Alice and Josh and ISO

I am generally not one to get all girly when in the presence of greatness. But this morning, as I drove to Indianapolis, I thought about how wonderful it was going to be to play Dvorak's 9th (New World) Symphony with the ISO, not to mention join this fantastic ensemble in the Sibelius Violin Concerto (one of my favorite violin pieces!) with soloist Joshua Bell... I must admit, I was giddy. Rehearsal was really fun, and I enjoyed every moment under the baton of maestro Krzysztof Urbanski

photo 1.JPG

Shortly after I got home, though, I got an email from the Performing Arts Medicine Association that the society's co-founder, Alice Brandfonbrener, had recently passed away, which brought a ripe solemnity to the otherwise upbeat character of my day.

So here I am, doing what I love to do (playing viola with world-class performers and ensembles), in large part because of the efforts of Dr. Alice Brandfonbrener and the association she started. Without a network of performing arts medical practitioners I may well never have bounced back from the playing-related injuries that debilitated me so many years ago. Though her passing is a true loss to the field, ALL performing artists are better because 32 years ago Dr. Brandfonbrener wanted to help musicians hurt less. And 32 years later, here I am, hurting much less, and playing with ISO.

Tears well up in my eyes as I think of the legacy of this great woman, and what her efforts have helped me achieve. It is no small thing for me-- who for some time, many years ago, lost all feeling in her left arm-- to be able to play a supporting role to the great Joshua Bell in a superbly stunning concerto.

I believe tomorrow's rehearsal will be incredibly powerful for me. There's nothing quite like making exquisitely-crafted music with a group of exceptionally fine musicians, while remembering someone truly relevant. Thank you, Dr. Alice. In tomorrow's rehearsal I will be giddy because of everything you've done for me, without ever knowing me. Thank you.

Human Performance Lab

Months ago, when I interviewed for my current position at Ball State, I was delighted to learn of BSU's Human Performance Lab. It is a truly state-of-the-art facility that, you guessed it, researches human performance and movemement. Yesterday I had the good fortune of having a tour of this amazing space, by none other than Mitch Whaley, the Dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Technologies, of which the HPL is a part.

As he showed me the space and told me about the research that is conducted (including work with NASA astronauts!), we bumped in to professors Scott Trappe and Tony Mahon, two of the "heavy hitters" in the lab. Dr. Trappe told Dean Whaley and myself about some of the research the lab is doing with astronauts, and the incredible technology they have that lets them look at individual human muscle fibers, among other things. I was really blown away!

It's truly inspiring working at an institution that is doing such state-of-the-art, important research. My interest in the HPL, besides the coolness factor of it (!), is the possibility of collaborating on a Music and Medicine project. The Biomechanics Laboratory is probably where any research I collaborate on will take place. I'm still in the very early stages of idea development, but am encouraged by the inspirational people who work at the HPL, and the incredible data they produce. Exciting!

Happy practicing!


Body Mapping

One of my colleagues at Texas Tech, Quinn Patrick Ankrum, is interested in Body Mapping, and she set up for a Body Mapping colleague of hers, Bonnie Draina, to come to Tech to teach a few classes. People could also sign up for private lessons. Knowing very little about Body Mapping, I decided to jump at the opportunity, and this afternoon I had my very first Body Mapping lesson.

It was fascinating! I played the first page of the Bartok concerto, at which point Bonnie said she thought she had enough information to start from. It's hard to describe everything we talked about, but Bonnie basically led me to have wow moment after WOW moment in that hour. I never imagined how important the way we think about our bodies is for the way that we hold and move our bodies, and ultimately, play.

For example, I have a long neck. A very long neck. And I've altered my instrument setup many times to accommodate this, but never did I notice that because of the way my spine curves when I stand, it forces my head into a somewhat forward-jutting position, which then effects my entire back. We're talking less than an inch here, but enough to see the harm once pointed out. It's not just my neck and head that could use adjusting, but also my posture. It's funny actually-- I had a massage a few days ago with a new massage therapist, and she mentioned that my shoulders were misaligned. I've never had anyone point that out to me before, and frankly, was a little upset about it... And then just a few days later, a Body Mapping specialist points out the exact same thing!

It was a lot to take in, and I truly hope I'm able to meet with Bonnie or another Body Mapper at some point soon in the future. She gave me a lot to think about and I'm sure the next few weeks (months?!) will be an interesting exploration of the way I think about my body. In turn, this will effect the way I balance, play, and otherwise approach my viola.

It's definitely time for me to order and read What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body.

Happy practicing!

A Matter of Fit

I am a member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA), which is an organization comprised of medical professionals, artists, and educators whose common goal is to improve the health and well-being of performing artists. You can learn more here.

As a performing artist who was seriously injured by my craft years ago, I know the importance of being comfortable when playing. Luckily I had amazing health care professionals who helped heal my body and the amazing Carol Rodland who reconstructed my viola-playing method from the ground up. Part of this reconstruction included finding a set up (i.e. chin rest and shoulder rest) that complimented my physical make up.

A few days ago I was introduced to a project that is looking for funding on Kickstarter. It is called the Kréddle, and to me it looks like a really viable option for all of our chin rest needs. Our bodies do not stay the same all of the time, so an instrument set up that worked a year ago may not necessarily work now. Approximately once a year I start tweaking until it feels better. I think that if this chin rest makes it to the market, it will help a lot with set up issues. There are only a few days left for the project to reach it's funding goals, so if you feel the same, please check it out and contribute.

Happy practicing!

Copper Gloves?

A few months ago, my right thumb started to hurt. Now, I'm no stranger to overuse injuries when it comes to playing viola, but never in my career have I had pain in my right hand. I saw a chiropractor in Dallas before I moved to Lubbock, and he helped my thumb feel better. Then I moved to Lubbock, and started playing... A LOT.

So here I am, in the midst of a really intense week of LSO rehearsals, with my recital's dress rehearsal on Sunday and a recital in a week, and my thumb HURTS. I got a brace at Walgreens which helps stabilize the thumb, but doesn't allow me to play, so that's no good. Yesterday, though, Janeen Gilliam (administrative assistant at TTU, and phenomenal English horn player in the LSO) let me borrow her Tommie Copper fingerless gloves to test out for an hour or so. I don't know what is in these gloves or how they work, but what I do know is that when wearing this glove, I was able to run through the entire Tchaikovsky symphony tonight with only minor thumb pain, whereas yesterday I had to continually stop playing during rehearsal.

Whatever they do, they work. At least for me. And then today Janeen gave me a pair of these crazy gloves, so currently I am wearing a fingerless glove on my right hand, with a welcome, warm, slightly tingly sensation in my otherwise pain-ridden thumb muscle. It is wonderful.

And tomorrow morning I have a massage scheduled!

Phew! Hopefully there will be much happy practicing this week!