Pianist Leon Fleisher once called musicians “athletes of the small muscles.” And like many athletes, stress on the body is accompanied by not only the pressure to succeed as artists, but the ever-present demand of tolerating public scrutiny.
Such demands of the flesh and spirit too frequently generate devastating results.
The pressures placed on musicians start early in their performance training.
Studies indicate that the vast majority of university music majors report a variety of physical difficulties associated with playing their instruments.
Unfortunately, however, comprehensive health care catered to the performing artist seems to be more the exception than the rule.
Suffering for one’s art, as romantically mythical as it may sound, is, in reality, most often unnecessary.
As the great Louis Armstrong once redefined popular music, we at the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine — where I am the medical director — feel we are redefining how health care is delivered to the performing artist.
Comprehensive and holistic medical attention is being woven together with music therapy and music psychotherapy to help performers use their relationship with music to serve their greater health needs.
Musicians spend a lifetime providing music for others but often can fall short in their ability to harness their constructive artistry for their own therapeutic gains.
This challenge is addressed from the moment the performing artist enters the Louis Armstrong Center.
Integral to medical aspects of our approach is the importance of understanding performance or the musician’s public face.
Perhaps a “false self” geared toward imbalanced giving has developed.
Or perhaps even an “injured self” has evolved with an unhealthy propensity for seeking acceptance through performance.
Since we all create a “performing” or public facade to share with the world which might differ remarkably from our true inner lives, we all tend to generate, inevitably, this obvious schism between selves.
Yet in the artist this schism or tension threatens to be more pronounced, and this difference of degree can manifest in unhealthy symptoms and poor self-care.
To this end, we offer low cost, comprehensive medical, psychiatric and music therapy services for musicians and performing artists.
In fact, newcomers to the center are encouraged to participate in both medical and music therapy assessments.
These integrated evaluations open the way to identifying and treating a broad spectrum of ailments over-represented in musicians and performing artists: spasms, focal dystonias, pain syndromes, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, trauma, insomnia, explosiveness, poor stress tolerance, repetitive strain injuries, inflammation, movement and sensory problems, hypertension, respiratory ailments, cardiovascular diseases, infections, neurological disorders, obesity, irregularities of posture and body mechanics, lack of preventive care for the entirety of body, mind and spirit, and shortage of useful health education, to name a few.
The goals of treatment are to establish good functioning in the physical, behavioral, social, psychological, musical, communicative, sensory-motor and cognitive realms.
Care comes from our own expert faculty in family medicine, psychiatry, music therapy and music psychotherapy, and from an aligned team of physicians from Beth Israel Medical Center, all of whom share an active interest in the wellbeing of performing artists.
The focus on care for the “athlete of the small muscles” at the Louis Armstrong Center can be specialized, such as correcting poor playing position or technique linked to performance injury.
In other instances the treatment goal for the performing artist can be somewhat broad, such as to reduce the burden of physical or psychiatric disease using medical care, holistic treatment and music therapy.
Simultaneously, alongside all aspects of receiving medical attention remains concern for addressing potential inner conflict between the public and personal identities of the musician without compromising the art.
Our pursuit of outstanding health and optimal performance through skilled treatment, sound preventive medicine strategies and enhanced self-care promises to enrich the artist and the art.
For more information about us, see www.MusicAndMedicine.org or call (212) 844-8387.
Dr. Stephan Quentzel is the medical director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center.