There is no other way to say it. Playing a string instrument, and any instrument (yes, I include singing), is a physical thing. We are athletes. We may not take care of ourselves like competitive athletes, but the refined muscle motions that musicians carry out are athletic. (this is my 5th daily post for #MUS654 and I’m thinking about the challenges in playing my instrument as one of the tasks)
I did an experiment a few years ago- and never wrote it up… It happens in academia. This was a sort of prelude to what could have been a more formal experiment. My students and I performed solos in a concert that was repeated in various settings: in mainstream schools, special needs schools, at the university, and in the different settings I had us all wearing heart rate monitors. The interesting thing was that when we played our heart rates jumped a mile! Mine went from ‘lecture mode’ at about 100 to over 140 in performance. The very interesting thing was that this was consistent, regardless of whether it was a university audience or an audience of special needs children.
140 ?!!? That’s pushing near the anaerobic threshold for me. Like running. RUNNING. Cello playing = running. Whoa… That begins to explain the proximity of my cookie consumption and performance.
Really though, many musicians would laugh if you suggested they go for a run for the endurance of their performance, but we put our bodies (or parts of them) through similar stresses. We have certain muscle groups that are highly toned and trained, and the rest of us…? It is certainly something to consider.
When I think of the physicality of playing, I am reminded that I always thought I was unbreakable, superhuman, well – that it certainly wouldn’t happen to me… I was first aware of my misuse when I had my second child and I realised as a cellist that I was twisting and moving my torso away from the instrument instead of bringing the instrument to me. The impact was my SI joint came slightly asunder and was very painful indeed… I fixed it via careful physiotherapy, but really, I thought it would never happen to me.
It is magic to be young, but nobody is impervious to being human, and it benefits us all to practice good use of our bodies. We only get one after all! I leave you today with a visual reminder of how we move as we play:
Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by R Kurtz