Monthly Archives: January 2012

Classical Musicians & Alternative Therapy

Performing classical music is exciting, stressful and full of enormous highs and lows. Other professions are more stressful, e.g. fire fighting, soldiering or the mountain rescue service but, nevertheless, classical musicians do suffer from real anxiety and physical strain.

Anyone who has performed before 2,000 people knows about sweating palms, butterflies in the stomach, loss of appetite, and other symptoms of fight-or-flight, adrenaline-flushed, anxiety. Anyone who has practised eight hours a day for months or years on end, knows about the pressure that places on the human body.

Stage fright or performance anxiety is the anxiety, fear, or persistent phobia which may be aroused in an individual by the requirement to perform in front of an audience… Source

To stay emotionally and physically fit, many classical musicians use special techniques to help resolve the anxiety and mitigate the bodily stresses and strains. One of the roles of a good teacher is to recommend, and then monitor, such techniques. A violinist with repetitive strain injury is in a potentially career-destroying state. A pianist whose hands sweat so much during a concert that his fingers slip on the keys may not win that piano competition, or receive good reviews from the critics.

What can be done to solve or mitigate these problems? The key is a good teacher. One of their roles is to keep their students mentally and physically fit. They may recommend relaxation techniques, e.g. yoga, massage, aromatherapy, or certain mental “tricks” to deal with stage fright. They will look at posture to ensure that strain placed on the body by prolonged practise is not damaging. They’ll keep a look out for conditions which require the attention of a medical practitioner.

Quite often, stage fright arises in a mere anticipation of a performance, often a long time ahead. It has numerous manifestations: fluttering or pounding heart, tremor in the hands and legs, sweaty hands, diarrhoea, facial nerve tics, dry mouth, erectile dysfunction. Source

I sell IMSLP merchandise in central London and also supply aromatherapy oils: the widest range of essential oils in central London. A procession of musicians from the London orchestras, ensembles and music colleges arrive to buy the oils and other preparations designed to aid the combat of stress.

They drip the oils on a handkerchief, to be inhaled before or during a concert. They use them in massage – diluted with a carrier – to relieve muscles aching from prolonged practise. They add them to a bath or drip them on their pillow to aid sleep, before or after a concert. Various types of lavender and chamomile are the most popular, but jasmine, bergamot, clary sage, geranium, orange and sandalwood are also effective.

Other calming, stress relieving and relaxing oils include: patchouli, neroli, ylang ylang, angelica, cedar, cistus (rock rose), citronella, cypress, mandarin, may chang and melissa.

… “fight or flight” syndrome, a naturally occurring process in the body done to protect itself from harm. “…The neck muscles contract, bringing the head down and shoulders up, while the back muscles draw the spine into a concave curve. This, in turn, pushes the pelvis forward and pulls the genitals up, slumping the body into a classic fetal position” Source

Nothing should replace a medical practitioner, qualified in Western medicine, when a musician is physically or mentally unwell. But there are limits to what Western drugs can achieve, and controversy surrounds the use of beta-blockers by classical musicians suffering from stage fright. Some doctors will not prescribe them. Some people view them as having the same status as performance enhancing drugs consumed by corrupt athletes. They can have nasty side effects. Classical music audiences may not be too keen listening to drugged musicians. The Royal Albert Hall is not Glastonbury!

So there is a role within classical music for essential oils, massage, yoga, reiki, the Alexander Technique and other complementary therapies. The tradition goes back deep into human history. The Romans drank a Lavender infusion to help them sleep and introduced the plant to Southern Britain.

Pupils will dilate giving someone the inability to view any notes they have in close proximity, however, long range vision is improved making the speaker more aware of their audience’s facial expressions and non verbal cues in response to the speaker’s performance. Source