To a talk at the Guildhall School of Music about musicians’ injuries. ‘Suffering for their Art’, presented by Helen Reid, explored the complex topic of how performers deal with injuries which prevent them from playing their instruments. It seems that musicians are notoriously reluctant to speak openly about their injuries. Playing is so bound up with identity that injured musicians find themselves going through a cycle of emotions very similar to that of bereavement: denial, anger, grief, acceptance.
It was suggested by the panel of experts that classical musicians are more inhibited than other musicians about admitting to their injuries. This is probably in proportion to the length of time classical musicians have been practising their instrument (often since childhood) and planning their future as performers.
Those who had suffered injuries while at college had ‘negative recollections’ of the help offered. The lack of help is a hard thing to quantify, given that sufferers find it hard to admit to their problems in the first place. But there were some very sad stories of students finding that their teachers had nothing helpful to suggest, or were even alienated by the suffering student before them. The situation is improving, but slowly and patchily.
On the positive side, those who had recovered from an injury often felt that the enforced break had helped them to gain perspective, and to ‘let go’ and enjoy music more when they resumed playing. Breaking the obsessive pattern of practising and being forced to find other goals in life, even for a short while, had long-term benefits. Years later, some musicians were even able to say that the injury ‘turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me’. This is not guaranteed, alas, especially if the sufferer has to abandon thoughts of a career in music.
I learned one thing I didn’t know before: that the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine runs free clinics in a number of UK cities for musicians with playing-related problems. (You can book an appointment through their website.) Much of the treatment is free, and in more complicated cases, BAPAM can refer people to specialist help whose cost is often greatly reduced for musicians. I wish I had known this earlier – but at least I know it now.