This article was originally published in BU Today on July 29, 2019. By Joel Brown.
Like elite athletes, classical musicians often feel driven to practice for hours at a time so they can perform at a high level when the spotlight turns their way. And like athletes, they sometimes pay a price for their devotion.
Violinists often suffer peripheral nerve problems and neck strain. Brass players endure restricted diaphragms and facial pain. Pianists may develop forearm tendinitis. Like athletes, many musicians try to “play through” the pain—usually a bad idea. Many also suffer from bouts of anxiety when it’s time to audition or perform.
The talented high school–age musicians attending the BU Tanglewood Institute face the same occupational hazards, but BUTI has launched a program designed to ensure they’ll leave the campus in the Berkshires better equipped to avoid many of those health issues and manage the rest.
“Making music at this level of artistry requires intensive physical and mental resources,” says Hilary Field Respass, executive director of BUTI. “Our Health & Wellness Program is designed to expose students to tools they can use to maintain healthy practice and mindsets as they strive for peak performance.”
For the past four years, BUTI has offered a series of health and wellness events for students, including yoga and mental skills training, as well as classes teaching the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method, practices used by adult musicians to increase flexibility, relaxation, and freedom of movement. Now, BUTI has made health and wellness a formal part of the curriculum, starting with this summer’s 440 students. “So many students are interested in it that we’re moving toward making it part of every program,” Respass says.
“I’m excited,” says Regina Campbell, a Boston physical therapist and one of seven practitioners working with BUTI students this summer. “By offering this to younger musicians, it’s really getting to the root of the problem.”