Last week, one of my clients told me about the plight of the grandson of a friend of hers. This young man was attending the music school of a major university, majoring in violin. While struggling with musculoskeletal issues from hours of playing, he decided to visit a physician for care. This doctor recommended that he consider changing his major from violin to something else, perhaps musicology. Devastated, he nonetheless is exploring this possibility.
I find this situation horrifying. While I do not know all the particulars, this story is not unfamiliar to me. I have heard this many times before (and wrote about this in my first book Table Lessons). What I find most disturbing is the disparity of responses is largely based on a value system, not on principles of good care. If that young man was the quarterback for the university's football team, the physician's response would have been markedly different. I can speak to this because I have treated university athletes for years. Their care is generally exemplary and far better than what is available to the rest of us. When you see an athlete limping off the field with an apparent injury, it is not unusual to see them back on the field in a remarkably short period of time. How is that possible? It is my experience that this is possible in large part for two reasons. First, the athletes are in amazing condition and their recuperative powers are remarkable. Second, the health care services available to them are astonishing.
Just recently, I saw an athlete who was struggling with pain. In addition to the trainers sending this person to me, they were also meticulously analyzing the mechanics of his form during his sport. Relaying this to me, the process was inspiring. Video analysis, hours of coaching in the most minute detail, treatments with the training staff, and access to medical care at the highest level. This athlete will be back on the court and perform at the level to which he is capable (which happens to be incredibly high).
What about our violinist? Where is the video analysis of his technique, analyzed in the most minute detail? What training services are available to him; experts in the biomechanics of the violin who know how to address his pain? Do his teachers have a deep understanding of the physical demands of the instrument? My music education friends tell me that the number one reason that students leave advanced degree programs in music is an injury. This is deeply sad and very possibly preventable.
We, as a society, need to respect the value of the arts. There are many reasons to do so, not the least of which is the economic impact the arts have on society and on our communities. People who move to a community value richness in the quality of life, that usually means access to the arts. My own city is a marvelous example. Our Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (KCPA) is a jewel on the campus and in the community. KCPA provides access to programming that one would only think possible in a metropolitan area. It is one of the main reasons many people find living in Champaign so desirable.
I do not know what will happen with this young man, my hope is that somehow he can find resources to help him pursue the passion he feels for the violin. His program is extremely high level, so just to be accepted into it says volumes about his playing. That must mean many years of dedication and practice which would be very sad to abandon so quickly. I hope he finds the resources to explore all avenues before he abandons his dream.
This does remind me of one of my clients from years ago. He was working towards a masters degree in the viola and sought a physicians advice for arm pain. Along with his dedication and passion for his instrument, this young man possessed a quit wit the likes of which I will never be able to match. After explaining his symptoms to the doctor, the young man waited for the physician's response. Thinking for a bit, the doctor asked, "Have you thought about switching instruments?"
Without hesitation, the violist responded, "Have you ever thought about becoming a vet?"