a result, it is making changes to its Vernell Gregg Young Artists Competition by eliminating compositions that put too much wear and tear on immature bodies.
Young dancers are not allowed on point until they have reached a certain age and demonstrated ankle strength. The Symphony wondered if there were parallels for musicians and consulted the Texas Center for Music and Medicine located in the College of Music at the University of North Texas. The Center conducted a survey of piano majors and determined that 86% already had pain in their hands. Other instruments have their own risks.
Dr. Kris Chesky and Dr. Eri Yoshimura of the Texas Center note that Northwestern University in Illinois reported higher numbers. Young students are pushed to perform pieces that they should not play. Their growing bodies are unready for the demands of certain compositions.
Students entering UNT from Russia usually do not report pain in their hands. "Russian training is different," says Dr. Pamela Mia Paul, Regents Professor of Piano and a member of the Symphony board of directors. "No steps are skipped in the assigning of repertoire. Young hands and bodies are given repertoire in line with their physical and emotional development. On the other hand, it is difficult to determine if the Russian students are reporting accurately because they may fear their time at the university could be jeopardized."
They are not alone. Many professional musicians keep their pain secret because they are worried that if word gets around, they might not get work. Several have told the Symphony about the overwhelming relief in discovering that other musicians also have pain. Some carry a trail of doctors, therapies and operations, occasionally chosen out of desperation rather than superior medicine.
Adron Ming, Music Director/Conductor of the Lewisville Lake Symphony says he has looked at the data and concluded that his organization should stop being part of the problem and make a contribution to the solution. Says Ming, "parents and teachers believe that flashy pieces by composers like Liszt and Rachmaninoff tend to win competitions. Every year there are requests for exceptions to our Vernell Gregg Young Artists Competition approved repertoire."
"On the whole such requests have been granted. The problem," he continued, "is that Liszt, for example, engineered his compositions so his large hands could help him play other pianists under the table. It's inappropriate to expect a student who is physically much smaller and still has a maturing bone and muscle structure to take on the same piece of music."
The Maestro says he will be very reluctant to agree to exceptions going forward. He recognizes that may reduce the number of entrants but he is hopeful that other orchestras offering similar competitions will buy into the Symphony's position.
Dr. Paul has another concern. "For students interested in continuing as musicians, physical development is important; but it is critically important that they learn the repertoire that includes Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn before they skip onward to the bigger and more 'competition winning' pieces of the later 19th century and 20th century."
The Maestro agrees with Dr. Paul while recognizing that there are a few students that can handle very physically demanding compositions. Those same students, however, may best benefit from tackling works that are more difficult musically, such as Mozart and Beethoven. Mastering those works will serve them better in the long run.
With good fortune, a musician can play until somewhere in their eighties. They won't if injury impedes their natural born talent. Maestro Ming and Dr. Paul reckon the revised repertoire will reveal the best of middle and high school talent to astute judges.