We (musicians) have a lot more people coming out and talking about their injuries and issues these days, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma that keeps many musicians from talking. I totally understand it. I lied and kept gigging until I just physically couldn’t play anymore. It was tough, because I didn’t have a full-time job, and these gigs comprised most of my income. I didn’t want to lose the gigs, so I just kept taking them. After each gig, my playing got worse, because I wasn’t focusing on good habits. I was just trying to figure out a quick fix to get me through the performance. I’d work on fixing the real problem later….except that the real problem ended up being too big to fix, because I kept putting it off.
I really wonder if things would be different if our society of musicians were more open about injuries (and dealing with illness). Would orchestras have a “Disabled List” and allow musicians the proper time to heal without worrying about pay? I don’t think it’s fair that athletes are allowed to go on the DL and receive high-quality medical attention, while musicians just have to figure it out on our own. We perform at a high level, get less time off, and we have to be way more accurate. Could you imagine a principal horn player of a major symphony only hitting 60% of the notes on the concert? Or having an accuracy rate of .250 out of 1.000? Our batting average has to be in the .900 range or we might lose our job. Some conductors won’t accept less than .999. It’s unreasonable, yet this is part of the reason why the orchestral profession is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs. It also makes sense that a lot of orchestral musicians suffer from anxiety and health-related issues that stem from work. So many principal horn players have suffered heart attacks that it makes me never want to play principal in a professional orchestra.
I mean, if you’re a tenured member of a full-time orchestra and a member of the union, then you probably do get some benefits and paid-leave, but the majority of us do not have one of those full-time gigs. Most of us piece together a “full-time” salary by playing in several different regional orchestras and teaching. These jobs, unfortunately, do not offer paid-leave nor benefits, which leads to the big question: how would most of us afford to get help if something happened?
Sure, you probably qualify for Obamacare, but the insurance available through the Marketplace isn’t what it was when the program began, especially if you make a “livable wage.” The deductibles and premiums are so high that it’s almost not worth having insurance. Even the insurance that I have through my public school teaching job is awful. Each individual on my plan (me and my two kids) has to meet a $500 deductible on “sick” visits before the insurance even starts paying anything, and when it does start paying, it only covers 80%. This is why we’re switching back to my wife’s plan, even though it costs more, it’s better insurance.
Even if you could get help, where would you go? Are there doctors that specialize in helping musicians? Are there treatment options for focal dystonia? Is treatment available for those musicians that suffer from work-related anxiety and depression? Does each professional orchestra provide a medical staff to treat work-related injuries or illnesses? Does the orchestra pay the bill for any medical procedure required by its members? Does the orchestra employ massage therapists and chiropractors specialized in treating musicians?
Again, if we were professional athletes, the answer would be yes to all of these questions, but we’re just musicians. There’s all of this interest and money being thrown at sports medicine programs, but we don’t have a need for arts medicine. There isn’t a realistic need for people to help musicians with injuries, because there’s no money to be made in that venture. Musicians only bring sound to life, and aid in the effort to keep our culture alive. Music only makes people smarter and more equipped to handle all types of situations. Work ethic, problem solving, teamwork, listening skills, etc.
It just doesn’t make sense.
Although, even if we had help, would musicians talk and take advantage of it? Everyone is just so afraid to admit that something is wrong. We don’t want to fall further down the “call list,” because we have an injury or suffer from an illness, whether it be mental or physical. I finally started talking about my issues, because things really couldn’t get much worse. I had to hit rock-bottom…so, is that what it takes? Do musicians have to lose all hope before they will start talking about things? It shouldn’t be that way, and I hope that we can change it. We need to be more open and talk, because how are we going to find people that can help us? How are we going to warn and/or help younger musicians struggling with some of the same issues? We need open dialogue and a safe environment in which to express our needs and concerns.
I’m glad that people like Dr. Peter Iltis are working to understand more about focal task-specific dystonia. Dystonia in general seems to be more prevalent nowadays, not just with musicians, and if we have the technology and resources to solve the problem, then it needs to happen. Another society that I just discovered today is the Performing Arts Medicine Association. It was formed in 1989, and holds a yearly symposium in Colorado every summer. Obviously, there are people out there working to make things better for musicians, but it definitely isn’t common knowledge. I think we really need to make a lot of this information more readily available, and we also need to help musicians feel more comfortable about coming forward. We need to get rid of the stigma and start helping people, because we’re all in this together.
I definitely don’t have the answers, but I do have lots of questions. Hopefully, some of these questions will lead to answers…I’ll let you know if that happens.