Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: flute

Detangling the Pec Minor: Part 2

Here's a picture from a concert I did with Edgar Meyer  last summer .  Although he's slightly rotated to the left, notice where his shoulders are and the slight internal rotation on the right side.

Here's a picture from a concert I did with Edgar Meyer last summer.  Although he's slightly rotated to the left, notice where his shoulders are and the slight internal rotation on the right side.

Yesterday, we looked at what the pectoralis minor is and what it might do to the shoulder when it's not working at its optimal length.  Let's take a look at how the shoulders function with different instruments and their holding positions.  With the cello and the bass, the left shoulder is mostly externally rotated, with the bow arm slightly internally rotated, similar to the upper string shoulder situation. In some ways, because the bass and cello are larger instruments requiring different muscle groups, the amount of internal rotation on the right side should be theoretically less, and because the bow arm is not as actively resisting gravity at the tip as with upper strings.  (Upper string players need to pronate their bow arm more to reach the upper half, and some short armed folks sometimes also internally rotate the shoulder to be there!)

James Galway,  courtesy of ClassicFm . Even with the best of postural intentions, it's easy round the upper body, bring the shoulders forward, and internally rotate the arm bones.

James Galway, courtesy of ClassicFm. Even with the best of postural intentions, it's easy round the upper body, bring the shoulders forward, and internally rotate the arm bones.

Moving into the woodwind family, the flute is one of the most asymmetrical instruments. Although the optimal position for playing flute has been discussed by many people, it's certainly a challenging instrument for shoulder, neck, and spine position.  Even with the most embodied, aware flutist, the position is certainly a tricky one, and can easily lead to some challenges in the pectorals.  Let's take a look at why.  

This woman's arms are already internally rotated, meaning that as she lowers and lifts her body, her arm bone is just going to move further and further forward, and her pecs will just contract further, but not helping to actually balance her shoulder.  Ah, stock fitness photos.

This woman's arms are already internally rotated, meaning that as she lowers and lifts her body, her arm bone is just going to move further and further forward, and her pecs will just contract further, but not helping to actually balance her shoulder. Ah, stock fitness photos.

The pectoralis major has many functions- adduction (flapping arms to the sides), internal rotation, shoulder flexion (arms overhead), extension (arms reaching back), and horizontal adduction, i.e. holding an object in front of your body.  When one is told to strengthen their chest muscles, they usually do two things: push ups and chest presses, meaning that lifting an object in front of you at chest height will require some strength.  So go grab something to hold in front of you- I'll wait.  (If I wasn't wearing pajamas in my living room, I'd take a picture of myself doing it.)  Try a heavy book or small weight, and just palpate the front muscles below the collarbone.  They have to work to hold the object, correct?  Most instruments require holding an object in front of you (voice, piano, and a few other exceptions), but often at an awkward, asymmetrical position for the shoulders.  Take a moment to think though- how many hours have you played your instrument in your life?  Even if your instrument only weighs a few pounds, your pectorals are constantly working to support you, even if in a small way.  Many of us also slightly internally rotate our shoulders when we play, which can create more havoc in these muscles. This is certainly true for instruments like clarinet, oboe, trumpet, and trombone, which are instruments held directly in front of the body.  Even if your instrument doesn't create this shape in the upper body, a lifetime of driving, texting, and head forward position may also shorten the pectorals.  What's the solution to all of this?  It's creating strength in the external rotators of the shoulder (the muscles on the back of the shoulder blade), creating awareness about posture and movement habits, avoiding movements that will just exacerbate the shoulder, and creating length in the front pectoral muscles.  More on that next time~

10 Things I Learned While Recovering from Reconstructive Hand Surgery

by Kelly Mollnow Wilson

I am a professional flutist, teacher, Licensed Andover Educator, wife and mother who has successfully completed the long journey of recovery from reconstructive hand surgery. I share my story here to let other injured musicians out there know that they are not alone and that it is possible to recover from a potentially career-ending injury.

The Injury:

Pre-surgical splint to immobilize MCP joint and a kid version designed and built out of duct tape by my youngest child.

Pre-surgical splint to immobilize MCP joint and a kid version designed and built out of duct tape by my youngest child.

In the fall of 2012, I injured the base of my index finger on my left hand.The new flute I had purchased in August had a different arrangement of keys than the old flute, and this design change was causing me pain. My symptoms improved after I stopped playing this specific flute and took a month off from playing. Unfortunately, my right hand slipped off the edge of the bath tub while helping my youngest daughter one night and my left hand contacted the bottom curve of the tub with fingers hyperextended, bearing the whole weight of my body. The main point of contact was the base of my left index finger and there was an audible w “pop” from inside my hand. The eventual diagnosis was a ruptured sagittal band at the MCP joint of my left hand index finger and damage to the radial collateral ligament, which connects hand bone to finger bone. The MCP joint is the metacarpophalangeal joint or the big knuckle where the finger meets the hand. The sagittal band is connective tissue that is part of the extensor complex, goes around the joint capsule and keeps the extensor tendons tracking over the middle of the knuckle when you make a fist. The extensor tendons are the ropy things you see on the top of your hand when you make a fist. They should be centered over the knuckles. In my case, the extensor tendon of my index finger was pulling towards the valley between index and middle fingers, “the valley of doom” according to my doctor and there was significant pain when lateral force was applied to the joint. For a flutist, this is a really big deal because the base of the index finger is one of three areas of support for the flute, this finger has to hyperextend and it has to operate a key that needs to be closed for the majority of the notes on flute. Conservative treatment consisting of splinting the MCP joint failed, leaving only a surgical option. My surgery was done at the end of March 2013 and was considered best possible outcome because no hardware or extra tissue harvested from elsewhere was needed to repair the shredded and stretched connective tissue. My surgeon was able to put it all back together and sent me out the door to hand therapy. [Healing My Clipped Wing chronicles the whole recovery process in weekly installments if you want more details about the specifics of the injury and the process leading up to surgery.]

First picture after cast was removed 4/3/13.  Greenish tinge and the pen markings put on pre-op by my surgeon.

First picture after cast was removed 4/3/13.  Greenish tinge and the pen markings put on pre-op by my surgeon.

1) It is often difficult and time consuming to get the correct diagnosis. Four doctors were consulted before I received an accurate diagnosis. My range of motion and ability to move in directions that I shouldn’t have be able to do with the injury I had sustained made the initial diagnosis tricky. I suspect that many musicians would fit into this category. Do not stop looking for answers to a medical problem when you don’t get a definitive answer. Keep asking questions. Sometimes, it’s a matter of finding the right medical professional. Other times, the diagnosis comes as a result of eliminating things that can’t be wrong. For me, there was no neurological issue according to the neurologist, so I was sent back to the orthopedic specialists. You have to be persistent and advocate aggressively for yourself.

One of the exercise 4/9/13.  Sutures still in place. 

One of the exercise 4/9/13.  Sutures still in place. 

2) Hand therapy (any kind of rehab therapy) is both wretched and fabulous. Wretched: I was fortunate to have access to fantastic hand therapists, but hand therapy is not a fun thing. Therapy exercises hurt, period. My first set of rehab homework consisted of 14 different exercises, all of which need to be repeated 10 times, with 4-5 sets of the whole thing per day. Rehab started 6 days post-op, before sutures were even removed. The complete set of exercises took 75 minutes, including the ice time after and it was taking 5 hours per day. It’s incredibly frustrating and devastating to issue a movement command to a finger and have virtually nothing happen as a result. Each week, I’d go to my appointment feeling optimistic that I had improved on the week’s exercises, only to be given a bunch of new ones that I couldn’t do. Scar massage is another thing that I didn’t even know was a “thing” and involves manipulating the incision site to prevent adhesion and desensitize the nerve endings. There’s a reason they prescribe pain meds during this time - you need them to be able to do the work. Fabulous: Therapy works when you do it. There’s a reason for everything they are asking you do and if you do it, you will get better. If you want to reach your goal, you have to do the work because there is no movement shortcut.

4/28/13  I can get my hand onto my favorite coffee mug, but can't yet pick it up! 

4/28/13  I can get my hand onto my favorite coffee mug, but can't yet pick it up! 

3) Body mapping knowledge helps with rehab exercises. As a long time Andover Educator, I’ve taught lots of musicians how their bodies work during the movements of music making. There was not much instruction about what specific muscles in my hand where supposed to be engaged to produce the movements required by each of the exercises. When I asked the hand therapists, they would tell me, but they said that most people don’t want to know. So, I used my own experience as a somatic educator to work smarter. The first thing was to find out exactly which muscle(s) should be working for each exercise, as well as which muscle(s) should not be trying to help. Muscles are usually found in pairs, when one contracts, the other releases into length. I used the Visible Body Muscles 3D app on my iPad as well as Trail Guide to the Body by Andrew Biel and Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Germain-Calais. I went through each exercise and wrote on instruction sheet the name of the muscle, its origin and insertion points. Body maps can be continually refined and knowledge is power. Visually, I was able to direct my focus to where the muscle in question was supposed to be moving. Even if there was no movement at the finger tip, the muscle can still be working. I reminded myself continually that these exercises are whole body movements, not just finger or hand movements, and that I always needed to keep the part within the context of the whole. I forced myself to have feet on the floor, butt firmly in the seat balanced on rocker bones, leading movements with my head, and not allowing myself to contract around the injured part and hold my breath. I started doing the exercises with both hands, mirroring each other, using the good side to teach the bad side. I took my iPad with the Visible Body anatomy app to each appointment and asked many questions until I was clear about what was supposed to moving. I also needed to ask about how to know where the boundary is between “pain that’s necessary for movement” and “pain that is a signal that you’ve exceeded the range of motion for that day.” To get the most effective results, one has to work as closely to that boundary line as possible, without going over.

4/28/13  Lots of progress with range of motion and sutures finally out.

4/28/13  Lots of progress with range of motion and sutures finally out.

4) Waiting is hard and patience is, indeed, a virtue.  It’s no fun waiting to see if your body can heal itself while you’re stuck in splint for months, waiting for the next available surgery time slot, waiting for your body to heal a surgical incision, waiting for a grown up to come home because you weren’t able to teach a preschooler to open the safety cap on the pain meds. I was released from hand therapy after 3 months because my range of motion and strength were at acceptable levels; however, I couldn’t come close to playing my flute. It was very clear that what musicians require in terms of hand usage is much more specific than the general population. Scar tissue remodels for up to two years after surgery and the therapists had nothing to offer me. Time and effort are the secret ingredients. Trust in the process even when it doesn’t proceed on your chosen time schedule. Sometimes, the “process” is hard to believe in. This seems to go against everything we know about pain: “if it hurts, don’t do it” and “leave the cut alone, let it heal without picking the scab.” With hand therapy, it seems exactly the opposite... “yes, you must move it when it hurts if you ever want to move it again” and “yes, massage the most painful spot...over and over again.”

5) The emotional impact of a injury can be just as overwhelming as the physical impact. In hindsight, I would have benefited from working with a mental health provider and, now, I always encourage that with students who are dealing with a severe injury. Here’s some of my emotional mess:

Devastation - I've spent years and years learning my art form and now I can't do it all for an indefinite period of time?

Guilt - Why should this injury be such a "Big Deal" to me when I have friends, relatives, and colleagues dealing with chronic health issues like cancer? 

Anger - Why is the universe conspiring against me?

Lack of trust - So I did what the doctor and therapist said, 100% compliance with all instructions, and now I'm worse? Is the diagnosis right? Do these people know what they're doing?

Frustration - So there's really nothing I can do except wait?

Disappointment - Having to turn down and cancel professional engagements is hard. Accidents happen and people get hurt; however, we all work hard to get the gigs and who wants to have to cancel? When will the next opportunity come around?

Financial stress - Luckily for me, my ability to feed and clothe my family doesn't depend on my ability to generate an income. This is not so for other musicians.

Self map issues - If I've mapped my self as a flutist, what I am without the flute? If I'm a band director, what am I without a band? How can I be a musician who can’t make any music?

Impatience - I know how to regain my playing skills, once the _____________ (insert injury) heals. Come on, already!

Lack of trust in my own judgment - How can I teach other musicians how their bodies work when I hurt myself on my own stupid flute and bathtub?

Loss of independence - I hate having to ask for help, but I need help to floss my teeth, zip my pants, cut my food and put ponytails in my kids’ hair.

All of the my toys for hand therapy.

All of the my toys for hand therapy.

6) It takes a team. In my case, I worked with a hand surgeon, hand therapists, acupuncturist and naturopath physician, Alexander Technique teacher, physical therapist, Feldenkrais practitioner, a medical massage therapist, several chiropractors, and a NeuroKinetic therapist. They are all masters of their own area and helped me heal various aspects of my injury. No single modality has all the answers. I also had my home team - my husband, family, and kids all working together to make everything go as smoothly as possible. My older child took over cutting my meat and vegetables at dinner time and my youngest was the pepper mill grinder & salt shaker.

4/20/13  Hanging by left hand from kids' bar on playground.

4/20/13  Hanging by left hand from kids' bar on playground.

7) Dysfunctional patterns can exist for long after the need for them has passed. It took well over a year for me to eliminate the dysfunctional holding pattern on my entire left side. I knew that this pattern was there and I took steps on my own to address it, yet I needed the help of the professionals listed in #6 to eliminate the pattern. The hand therapists only care about the hand in isolation, they’re not interested in the rest of the arm or body. The hand surgeon only cares about the stability of the structures. Hand surgeons are amazing, being able to go into a incredibly complicated area and fix what is broken without damaging anything else. They all did their jobs well, but I still had a gimpy left side. My left arm was pulled in and up towards my body, the universal “broken arm/hand” pose. I would startle immediately if anybody made a sudden movement towards my entire left arm. I had a panic attack at the 3rd grade chorus concert because people were too close my hand in the crowded bleachers at the school. I lost muscle mass in my left arm and torso, which is not surprisingly with the 5 months of restricted activity prior to surgery and the whole rehabilitation process. I returned to weight training and got a pull-up bar for Mother’s Day to work on both grip and upper body strength. I did lots of constructive rest, inhibition and redirection to convince my nervous system that my hand was ok. And it is.

Pre-performance 4/25/16

Pre-performance 4/25/16

8) Relearning to play is both humbling and exhilarating. When I was finally cleared to begin with the flute, my doctor said “You can play as long as you don’t go crazy and stick with baby stuff, not notey flute stuff with low load/high frequency.” This translates to a few minutes a day at first and I had to start with 1 and 2 minutes at a time. Everything had to be relearned. Interestingly, when doing a Skype lesson with a trusted colleague, her first statement was “Do you know what you’re doing with your head?” Of course I didn’t, because I was focused entirely on my surgical site. This is one of the tenets of basic Body Mapping - music making is a whole body activity, always, and I was focusing all of my awareness on a specific part at the expense of the inclusive awareness of my whole body. The desire to get the flute back in my hands was so high, just like when I was a 4th grader and couldn’t wait to get that shiny thing in my hands. I used to be a technical whiz kid, the faster the better. Now, I have to learn the notey stuff slowly and appreciate what countless students of mine have had to deal with when learning fast passages slowly. I have to be smarter about how I practice because I don’t have unlimited hours.  My practice window is about 90 minutes or less with breaks every 10 minutes or so, on a good day. Being more mindful and efficient is always beneficial. This is another area where my knowledge of Body Mapping was an advantage in relearning the movements that I need to play my flute, as well as being aware of and eliminating the movements that don’t help.

Flutes onstage 4/26/16

Flutes onstage 4/26/16

9) Modifying the instrument isn’t cheating. Pre-injury, I would have classified myself as a purist. I thought that if people were using their bodies well, then there was no need for any external modification on the flute. I’ve since changed my tune! When I first returned to playing, I started on a vertical headjoint, loaned to me by a very generous individual and it allowed me to play without any contact of the base of index finger with the flute tube. Since then, I’ve had many different things added to my flutes including a key extension, which raises the height of the left index finger key and also makes it closer to the others, a rubber pencil grip sliced in half or a Dr. Scholl’s corn pad stuck onto the flute tube as padding, a right hand thumb support made of cork which allows more of the flute weight to go into my right hand thumb (made by Alexa Still at Oberlin), and a custom foot joint key cluster done by John Lunn. Everybody is different and if modifying the instrument makes it easier for you to do what you want to do, then do it. What works for one person might not work for the next person. Who cares what it looks like?

10) I’m a better, more compassionate teacher and human for having had this experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, but I now empathize with musicians who have pain and injury. I understand the terrible feeling of frustration and emptiness that goes along with not being able to make music. Every person that you meet has a story, has things going on in his or her life that you know nothing about. I’m more efficient in my practice and more respecting of my physical limitations. I can stand up and say that this will not last forever and you’ll get through it, I hope. I can say to injured musicians that they are artists and will always be artists even if they can’t play their instrument or sing right now. My injury was not fun, but it was something that could be fixed and I was so incredibly fortunate because sometimes there is no easy fix. It seems utterly ridiculous to write that surgery is an easy fix because no part of this entire process was easy. I am thrilled to say that I’m back performing with the Aella Flute Duo, I’m just finishing up a semester-long Intro to Body Mapping course at Oberlin Conservatory and, just last week, I had a gig as part of a flute and percussion duo performing for dancers which required me to play alto flute, C flute and piccolo for the first time since my surgery. My professional interests have changed as a result of putting myself and my hand back together with lots of help from various professionals. Specifically I want to be able to help other musicians directly through manual therapy and will be starting a massage therapy program in the fall with the eventual goal of becoming a NeuroKinetic therapist. My goal is to be able to teach movement and awareness, prescribe corrective exercises as needed, manually release muscle tension and scar adhesions, and correction muscular imbalances to allow musicians to do what they do without pain and restriction, as they strive to realize their full potential as musicians.

About the author:

Kelly Mollnow Wilson, a Licensed Andover Educator since 2007, currently teaches privately and is a freelance flutist in Northeast Ohio. She has presented Body Mapping workshops at Cleveland Institute of Music, the International Flute Symposium at West Virginia University, and at the National Flute Association Conventions in 2006, 2012 and 2014 and is currently teaching Body Mapping at Oberlin Conservatory. She is a founding member of the Aella Flute Duo (, which will be performing at the NFA Convention this summer in San Diego. Kelly has nine years of teaching experience in the instrumental music department of the Wooster City Schools in Wooster, OH and is the lead author/flute author of Teaching Woodwinds: A Guide for Students and Teachers. See for more information.

Body Mapping, Flying, and Flute: Chatting with Vanessa Breault Mulvey (part 1)

I first met Vanessa last summer at the Andover Educators® Body Mapping conference in Portland Oregon, and we had connected earlier because of my blog.  Vanessa is a Boston-area flutist, instructor, and Body Mapping teacher, drawing from her many areas of interest to help musicians move better and play better.  She has an incredibly articulate bio on the AE® page, which will give you some of her background.  I spoke with Vanessa at the beginning of April.

Uncovering the intimate relationship between the best musical expression and movement is Vanessa Breault Mulvey’s mission. A Licensed Andover Educator, she utilizes Body Mapping along with experience in Pilates, Feldenkrais, flying trapeze and restorative exercise to guide musicians to uncover their expressive voice, as they eliminate playing limitation and pain.    Ms. Mulvey has presented workshops around the world for musicians, venues include: New England Conservatory, Longy School of Music, SUNY Purchase Double Reed Day, British Isles Music Festival, Trevor Wye’s Boston Master Classes, Harvard University, National Association for Music Education Conferences, and Boston Flute Academy. In addition to working with musicians, she has a special interest in applying Body Mapping to fitness. She is working on a developing a playful movement workshop for musicians to restore energy through movement, and co-teaches an anatomy infused Pilates class. Ms. Mulvey is on the faculty at Longy School of Music of Bard College, where she teaches a popular Body Mapping course and the Poised Performer Workshop.

Kayleigh: How did you first learn about Body Mapping and its application to music?
Vanessa: Around 2004 or 2005, I was applying to present at Flute Fair here in Boston, and I wanted to speak about body position and alignment, since it’s something that I’m always aware of as a teacher and performer.  My application was rejected for Flute Fair, and they said that they had a Body Mapping person coming, and since I didn’t know what it was, I thought, “I’d better go find out what that is.”  The presenter was Lea Pearson, and when I was there, I thought, “This is everything that I’m talking about and teaching about, but with more exact language.”
K: So Body Mapping gave you a precise lens to look through flute and alignment things.
V: Absolutely-so I bought the book (Body Mapping for Flutists: What Every Flute Teacher Needs to Know About the Body) that day, and I started studying it, and it just made so much sense.  I did more work with Lea when she happened to be in town, and I just kept running with it, and I saw the immediate impact on both me and my students.  Lea was very encouraging, remarking, “I think you’d be great,” so I went to Summerflute out in California, and I was hooked.  It made sense- it was fun, it was empowering, so I started studying and studying, and there were no Body Mapping instructors in the Boston area at that time, so I was on my own, and I went to Summerflute out in California three or four times.  I also went to a body mapping conference in Ohio, and it was the best place- the musicians and instructors were truly collaborative and supportive

K: Where did you initially study flute?
V: I did my undergraduate degree at the Crane School of Music up in Potsdam, NY, and then I went to Cincinnati Conservatory for my master’s.
K: Were those teachers interested in the body, or was that something that evolved for you separately?
V: My undergraduate teacher (Kenneth Andrews) always talked about the body, whether it was the relationship of the feet and posture and the flute, or breathing- it was vague, but it was there.    I was always aware of the body- I could see the changes in my playing as a result of cultivating awareness and connectivity.  My graduate school teacher was not at all inclined towards the body, and at CCM, there was nothing for the body or wellness, so I went through graduate school cold, so to speak.  When I got to experience the Body Mapping work, I realized, “There’s so much more that I can know and learn.”

K: You became interested in Body Mapping in 2004 or 2005, but how did this extend out into other forms of movement practices?                                                                                                      V: It began as an undergrad- I saw the power of movement when I taught at Longy as the head of the Woodwind department.  While there, I ran woodwind performance seminars, I ran juries and auditions, and I’d watch the way they moved.  I’d say to people, “Why don’t you orient yourself this way, or move this way,” and I would see immediate change.  I could work with just about anybody and make a difference.  My language was very vague at that time, and body mapping gave me the chance to very specific, and know why and how the body is organized how it is, making even more of a difference.  Of course, it was a lot of experimenting in my own personal practice, and that led me to this uncovering of movement, and it turns out that I’m very passionate about human movement- any chance I can, I’m moving.  In classes, I talk about how you have to cultivate a lifestyle that supports your music-making.  You might not be playing 12 hours a day, but chances are you are moving 12 hours a day, and those are opportunities to improve your quality of movement so that when you get to your instrument, overall awareness and movement has improved.

K: How do you define Body Mapping?  I know that’s not the easiest of questions to answer, but it’s an important one for people who may not be familiar with it.
V:  Body Mapping is understanding the body’s design for movement, and understanding it at the anatomical level, and then applying that into executing quality movement, and then taking that quality movement and integrating it into your playing.  It enhances fluidity and poise, but most importantly, in my opinion, is it creates the ability to be independent in your movement.  For example, blowing air faster, doesn’t mean tightening the arms or the neck; I can simply isolate my breathing and blow my air faster.  So it’s that independence that I love to uncover.
K: What’s interesting to me is that you didn’t come to this work from a place of injury- so many players and teachers become more interested in the body when there’s a total breakdown of the body, rather than being interested before injury.
V: I have absolutely been uncomfortable, I have had unreliable technique and sound, but no, I was never injured.  I’ve had pain between my shoulder blades, but it was never chronic, and I would always deal with it.  But what I like now is that when I do experience pain, I can use movement to restore good function.
K: I think that’s always the goal.
V: It can be anything- I was rock climbing with my daughter and fell hard, and my neck is feeling cranky.  I might see a chiropractor, but I can also say, “I know where this pain is coming from, I know what I need to work on to restore movement, and I can draw from all the things that I do to create micro movements and stretches and self care practices to address it.

K: What are all of the things, movement-wise that interest you, either currently or for future study?
V: Some of them I haven’t gotten to, but I flying trapeze has been one of the biggest bonuses for me.  I also started doing pilates at that time, I also do feldenkrais whenever I can, and there’s a drop in class near me, I do rock climbing periodically; this year the big thing has been Nia, which is a dance that draws from lots of different disciplines, primal movement chains- I did a class with Perry Nickelston (of Stop Chasing Pain) down in NY.  I’d love to do a parkour class at some time as well.  I was teaching a few weeks ago and I remarked, “we’re kind of like parkour athletes in a small way- we need explosive athletic movements but with a keen awareness of the ground.  We have to have that dynamism, but in very small ways.”  I think that’s a fun way to think of it.

K:  Are you a teacher of other forms of movement, or are you primarily a Body Mapping instructor?

V: I'm currently only a Body Mapping teacher.  I’m thinking of different things to train in, but trying to decide is tough.  I love all the movement practices, but I have to ask with certification, “is it worth it?”  I love Feldenkrais practices, and I co-teach a pilates class with a pilates instructor where we look at anatomy and alignment before the practice.  MovNat would probably be the highest on my list for certifying, because of the combination of athleticism and natural movement. (Kayleigh: Side note: I did my Level 1 training in MovNat in March- it was a blast!)
K: I sometimes want to train in everything, so I can understand.
V: I’m so busy right now, it’s hard to imagine adding anything else.
K: So what does your schedule look like right now, during the school year?
V: Right now, I teach body mapping classes at Longy and at NEC, and I’m coaching chamber music at Longy, teaching private students at home, and then doing body mapping workshops out and about.  Later today, I’ll do a workshop at Walnut Hill for the Arts for the high school age musicians there.  In the next few weeks, I have 5 workshops that I’m doing.  I'm also playing, not as much as I want, but that’s there too.

Vanessa and I had a lengthy conversation, so I've broken it into a few shorter parts for reading ease.  Part 2 to Follow Later this week, which includes talking about the trapeze and more! 

A Flutist with a passion for Physical therapy: Alexis Del Palazzo

Alexis del Palazzo is a flutist turned DPT student, marathoner, and  "Musician with a passion for physical therapy." Naturally, I thought she'd be a great fit for our this community of readers and bodynerds, and I'm happy to have her contributions here!

Kayleigh: What is your background in music and performance?

Alexis: I began playing the flute in 6th grade band when I was 11 years old. Exhibiting innate musical talent, I sang all the time but the only real music education opportunity available to me in my rural school was band. My older brother had been in band, and I was so excited to join when I was old enough. 

In 9th grade, I decided I wanted to take music seriously and pursue a career. I started taking private lessons, and did everything I could to improve as a musician. A series of personal choices landed me in Oklahoma and I attended the University of Oklahoma where I studied with Valerie Watts, and I received a Bachelor of Music Performance degree in 2007.  At that time, I was burned out and I needed a day job so I took a break for about a year and a half. I built a small studio but I wasn’t performing during that time. In 2009, I rediscovered my passion and for a period of about 2 years, I focused on building my career and getting into a MM program.  That pursuit actually led me to physical therapy...

K: Tell us a bit about you got interested in physical therapy.

A: I never knew any physical therapists growing up, and my impression was that most of them were former athletes. A DMA student at OU who attended the school while I was an undergraduate had a previous background in physical therapy but that was the extent of my exposure to the field.  As I worked towards a MM program, one of my mentors and teachers during that time reawakened my interest in the body and movement. I reacquainted myself with my copy of Lea Pearson’s What Every Flutist Needs to Know about the Body and I attended the 2011 Andover Educator conference in New Jersey. At the conference, I met an Andover Educator who was also a hand therapist. During this time, I was having problems with my right arm. I was battling severe performance anxiety with huge adrenaline rushes that would make it difficult for me to play. In response, I would grip the flute incredibly hard and post-performance, I would have pain in my right forearm for hours afterwards. In spite of being prepared, my audition for grad school didn’t go very well - I was not only trying to play through extreme performance anxiety, but I was also playing through pain in my arm. The inflammation and pain was becoming more persistent.

I had a similar problem as an undergraduate but the doctor only prescribed me a hefty dose of ibuprofen and told me to rest. That advice was totally useless to me as a musician, and I was hesitant to see another medical professional. Meeting and talking with this person at the conference helped me decide to see a doctor again and ask for a referral to physical therapy. Because I was wary of being treated by a PT unfamiliar with the demands of being a musician, I first drove from Central Pennsylvania to the D.C. area for an evaluation with a physical therapist there (also a musician). She shared my evaluation results with my local PT, and we got to work. As I watched the clinic staff work with other patients during my treatment, my interest level increased and I began researching everything I could about physical therapy and what was involved with becoming a PT.

I was hooked. It took a month from the AE conference to receiving my own PT treatment to make a decision that this was what I wanted to do. In addition to educating musicians about moving better, I also wanted to be able to treat them as a medical professional.

K: Amazing!  How has your understanding of the body changed in your studies?  How has your own relationship with your body evolved?

Alexis' book,  The Practice Matrix.   Definitely worth checking out!

Alexis' book, The Practice Matrix.  Definitely worth checking out!

A: Life never happens the way you want it to. It took 2 years for me to arrive at a place where I was able to begin the huge list of pre-requisite courses needed to even apply to a program. In those 2 years, I became an Andover Educator trainee to train to teach the course What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body™. I revamped my practice routine, and incorporated all the bodywork lessons and time management techniques I was learning during this time. Via Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique, I discovered what habits were hurting my playing and through intensive, patient work, I began making changes to my body map and I made huge strides in my playing. I even wrote a book to help other musicians incorporate the same kinds of changes into their practice routines.

Prior to starting work with Body Mapping and the Alexander Technique, my mind and body weren’t very well connected. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my mind and my thoughts tended to control me. I believed that I had no control over how I moved. The musculoskeletal system was also a huge mystery to me as well, and I had many mismappings to address. I began practicing mindfulness, and I learned that I did have a choice. I could choose to simply notice my thoughts but let them go. I could choose to stop a movement and replace in its stead a healthier, more efficient movement. And learning this with my flute helped me become a better human being, a better musician, and a better teacher.

In retrospect, I am so happy to have had that 2 year period to spend so much time on somatic bodywork. It helped me learn about my own body and help me develop my own self-awareness. These are all skills I can transfer into my own practice as a future physical therapist.

K: What's one thing you wish musicians knew about health, wellness, and body!

A: I wish that musicians would learn about health and wellness prior to being injured! I didn’t learn about the resources available to musicians until I was injured, and I regret not learning more sooner. Knowledge is power.

Learning the structures of the body and how it works, and learning how to keep your body healthy will prolong your musical life. Make time to learn now, and you will avoid having to take time off later for pain or injury. Unfortunately, because these topics are only slowly becoming integrated into our music education system, most musicians don’t recognize the need for this kind of information.

We have a long path ahead of us but it is encouraging to see increasing numbers of musicians become involved with somatics, medicine, and other modalities to improve the quality of musicians’ lives everywhere.

K: How do you plan on combining music and PT in your life?

A: This question is a work in progress. In addition to orthopedic physical therapy which is the most relevant type of PT for musicians, I am also nurturing a strong interest in neurologic PT and would like to possibly work with patients with traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries. Ideally, I would like to be able to spend my days coaching and treating musicians, but also be engaged in patient care across all demographics. Physical therapy fits my wide range of interests from music, movement, fitness, education, and helping people and I want to cast my net wide. As I progress through school, this evolution will become more clear. I wish that I had discovered this path sooner, but I wouldn’t be the same caliber of musician I am, and I certainly wouldn’t have the understanding I do of musicians and the unique health challenges they face.

K: How can people find you on the internet or contact you?

A: I live in Central Pennsylvania with my husband, 3 dogs, and 5 cats. As of May 2015, I am a first year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at Neumann University. My current homes on the net are my Facebook page, twitter @sensibleflutist, and on my tumblr where I’m blogging about my DPT journey

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