Health & Wellness

Yoga and Flute Playing. By Cynthia Ellis

Posted by on Mar 1, 2015 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle, March 2015 | 0 comments

Yoga and Flute Playing.  By Cynthia Ellis

Namaste: A Hindi word used as a greeting and a goodbye: It means I honor the light in you, I honor the light in myself. It is spoken with palms pressed together. It is part of the centuries old tradition of a yoga practice. Playing any instrument is a physical, emotional, and logical endeavor. We use our body, our imagination, and our brain at all times for optimum performance. We always schedule consistent time for practice and study of our instrument but sometimes in a busy life, scheduling time for physical activity takes a back seat on the ‘to do’ list. I have found that by making physical activity a big priority and working consistently in a yoga practice, my flute playing has reaped many benefits, often in unexpected ways.   What is yoga?  It can be defined as “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.” There are many different styles of yoga, (over 14) from Bikram yoga (or hot yoga, practiced in a room close to 105 degrees and 40% humidity) to restorative yoga, which focus more on stretching and relaxation, and power yoga, which is more athletic and demanding. You will be able to experiment with different styles once you try out the discipline, and it really helps to know which kind of class you will be taking before you go. Now, some of you out there are more of the solitary exercise types who use videos: nothing wrong with that! However, you will miss out on the experience of community in a face-to-face class, bonding with other students and having a knowledgeable instructor there to answer questions and help you with correct alignment in poses, or asanas. If you go to a gym or yoga studio, ask which kind of class you will be taking, what kind of equipment you should bring (your own yoga mat and a towel are usually all it takes) and if this class is appropriate for you as a new student. If you decide to try hot yoga, please make sure to hydrate REALLY well before you go! There are also classes which combine styles of yoga or have target audiences (maternity yoga) for example so it helps to look at the specific kind of class you will be taking. Physical Benefits Flute playing is asymmetrical by it’s very nature: since we hold the instrument across our bodies from left to right, we are shortening muscles on the right side, and lengthening them on the left side. This natural imbalance from holding the flute hours each day over the years can be helped with many gentle stretches of the arms, upper back, neck, and torso. Sitting for long periods of time in orchestra rehearsals or when teaching tightens the hips, legs, and back: the stretching in yoga can reverse all this tension by working out the entire lower body. Restorative yoga classes will concentrate on asanas that will work to lengthen muscles and destroy tension. I take this kind of class once a week and I can notice the difference if I need to miss a week…my body LOVES to stretch and relax. Emotional Benefits It is HARD to...

read more

Performing Yoga Throughout Your Recital. By Jonathan Huffman

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle, November 2014 | 0 comments

Performing Yoga Throughout Your Recital.  By Jonathan Huffman

"Don't shun your performance anxiety ---harness it and become its best friend. After years of struggling with anxiety myself, yoga has helped me understand that sometimes you need to be uncomfortable as an artist."– Amanda Taylor, yoga instructor “Yoga is an effective strategy for managing performance nerves, especially when guided by someone as qualified and sensitive to the multi-layered issues of musicians’ anxiety as is Amanda Taylor. Some musicians learn to control their jitters through one modality such as yoga, while others require multiple practices such as positive self-talk, mental visualization and self-compassion. As Amanda emphasizes: when a program of poses and/or skills is developed based on *the individual,* success is more apt to be achieved." – Helen Spielman, performance anxiety coach “I wish that, long ago, I had learned yoga from someone as tuned in to her students as Amanda Taylor, when I was struggling with my own performance anxiety.”- Helen Spielman “Yoga helps me immensely with stress and anxiety. Practicing yoga helps me concentrate on specific physical and mental aspects while performing. I guide my body through poses just like I guide it through performances. For every pose or section, I have to concentrate on different things such as balance, breath, or ease.”- Meera Gudipati, Winner of the 2013 National Flute Association Orchestral Audition Masterclass Performing Yoga Throughout Your Recital: Therapeutic Effects of Yoga with Amanda Taylor At the 2014 Wildacres Flute Retreat in North Carolina I had the pleasure of sitting with Amanda Taylor, flutist/yoga instructor, to discuss her history with performance anxiety. Inspired by her personal anxiety struggles and the physical challenges brought on by a car accident, Taylor examined her options and ultimately developed accessible, cross-disciplinary techniques beneficial to anyone, but specifically crafted for musicians. Among her specialties: to instill posture, breath support, optimum relaxation, and increase confidence. Background Amanda Taylor always assumed music would be part of her life. After all, she was highly involved in her formative years, playing flute in various ensembles and taking part in camps and competitions. As expected, she decided to pursue music as a career, first receiving an undergraduate degree from University of Louisville and then a Masters in Music from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Mid academic career, Taylor noticed a significant change in her perceptions about performance and her ability to execute what she had come to expect from herself. Most notably, Taylor experienced distress over performing her master's recital. Fearful of losing the time invested in her future and not knowing where to start, she turned to the medical profession for a solution. Her physician prescribed beta-blockers that restrict the binding of norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) and therefore weaken the effects of stress hormones. While the medication aided in the reduction of Taylor's physical symptoms it did not address her cognitive worries; "am I prepared, will the audience judge me, what happens if I fail?" To compound matters, during her doctoral studies, Taylor was involved in a terrible car accident. Prior to the accident, she lived an active lifestyle and enjoyed the physical aspect of working out, especially running. After the accident, Taylor was limited in her range of motion and forced to find an alternative workout routine. After much experimentation, Taylor discovered the benefits of yoga, which provided her with physical stimulation and challenged her...

read more

Piccolo Strong: Fitness for Piccoloists. by Nan Raphael and Angela McCuiston

Posted by on Oct 4, 2014 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle, October 2014 | 0 comments

Piccolo Strong: Fitness for Piccoloists.  by Nan Raphael and Angela McCuiston

One would think that playing such a tiny instrument would be a piece of cake. After all, it barely weighs a pound and is only 12 inches long. Over the course of my career I have encountered piccoloists who have struggled with injuries severe enough to cause them to stop playing for an extended period of time to undergo rehab. Some of these injuries include tennis elbow, neck and shoulder issues. The stress of holding the instrument for extended periods of time is enough to cause fatigue of certain muscles, tightness, soreness and sometimes overuse injuries. Learning how to play with less tension, good posture and alignment as well as being physically fit can go a long way to preventing many of these injuries. Alexander and Feldenkries are two excellent ways to become more aware of how we use our bodies and learn to use them in the most efficient way possible. Another possibility is to work with a personal trainer who is a specialist in dealing with musicians’ physical issues. A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Angela McCuiston, at the Florida Flute convention and NFA conventions. Angela is a professional flutist and owner of Music Strong, a business the specializes in personal fitness training for musicians  She is currently based in Nashville, TN and teaches flute and piccolo in the area and on Skype. Angela is Assistant Principal/Piccolo of Sinfonia Gulf Coast of Destin, a member of the 129th Army Band in Nashville, TN and recently completed her final season as Principal Flute/Piccolo with the Panama City Pops Orchestra in Panama City, Florida.  A Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Angela has studied Alexander Technique, Barbara Conable’s “What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body” Body Mapping Class and Eva Amsler’s classes in Dynamic Integration. As a trainer, Angela actively trains at Next Level Strength and Conditioning in Nashville, TN. Besides personal strength training with clients, Angela also teaches classes in mobility and group training. She has taken her workshops to flute festivals and universities nationwide. What lead you to become a personal trainer for musicians? I have always been interested in fitness, ever since I was a child. My grandfather was a Colonel in the Army National Guard and one of the fittest people I know and my Uncle was a USA Cycling Teach Coach and Massage Therapist so an interest in health and fitness runs in my family.  I started working out in the gym in college and after graduate school I decided to challenge myself by entering a figure competition, which is basically a beauty competition rewarding muscular aesthetics. Unfortunately, I fell subject to myths and dogma and my health suffered for it so I decided to immerse myself into learning everything I possibly could about health and fitness. I was playing in the symphony and taking auditions while working a part time job at The Vitamin Shoppe and had so many people asking me for fitness advice I figured I should just go ahead and get a certification in personal training and see if I liked it. While practicing for an audition and trying to fight off injury one day it just occurred to me that I had never heard a presentation on...

read more

Overcoming Focal Dystonia: by Mark Dannenbring

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, July 2014, Lifestyle | 0 comments

Overcoming Focal Dystonia: by Mark Dannenbring

It is been practically three years since Mary O’Brien asked me to write an article on living with focal dystonia.  I had written a short one back at the end of the nineties discussing a possible cure for focal dystonia.   (Hands On, Issue #4)  I had made much progress at that time but had little idea how much more lay ahead of me.  It really has not been till this present school year, 2006-07, that I could finally see the end of the tunnel, the end to a long process of recovery.  From the onset of my first problems, 1989, it has taken nearly 17 years to overcome this malady, but I still consider myself very fortunate.  Most never overcome focal dystonia.   The best advice I can give is never give up if you really want to continue to play flute or whatever instrument you happen to play.  Even when you cannot control the fingers continue to play what you can.  I was told by one of Moyse’s pupils that Moyse continued to play flute, even if just one note up until the end of his life.  I would also encourage all sufferers to keep an open mind during their struggles.  I believe there is always a way around problems.  Life continues no matter how bad things seem to be, and one can always learn from good and bad experiences.  It does little good to beat oneself up or put blame anyplace on something that has already taken place.  I think an appropriate question is to ask where do I go from here?  But before I continue with any more advice or give possible solutions I will backtrack and provide a short history of my own problem.   I first noticed a problem with the coordination of my right, middle finger while working on a doctorate at the University of Iowa.  The finger could not lift off the key properly but rather pushed downwards when I desired an upward motion.  It happened quite suddenly, and Betty Mather, flute professor at Iowa, actually thought it sprung from a number of possibilities.  I had been given two years by my employer, Tunghai University, Taiwan to complete a doctorate and return to my job.  I had done much of a Ph.D. at a previous school.  Nevertheless, it was a demanding schedule, playing upwards to 4 or 5 hours each day while also doing a great deal of research towards my dissertation.  I had recently also acquired a baroque flute and was playing a great deal of contemporary music which required sliding of the fingers for various effects.  In addition my wife had just bore our first child.  I am not a tense player, but four or five hours of practice with little time for sleep because of dissertation deadlines was probably not the best situation for interest of health.   I decided that I could continue to play flute by making slight adjustments, using my middle finger for all F#s and adjusting the intonation with my lips.  I even continued to play forked fingers on the baroque flute if somewhat awkwardly.  I did begin to see various top hand-specialists starting with the University of Iowa medical staff, but to no avail.  The hand appeared normal except in playing the flute.  It...

read more

A Flutist’s Journey Through Healing. By Sherry Finzer

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in April 2014, Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle | 2 comments

A Flutist’s Journey Through Healing.  By Sherry Finzer

My journey as a flutist has taken me to places I never imagined. When I first started playing in elementary school, I wanted to play the flute because it was shiny, and small compared to the other instruments, which meant it would be easy to carry. I never realized at the time just what an effect my playing could have on others in the future. As a classically trained flutist, I’ve always enjoyed attending flute concerts and master classes, absorbing as much as I can and trying new techniques. I have taken lessons from, and performed for, a large number of professional flutists over the decades, gaining valuable insight from every one of them. With classical music, each composer and each piece have a certain style and many possible interpretations.  You can debate the interpretation of a piece (how do you think the composer would have wanted this note to be played?), but I eventually realized that while you can spend your whole life trying to perfect your playing, for me, it is all about the connection I make with people. Everyday, ordinary people who thank me and who tell me that my music has touched their souls, helped them get through a bad day, made a change for an autistic child, helped them focus on a task at hand, calmed them…the list goes on and on. I had only a classical music background when I moved from Rochester, NY to Phoenix, AZ eight years ago. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in Phoenix. Although I quickly made friends with members from the AZ Flute Society, and found a place to teach at a small music studio near my house, trying to find an orchestra to play in as the new kid on the block was challenging. I met a guitarist and composer named Ric Flauding at the music studio. He writes a variety of styles of music including jazz, new age, and Celtic. I loved his compositions and style of playing, and decided to record and perform some of his music. This was my first attempt at branching out from my classical training. From there, I went on to play with a flamenco guitarist, where I was forced to learn to improvise! Can you imagine? Playing something that is not written out and printed on paper??? Let me tell you – that is one of the best things I ever did for myself, and I encourage you to try it as well! Then I moved on to playing Latin jazz and pop cover tunes with an electric harpist, and booked some gigs with jazz guitarists. Yep, MORE improv! I moved WAY out of my comfort zone and into a new place where I not only play by ear, but most importantly from the heart! Two summers ago my friend Jane, invited me up to Alaska for the annual Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. She had been inviting me for years and for some reason I took her up on her offer this time. A well-known music therapist named Dr. Deforia Lane happened to be teaching some classes at the festival that summer. I signed up, not realizing how much of an impact her class would have on me. It had been arranged for participants to go out in...

read more

My Success Story with Focal Dystonia. By Andrea Brachfeld

Posted by on Mar 1, 2014 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle, March 2014 | 1 comment

My Success Story with Focal Dystonia.  By Andrea Brachfeld

It’s always hard to tell this story from the beginning because no one ever imagines that you will actually get Focal Dystonia so we ignore the beginning of the condition as minor and insignificant.  Then we might wake up one day and find that there is a small uncomfortable feeling in our fingers, but we dismiss it and just keep practicing. Then another day we might wake up and find our fingers are not moving right when we are playing our instruments. Again we will dismiss this as we think that we can overcome such small annoyances. But the day that we wake up and find that our fingers are locked and it does not go away is the day that we have to notice that there is something wrong. That is what happened to me. In the beginning it was minor and as I am a type A personality, I dismissed it thinking I just needed to relax and maybe sleep a bit more; maybe I just needed to practice a bit more. In any case, it didn’t go away and when it became impossible for me to play at all, I realized that I had to take this condition seriously. I started to do some research on the internet to see what I could possibly have. The fingers on my right hand , when I placed them on my flute, just stayed there. They would not move. They were stuck. The fingers on my left hand would not stay on the keys. After a significant amount of research, it became clear to me that I had the condition called Focal Dystonia. At that point I started to backtrack trying to come up with why this was happening. The research says that what could trigger this is an accident, an injury, or some kind of shock to the system. So I came up with two things.  At the time the symptoms started my boyfriend, who, at the time, had dropped me like a hot potato.  It came as a total shock to me and devastated me.  If I hadn’t been so in love with him, I would have seen the signs, but I was, so I didn’t.  The other thing that happened was that Hubert Laws invited me to play with him at the Cape May Jazz Festival.  I remember practicing like a fiend so I could sound good.  So I practiced for hours which also, so I thought, was healing my broken heart. Well, the concert came off okay, but I realized that I really needed to pay attention to what was going on with my fingers.  So the next step was to go to see a neurologist who could officially diagnose the condition. I just so happened to choose the most well known neurologist in the field who after a few minutes confirmed the horrible facts; I had Focal Dystonia.   His immediate solution to the problem was to inject Botox into the fingers to make the muscles stop spasming. The injections would have cost $500-1000 a pop so that was clearly out of the question. What happened next was that I sought out a number of alternative healing therapies from acupuncture to massage to the Feldenkrais technique. Nothing worked and it was getting more and more...

read more

When Less is More. By Jennifer Borkowski

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Articles, December 2013, Education, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle | 1 comment

When Less is More.  By Jennifer Borkowski

When I first began studying music with extended techniques, what struck me was their sheer physicality. It seemed even more senseless than usual to use the same amount of repetition that I was using when practicing traditional repertoire. It simply wasn’t possible, yet I was able to learn the repertoire just as well. Long story short, this led me to a second career where I do research in performance science. To begin, I started looking at practice in other fields. Sports science and exercise physiology are better funded than research in music is and offer decades worth of solid methods which musicians can learn from. What does music have in common with sports? We practice. We perfect motor skills. We are trying to be our best in a specific moment. We need to be at our best when it counts. Unlike most sports, we convey emotion and to complicate matters, that emotion sometimes runs counter to what we are actually feeling. For example, while expressing joy from a particular phrase, we can also feel anxiety about the performance. We’re realizing the demands of a composer’s imagination on one hand yet trying to make the piece personal on the other. We’re athletes, yet we are athletes of the small muscles and those muscles need very little adrenalin in order to maintain control. When researchers study theories of practice in a lab, they are not so interested in how well the person performs in practice. What is interesting is how a person performs under pressure. Many times, the quality of performance in practice does not translate in a test situation. That’s the „I did it better at home“ feeling we all know. This has to do with learning retention, stress management and something called contextual interference. That is, essentially, stuff that messes us up. For example: warming up in a very live room than auditioning in a dry one, walking into a lesson excited to play and then finding a teacher in a sour mood or hearing a bored disembodied voice from behind the screen in a blind audition. However, the big thing in this group is having too much adrenalin and trying your hardest to ignore symptoms of performance anxiety.   How do you come to a performance fully prepared to express emotion, maintain control and seize the moment with your best playing? Athletes taper[1] their practice schedules in the weeks leading up to an important competition. I think this idea is foreign to most musicians. Most musicians tend to work as hard as possible leading up to a performance and take it easy afterwards. Athletes do the opposite. Tapering before a performance means doing less practice yet retaining practice intensity. Practicing less time is easy to define. Defining intensity is a bit trickier. A runner would run fewer hours in a day, but at race speed. For a musician, tapering would mean to practice fewer hours in the days and weeks leading to an important performance. This allows you to relax and let go. This allows muscles to relax. This allows you to develop coping strategies for contextual interference. This allows you to assess the realities of your performance abilities and find creative ways around difficulties. Maybe that’s the part that’s hard. We want it to be perfect so...

read more

Yoga for Flutists: by Fluterscooter

Posted by on Sep 3, 2013 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, Lifestyle, September 2013 | 3 comments

Yoga for Flutists: by Fluterscooter

Recently I had the opportunity to meet and work with New York City based flutist turned yogi, Nicole Newman, founder of Yoga for the Arts (http://yogaforthearts.com/).   Injury prevention and health & wellness have been something I have been interested in lately due to my own personal injury issues from flute playing, and there are several other flutists I've met who are incorporating yoga into their teaching practices.   So when I read about the work Nicole did for Carnegie Hall in the past few months, I was more than interested in getting some feedback from her not only to help myself but also to help many of you! Nicole created Yoga for the Arts in 2010 as a combination of her 3 passions:  Music, Education, and Yoga.   She developed scoliosis from flute playing while only in high school and had to stop playing.  However, just stopping wasn't good enough for her; she wanted to figure out the root of the problem, educate herself, and be able to play without pain again.  After studying yoga intensely with her mentor, Eddie Stern, studying anatomy, and even going on a 3 month yoga retreat in India last year, Nicole can now play without pain, and her scoliosis is gone! I wasn't really sure what we would do before going into our session.  She told me to bring my flute and current music I'm working on, so I brought Ian Clarke's Zoom Tube, as it poses quite the musical and physical challenge!  We started talking about my injuries (my right forearm "freezes" after too much playing, and my upper left shoulder blade area is often in pain).  I first started playing the Bach Partita, a piece I play often and totally comfortable with, while Nicole examined my body:  posture, breathing, arm placement, fingers, feet.  Then I played the Clarke, and Nicole noticed many different things about my body as I was playing this piece.  I was very tense from my neck to my fingers, and moved around a bit too much.  Even though it is a pretty athletic piece, there is no need to learn it with excessive movement.  My breathing was also very different than in the Bach.  Like Carol Wincenc, Nicole is an advocate of breathing through the nose, as it is something she studied in yoga (vinyasa meaning "to place in a special way." In application to yoga postures, we can interpret it to mean that we place the breath in a special way. Every movement is synchronized with an inhale or an exhale. The way Nicole works with individuals is that she tailors specific exercises to her clients' needs.  I will share the exercises she taught me and how to do them.  Nicole also asked me how long I practice and what I do between practice breaks.  I usually practice a half and hour at a time, and on breaks, guess what I do?  Log onto facebook!  Well, that's probably the worst thing you can do, as leaning over a computer screen and typing (often on an unsupportive chair) will only aggravate the injury more.  Instead of doing something that could cause more discomfort, do exercises that will work and soothe the muscles so when you practice more, you can feel some relief.  These exercises only need to be done...

read more

Happy, Healthy Hands: by Beverly Hawkins

Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Health & Wellness, Issues, July 2013, Lifestyle | 1 comment

Happy, Healthy Hands: by Beverly Hawkins

Technology, laptops and handheld devices have changed the demands on everyone’s hands.  Add being a flutist and you can quickly experience some discomfort.  Relax! There is a lot you can do to navigate non-flute related tasks by having your arms, hands, shoulders and neck, work smarter, not harder! Simply put, computers and hand activated devices, such as cell phones and i-pads, increase the risk of developing repetitive strain injuries.   While it is great to be able to keep in touch with colleagues in a digital age, it is one more thing being asked of you physically. The key to preventing musculoskeletal disorders is to understand potential risk factors. Flutists can be proactive by adopting good ergonomic habits and recognizing symptoms early to allow for conservative management. Some tips to reduce ergonomic stress. •    Whenever using laptops and i-phones, avoid clicking keys with your thumbs.  Chronic clicking on a laptop spacebar with outstretched hands makes right hand playing harder. •    Be careful using laptops in cramped spaces which compromises posture and hand position. •    Take care in how you carry your equipment.  Slinging a heavy bag with laptop and chargers across your shoulder can cause neck tension, which can radiate down your arm.  Use a backpack with dual shoulder support whenever possible or carry equal weight bags in each hand.  Better yet, use a rolling case. Putting these simple ergonomic adjustments into practice can help reduce risk of discomfort while playing the flute.  Other things you can do to prevent fatigue includes: •    Stretching often. •    Pay attention to your posture when not playing flute. •    Take frequent breaks when working at the computer and change your position often. •    Keep your wrists neutral when typing, elbows open and shoulders relaxed. •    Use proper finger positioning for typing & mousing techniques. Use stronger fingers (modified hunt and peck) rather than stretching the fingers to reach for keys. •    Opt for dictation software, such as Apple’s Siri or Dragon Software’s Naturally Speaking. •    Use two hands for 2-key functions. •    Let movement come from larger shoulder muscles and that includes when playing flute. The following exercises will help you stay flexible and keep you pain-free. •    Stretch the thumb by gently pulling it back. Hold for 20 seconds. •    Perform basic forearm stretches. •    Place your hand out in front of you as if you are saying “stop” while pulling your fingers gently back with the other hand. Hold for 20 seconds. Then let gravity drop the wrist down and gently increase the stretch by pulling with the other hand. Hold for 20 seconds. •    Stretch the triceps and biceps stretches. •    Perform shoulder and neck stretches.  Stretch the back. •    Gently interlace the fingers behind the neck and arch your upper back as if you are trying to look up at the ceiling (be careful not to pull the head forward). Hold for 20 seconds. •    Place your hands on your hips and arch the lower back as if you are trying to look up at the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds. •    Perform 15-20 minutes of daily cardio to improve circulation and oxygen flow to the arms and hands for improved conditioning and better healing. •    Exercise your core to improve general posture and...

read more

BETA BLOCKERS: stage fright cure or unfair advantage?

Posted by on Jul 11, 2013 in Articles, Essays, Featured, Health & Wellness, Issues, July 2013, Lifestyle | 0 comments

BETA BLOCKERS:  stage fright cure or unfair advantage?

A hot topic in the sports world is the use of performance enhancing drugs.  From Lance Armstrong most recently, to any number of Olympic athletes and professional baseball players, there is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue.  Why?  Quite simply, steroids give athletes an unfair advantage. Athletes have been fired and their titles stripped because of the use of steroids.  Classical musicians are under the same, if not more, pressure than athletes to succeed and play flawlessly.  While the classical music world is not exposed to the public like the sports world is, we have our own performance enhancing drugs, commonly known amongst musicians as beta blockers. I admit, I’ve used beta blockers in auditions and performances during my conservatory years.  However, I stopped when I realized exactly what I was taking.  Beta blockers (inderal or propranolol) are used as medication mostly for elderly people to prevent heart attacks and treat high blood pressure.  They were not made for musicians in their late teens and early twenties, yet many classical musicians rely on beta blockers to give them an extra competitive edge.   Another reason I stopped using beta blockers was because I felt like I was giving dull, uninspired, and zombie-like performances. We as musicians are in a hyper-competitive business, and we can’t afford to let nerves ruin an audition, especially when there are so very few.  Likewise, in a performance, nerves could ruin a concert which would have normally gone flawlessly.  So, what do we do?   How many competitions or auditions were won by a performer on beta blockers?  Is it unfair to the other performers who chose not to take the drug?  Like athletes, why weren’t their prizes taken away? Of course we know that even the top classical musicians aren’t in the public eye or getting the salaries of our famed athletes, and it is doubtful drug tests will be given to orchestral musicians.  And, it happens to the best of us.  Since I’ve stopped taking beta blockers, I have had nerves during performances, but I’ve tried my best to use other techniques to calm myself on stage.  We all know there are more natural  to help with performance anxiety.  Meditation, natural vitamins, eating bananas, etc…but for some, this doesn’t work and we need something more. So, the question is, are beta blockers giving musicians an unfair edge, and should something be done about it?...

read more