Mu­si­cians’ Men­tal Health

Pan­elists dis­cuss the stress of mu­si­cian­ship

The McGill Daily - - News - Madi­son Duen­kler News Writer

On Mon­day, Fe­bru­ary 13, McGill stu­dents and mem­bers of Mon­treal’s mu­sic com­mu­nity gath­ered at the Wirth Mu­sic build­ing for a panel dis­cus­sion, en­ti­tled “Mu­si­cian’s Health Through­out a Per­form­ing Ca­reer.”

Claire Mo­tyer, the founder of the Schulich Mu­si­cian’s Health Com­mit­tee, which or­ga­nized the event, started the dis­cus­sion by say­ing, “I don’t think you can re­ally sep­a­rate emo­tional, phys­i­cal, and men­tal health from each other. We’re re­ally just try­ing to get this con­ver­sa­tion started, re­ally just want­ing to open up about mu­si­cian’s health [and] bring some fac­ulty, some alumni, and some cur­rent stu­dents [to­gether] to share their sto­ries so more peo­ple open up and feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their sto­ries.”

Speak­ing with The Daily, Mo­tyer said, “I re­ally want stu­dents, and fac­ulty as well, just to feel more com­fort­able talk­ing about these is­sues, cre­at­ing a di­a­logue between all of us as a com­mu­nity, and cre­at­ing more of a sense of a com­mu­nity around these top­ics.”

Mo­tyer, a U3 Mu­sic stu­dent and vi­o­lin­ist at Mcgill, has ex­pe­ri­enced in­jury her­self. “It’s only now re­ally that I’m re­al­iz­ing this is what I want to do, bring aware­ness to these is­sues, and to mu­si­cians’ health. At first I found it hard to talk about, but now I feel much bet­ter be­ing open about it.”

Pan­elists in­cluded Yolanda Bruno, a vi­o­lin­ist, Is­abelle Cos­sette, Direc­tor at the Cen­tre for In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Re­search in Mu­sic, Me­dia, and Tech­nol­ogy, trum­pet pro­fes­sor Rus­sell De­vuyst, and Renée Yoxon, a jazz vo­cal­ist. To start the dis­cus­sion, each of the pan­elists in­tro­duced them­selves.

“I’m orig­i­nally from Ot­tawa, and I’m a vi­o­lin­ist,” said Bruno. “I’ll fo­cus on the an­gle of in­jury: I’ve had an in­jury twice be­fore. The first time, I was still young so I brushed over it quite quickly. The sec­ond time was quite trau­matic. The sec­ond time I had to take a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time off, maybe three to four months off, which felt like an eter­nity.”

“I had to can­cel many con­certs and I had to tell peo­ple that I was in­jured and then the word got out and peo­ple knew and that was re­ally scary be­cause as soon as one per­son knew, then more peo­ple knew,” she con­tin­ued.

Speak­ing about her re­cov­ery process, Bruno ex­plained that she was un­cer­tain how to move for­ward be­cause she “re­ceived a lot of in­for­ma­tion from many dif­fer­ent peo­ple.”

“It took a long time for me to find my route to re­cov­ery,” she said, “which ended up be­ing one-on-one ses­sions with a Hatha yoga in­struc­tor, and acu- punc­ture af­ter do­ing chi­ro­pract­ing, and lots of run­ning and swim­ming and lots of dif­fer­ent things.”

An­other pan­elist, Is­abelle Cos­sette, the direc­tor of the Cen­tre for In­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Re­search in Mu­sic Me­dia and Tech­nol­ogy (CIRMMT), was trained as a flute player and got her doc­tor­ate in mu­sic per­for­mance, but de­cided ul­ti­mately to turn to a ca­reer in re­search, fo­cus­ing on the res­pi­ra­tory me­chan­ics of mu­si­cians. Through­out the dis­cus­sion, she spoke about the im­por­tance of ac­cept­ing and em­brac­ing change.

“I’m not here to nec­es­sar­ily dis­cuss a spe­cific in­jury that I had while I was per­form­ing,” Cos­sette said. “I can make a lot of par­al­lels; I had to go through de­pres­sions and that is very sim­i­lar to some­one who gets in­jured and can’t play. You find ways to re­cover. Changes, in fact, can be seen as ex­cit­ing.”

De­vuyst, who played for the Mon­treal Sym­phony for twenty-four years, fo­cused on in­jury in terms of the ef­fects it can have not only on a mu­si­cian’s ca­reer, but also on their self-con­fi­dence.

“In re­la­tion to per­for­mance in­juries, I’ve been in­jured three times ac­tu­ally,” he ex­plained. “I never thought that I would, you know, you don’t think of be­ing in­jured when you’re eigh­teen years, you think you’re in­fal­li­ble […] you just go crazy, and you just play.”

The first in­jury De­vuyst ex­pe­ri­enced was par­tial fa­cial paral­y­sis caused by Ram­say Hunt Syn­drome.

“I couldn’t play,” he said. “It was like go­ing to the den­tist and get­ting novo­caine and then try­ing to play. That’s the way I felt for a cou­ple of months.”

“Com­ing back from that was a very ar­du­ous thing,” he elab­o­rated, “be­cause I had two kids, three and five years old, so I just fig­ured okay, my life’s over. What am I go­ing to do now?”

Out­lin­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of re­cov­ery, and his men­tal health dur­ing this time, De­vuyst ex­plained how he used new hobbies as a cop­ing mech­a­nism.

“In­stead of get­ting all wor­ried, I just started wood­work­ing,” he said. “I got this book on how to make toys […] I made them for my kids and I said, ‘Hey, this is kind of fun.’ It took my mind of it.”

De­vuyst also spoke about his sec­ond ac­ci­dent. “The sec­ond ac­ci­dent I had, I was rid­ing my bike and [...] I was car­ry­ing a bag from the su­per­mar­ket and the bag got caught in the front wheel and I went over the front han­dle­bars. Even though I had a hel­met on, it didn’t help be­cause I smashed my teeth.”

“I did ev­ery­thing that a trum­pet player’s not sup­posed to do and broke my front teeth,” he con­tin­ued. “My teeth were bro­ken, my lips were bleed­ing like crazy, I was look­ing at the ce­ment and I saw chips of my teeth, so I took my teeth, put them in my pocket, and I went to the den­tist and said, ‘glue them back,’ and they’re still there ac­tu­ally.”

De­vuyst stressed the im­por­tance of ac­cept­ing an in­jury and pac­ing your re­cov­ery. “The dif­fi­culty in com­ing back af­ter an in­jury is that your brain knows where you used to be, but your body doesn’t re­spond to that, so you can re­ally hurt your­self if you try to get your­self back into the level [mu­si­cally] that you were. You have to ac­cept where you are and just start from there and don’t ex­pect any­thing”

Yoxon was the last pan­elist to in­tro­duce them­selves. “I’m a jazz vo­cal­ist. I’m study­ing cur­rently in the un­der­grad­u­ate pro­gram here at Mcgill and I have chronic pain. I’ve been deal­ing with chronic pain for about ten years; I’m al­most thirty now and I started ex­pe­ri­enc­ing chronic pain symp­toms when I was in my late teens and then I started iden­ti­fy­ing as some­one with chronic pain when I was like twenty, twenty-one years old. […] For me, my pain thresh­old is much, much lower, so I’m just in pain all the time, even when there’s no in­jury.”

Yoxon con­tin­ued, “Your pain sys­tem is there to pre­vent in­jury, so you feel pain be­fore you be­come in­jured, which is why you [are] sup­posed to stop play­ing [then]. How­ever, in my case, I’m feel­ing pain all the time and I ac­tu­ally have to play through it a lit­tle bit. I would just be stop­ping all the time if I didn’t. So what I’m [...] deal­ing with is how to adapt singing for me, even though I’m go­ing to be in­jured for­ever.”

In an in­ter­view with The Daily, Yoxon stressed the im­por­tance of mak­ing mu­sic ac­ces­si­ble to those with dis­abil­i­ties, by “[list­ing] what ac­ces­si­bil­ity fea­tures are on their event in­for­ma­tion.”

They also high­lighted the ben­e­fits of live broad­cast­ing. “I think live broad­cast­ing can not only bring shows to dis­abled peo­ple, […] live broad­cast­ings brings shows to peo­ple who have lower in­comes, peo­ple who need child­care. Lots of peo­ple don’t have the priv­i­lege of go­ing out.”

Noémie Che­mali, an at­tendee and mu­sic stu­dent at Mcgill, has ex­pe­ri­enced both the phys­i­cal and men­tal stress that the pan­elists dis­cussed. “When I first came to Mcgill, I was a vi­o­lin stu­dent and there was def­i­nitely a huge leap of ex­pec­ta­tions from what I was used to. I come from a small town in the U.S. and com­ing here, it’s a big­ger city. I felt like a very small fish in a big pond ba­si­cally.”

“I’m glad we have more di­a­logue go­ing on about mu­si­cian’s health, def­i­nitely to help peo­ple from strug­gling, the way I did, es­pe­cially my first two years when I didn’t have the courage to stand up and say I’m in pain, I’m not go­ing to play to­day,” Che­mali added.

The rest of the dis­cus­sion fo­cused mainly on meth­ods of cop­ing with the phys­i­cal and emo­tional stresses of mu­si­cian­ship. The pan­elists all stressed fo­cus­ing on one’s own progress as op­posed to com­pe­ti­tion.

Yoxon said, “I feel like in or­der to suc­ceed at Mcgill, you need to be like an ath­lete, and we are, we’re ath­letes, but I think that there’s some­thing to be gained by learn­ing mu­sic and not ap­proach­ing it from the point of ath­leti­cism.”

Later in the dis­cus­sion, they stated, “We do have a lot of peo­ple who are play­ing from a place of fear. […] It helps your men­tal health to not worry about what other peo­ple are think­ing.”

De­vuyst, sim­i­larly, ex­pressed the im­por­tance of prac­tic­ing to im­prove, not to avoid mak­ing mis­takes. He also stressed the im­por­tance of “know­ing your body, know­ing what you can do with your body, how far you can go.”

Madi­son Duen­kler | Pho­tog­ra­pher

The pan­elists.

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