Medical Problems of Performing ArtistsMedical Problems of Performing Artists

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Risks and Realities of Musical Performance

William B. Meinke
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 13 Number 2: Page 56 (June 1998)

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Abstract: A brief pass through the halls of the music building at any major college or university dispels any lingering doubts about the ardor and commitment of the average student of music. In these places almost every conversation, even the most seemingly casual, unfolds within a context perhaps best expressed as: "Whatever it takes to achieve my musical goals, this I will do." Oddly, though, if you turn the concept on its head and challenge these earnest performers with "OK, then, what does it take to achieve your goal?" often as not, the best you may glean from the encounter is a bemused silence'or a shrug and the admission that "I haven't thought much about it." Those who do attempt an answer invariably zero in on mental or sensory qualities'the right temperament, a good ear, an understanding of and sensitivity to the musical material, tenacity of spirit'all quite in keeping with a "romanticized" idea of the musician as a being of heightened sensitivity and special understanding. Rarely do you find one who includes on this list certain physical characteristics'dexterity, speed, flexibility'that are most assuredly requirements of musical performance. Almost never will you encounter the more mundane attitude that musical performance is a job like any other, and, as with any other, it is possible to understand and articulate the physical and cognitive requirements it entails. Sadly, at times the halls of musical academe seem almost littered with passionate and sensitive artists, who yet are unable to mount a creditable performance'some of them simply through want of a basic understanding of how musical performance is physically accomplished. They are unable to "do anything it takes" to achieve their goal of musical performance, not because they are incapable, but because they do not know what it takes and thus fail to spend effort where it would profit them most. This paper is driven by the idea that the work of musical performance (possibly together with other forms of fine arts performance such as dance and theater) shares many things with other types of work, but has, as well, a few important factors that set it apart. Just as work on the assembly line is shaped in part by the design of the line equipment and the constraints imposed by the production process (number and order of operations, line pace, etc.), the work of musical performance is shaped in part by the mechanism of sound production associated with the instrument used and the "production process" mandated by the specific music performed. It is my hope that by illuminating the likenesses and differences between these two types of work, especially the constraints associated with music performance, I will prompt performers (and those who treat them) to begin to form a clearer picture of the real demands this work places on them.

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