As musicians, we haven’t been quick to recognize the athleticism of our art. Our warm-up exercises tend to focus on the parts of our bodies that are most directly associated with making music–lips, vocal chords, finger dexterity– all the things that are needed to create beautiful tone and technical facility. These exercises are critically important to our art. What we typically overlook, however, are the rest of the muscles in our body–the core muscles which support us and make everything else we do as musicians possible.
If you have ever doubted the sheer physicality of being a musician, heft a ten pound trombone up to your shoulder again and again for four to five hours a day; support a violin or viola, arm outstretched, for hours on end; hook a saxophone to a neck-strap and feel the strain on your shoulder muscles; stand with perfect posture and sing, or sit with perfect posture and play the piano from dawn until dusk. The muscle required for these activities are the same core muscles that dancers and athletes spend endless hours stretching, developing and strengthening. Sadly, we musicians typically spend little time away from our instruments building this critical foundation of strength. For most of us, full body stretches, or core strengthening exercises are something one does in the gym not in a practice room. Often, the first time we really start to pay attention to the rest of our body is when we start to experience pain.
Even then, musicians are just as likely to “play through” the injury rather than actively seek assistance. The good news is that attitudes are changing. More and more attention is being paid to the whole musician instead of just the parts directly associated with music-making. At Lawrence, our administration, faculty, staff, and students are all committed to a holistic approach to health and wellness. Here are just a few of our conservatory's initiatives:
Onsite physical therapy drop in sessions every week. This allows students address potential problems without leaving the Conservatory.
Yoga, Pilates, thai chi, and a wide array other fitness courses at the Wellness Center. The Wellness Center should always be your first stop for all physical fitness needs.
Alexander Technique course. Taught by Professor Privatt in our Theater Department, this course is designed to increase body awareness, improve posture and reduce injury.
Dance. Physicality, body awareness and musicianship are all developed in our numerous dance offerings.
Biofeedback machines and coaching. This has proven beneficial for stress reduction and controlling performance anxiety.
Ergonomic chairs. These reduce fatigue during rehearsals and performances.
Ice packs. These provide onsite treatment and relief for minor repetitive stress injuries.
Early attention to these issues will help our students have long, healthy, productive performance careers. These are only some of the many advances we are making in this area. If you think about it, a trip to the gym is not so far removed from the world of music–it’s just cross-training for our musician athletes!
Student Advice on Fitness:
Alec Scherer ’10, trumpet: “Remember to stay active and stay healthy. Exercising is so good for you and it will keep your muscles and breathing fit for playing. It also gives you time away from your instrument, which is a good thing to make time for.”
Erin K. Bryan ’13, music ed./soprano: “I go running to relieve stress and get away from the Con and other classes.”
Joshua Kowitz ’11, bass vocalist/piano: “Exercise, eat right, and if you are feeling stressed, find some one to talk to about it. That always helps.”
Evan Montgomery ’09, guitar: “Exercise, eat healthy. Don’t order pizza every night. Manage your time properly. And do yoga to relieve stress.”
Carolyn Grieco ’09, soprano: “Get enough sleep! Know how much your body needs to function every day and make sure you plan your days accordingly. Just remember- sleep comes first.”
Nick Savage ’09, piano: “If you are feeling stress or unstable, take advantage of the Counseling Center.”
Olivia Quintanilla ’12, cello: “It is very easy to pig out on junk food when you have a busy schedule and multiple rehearsals throughout the day, but keeping healthy habits will increase your energy and motivation throughout the day.”