By Timothy Myers, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
In our symphonic world, we often hear that a large percentage of orchestral musicians have suffered or will suffer from a playing-related injury that impacts or threatens their careers. Many colleagues in our industry have suffered tendonitis, nerve damage, frozen shoulder, TMJ syndrome, hearing loss, or focal dystonia (among other conditions). Many of us also suffer from the sense that something is not quite right with how we feel when we play. We might have the sense that something is holding us back from achieving full artistic expression. Is there some information that we are lacking?
My own training in the 1970s and 1980s included nothing about human anatomy or the healthy use of the body. Conservatories and music schools have only in recent decades begun to address this—music schools are far behind our counterparts in the dance world. According to Dr. Lynnette Khoo-Summers, Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Washington University in St. Louis, and a former dancer herself, “Most, if not all, dance programs (BFA and BA) require dance majors to take anatomy, kinesiology and physiology. And a lot of them also have some component of injury prevention.” Since we use our bodies every bit as much as dancers do to create our art, why is the need to learn basic facts about our bodies not addressed in our training?
I was fortunate to study for a brief time with Arnold Jacobs, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra tubist who had a legendary command of anatomy. From my study with Mr. Jacobs, I developed a curiosity about the body, but I didn’t know how to approach learning about this topic. What if there were something that could help us prevent injuries and help us use our bodies to better realize our vivid artistic intentions? After much searching, I discovered that Body Mapping was the approach I had been looking for.
What is Body Mapping? The term body map is synonymous with internal representation or neuronal self-representation. For instance, if my body map tells me, consciously or not, that my lungs are behind my navel, I will emphasize movement in my abdomen. The concept of the “body map” was an insight of William Conable, Emeritus Professor of Cello at The Ohio State University. He saw that a musician’s own internal representation of his body, or “body map”, governed how that musician moved. He noticed that if the musician’s body map was accurate, their movement was fluid and pain-free; if their body map was inaccurate, their movement was inefficient and injury-prone. Concurrently, neurophysiologists made the same discoveries about the existence and primacy of the body map in movement.
The course “What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body” was developed by Barbara Conable, a distinguished teacher of the Alexander Method. Mrs. Conable, along with some of her first Body Mapping students, organized the Association of Body Mapping Educators (ABME) to train musicians to teach “What Every Musician Needs to Know…” to other musicians.
Teachers of Body Mapping aim to train musicians in three areas: attention, senses, and movement. We teach inclusive attention, or attention (or awareness or mindfulness) that includes both introspective and extrospective attention.
Introspective attention means attending to the whole self. Where do I feel tense or free? What hurts or doesn’t hurt? Extrospective attention includes everything outside of yourself. Who is with me on the stage? Who is in the audience? What is in my environment?
We also train the senses, especially kinesthesia, the sense of movement, and proprioception, the sense of position. Finally, we train movement. We emphasize that musicians need to move in a way that accounts for how our bodies really are. Body Mapping addresses incorrect body maps with skeletal models, images, and self-inquiry. Freer movement can lead to greater artistic freedom. As Amy Likar, flutist in the Oakland Symphony and Director of Training for ABME, says, “bodies love to organize around a musical intention.”
Musicians move for a living. Body Mapping offers musicians a path to fewer injuries and a freer use of the body for music-making. For more information, please check out the ABME website at www.bodymap.org.