Performance injuries are every musician’s greatest fear. Our playing is so intrinsic to our being that just thinking about having to stop playing due to an injury can cause nightmares. Even worse is the sense that when you are injured, your colleagues, although they will express their sympathy, take a step or two back from you, as if it were contagious. This fear breeds all sorts of superstitions and misinformation. Even worse, it can prevent some players from seeking the help they need.
Below is the recent experience of a student of mine at the University of Delaware. Our journey through her injury to her recovery began for me when I walked up to her at the end of an orchestra rehearsal and discovered her in tears from pain and frustration. I had intended to tell her that her sound wasn’t coming through when it needed to, and instead realized that she hadn’t been playing at all because she couldn’t. The pain was that severe.
We are very fortunate to have a first-rate athletic training education program at Delaware, and the trainers work with any student who is having physical difficulty. The excellent care and attention she received made it possible for her to recover quickly and to return, carefully and gradually, to the harp. The long-term effects? As you will read, she has greater knowledge and awareness of the physiology of playing and a more profound connection to the harp.
These are her words:
At the beginning of my Junior year at the University of Delaware, I was excited about the opportunity I had to grow musically through preparation for my Junior recital. I threw myself into practicing, very stressed about the deadline of my performance date. I found myself growing musically in a way that I had not anticipated.
I developed carpal tunnel, and after a failed attempt by my doctor to cure me with steroids, I started seeing the school’s athletic trainers at Miss Sullivan’s recommendation. They were the perfect match for me, because the rigor involved in being a musician, and the toll it takes on your body, is similar to the physical strain of being an athlete. I was treated with heating pads, stretches, massages, and ice massages. Slowly, this treatment reduced the pain in my hand.
I slowly returned to practicing, and then started playing in the UD orchestra again, as a way of introducing structure and performance back to my playing. I found that since I have started playing again, I have had a deeper love for the harp. As they say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Through this experience I have grown as a musician and harpist, not only with my new appreciation for the instrument. I have become more aware of the importance of being aware of your body while playing, and relaxing. There is also a new confidence in my playing. I am so grateful to be able to play at all now, that I doubt I will ever really be stressed about the harp again, at least not to the point of injury. I also hope that there is more focus in the future on the importance of physical health and relaxation for musicians, as there is for athletes.