Event organiser, Ian MacDonald, reports on the State of Play – A study day for performers, healthcare practitioners, music teachers, manufacturers and modifiers of musical instruments, 23rd March 2013.
This mini-conference was inspired by all the wonderful inventions, additions and props created by passionate musicians, teachers and practitioners to assist their performing. Though for some, the process of amending and/or adjusting ‘the musical interface’ (the instrument) is second nature – better facilitating them to do what they love – it strikes me that it is still generally considered a black art.
Where adapting the traditional instrument dimensions in a bespoke manner really comes into its own, is in helping youngsters play instruments without injury and in helping musicians recover from injury and accident. There is also amazing work being done with disabled children and adults at places like www.joyofsound.net, creating guitars that have special vibrating panels for deaf people, cellos that are fixed and angled to make wheelchair approach possible, two-way zithers that have double docking space for two wheelchair users to sit at it etc.
Playing aids, props, straps, rests etc are of course of interest to clinicians and practitioners working with performers but often either practitioners don’t know specific items exist, or have seen products on the web but are not sure how they work in practice or indeed if they actually work safely as empirical evidence supporting the marketing claims is difficult to find.
State of Play delegates were a mixture of professional performers, conservatoire teachers, students, lecturers, researchers, healthcare professionals, musicians and a dancer. A number had suffered some form of nerve compression problem in the past so had a vested interest in the presenting subject. Across the board, feedback about the day was positive with particular pleasure from all in seeing a right-handed trumpet being taken apart by Dave Woodhead then reassembled for a left-handed player with cable ties in about 5 minutes; perfectly playable with no need for any new bits to be made. Dave explained to us that there is no limit to adjustments you can make to brass instruments. Materials can be changed for look, weight or to avoid allergic reaction. Crooks (U-shaped bits of the tubing) and the direction of tubing can be shaped and amended to suit hand size, arm length, neck length or to assist getting back to playing again post-trauma….in fact there is now a small plastic trombone on the market that is light and easier to control even if you are a small person of 6 or 7. And it sounds okay too!
Marcus Reynolds presented his invention, Stratos, demonstrating it with a nifty trombone solo. He has worked on the Stratos for many years, since a serious accident left him injured. The device is used to facilitate better lip, jaw and head posture for trombonist (and for all other brass instrumentalists) as well as to provide structural and stabilising support. It was great news to hear that he is now getting commissions from all over the country to reward him for the dedicated years, time, money and sheer genius of creation.
The afternoon gave us the duet of Nicole Wilson and Helena Wood, violinists with ENO Orchestra. All the delegates agreed that these two musicians could go on the road with a fantastic presentation covering their experience in the working environment, ergonomics, musicianship, technical expertise, knowledge of the great variety of available equipment (e.g. chin and neck rests, seating) and their extremely funny way of communicating all these ideas.
Guitar tutor, Paul Sogaard rounded off the day, expertly reviewing the different posture issues faced by the three main designs of guitar, acoustic, electric and bass. As a long time member of the BAPAM Directory of Performing Arts Medicine Practitioners, he focused on many of the ergonomic problems tackled by musicians, demonstrating the various adjustments to the guitar interface and discussing the eternal questions of what additional tools and equipment (if any) to use… Again, research into the long term health benefits of using foot stool, neck straps or ergoplay support is sparse.
Student Research Projects
The day also included representatives from the first year of the MSc in Performing Arts Medicine with presentations from Efthalia Palaiokastriti, Physiotherapist and guitarist (Investigating functional scoliosis in guitarists using different guitar support tools), Isabel Artigues Cano, Physiotherapist and flautist (Evaluating hypermobility of finger joints in flautists) and Dr Hara Trouli’s (Performance measures in pianists with clinical sympomatology in the upper limbs: a cross-sectional study using EMG, digital pianos recordings and video postural analysis).