Here are the abstracts for the presentations and workshops from the annual conference held at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music
Movement and muscle activity patterns of the respiratory and orofacial musculature in flute players under varied postural conditions
Producing a sound on the flute requires a skilful coordination by the flautist between three mechanical processes of the body: the movement and control of the embouchure, consisting of the orofacial muscles and lips to control air direction, tone quality and pitch; a sophisticated functioning of the respiratory system to manage air flow and varying pressures; and correct posture to avoid the overuse or incorrect use of muscles.
Examining the flautists’ embouchure and its alignment with the flutes development over three centuries has shown many trends occur within countries, conservatoriums and teaching styles. Pedagogical literature on the flute has made a noticeable shift from treatises relying exclusively on subjective aspects (such as personal taste and preference) for teaching the processes involved for embouchure, breathing and posture. This has progressed due to a greater understanding in the scientific and mechanical knowledge of the instrument and the flautist’s capabilities. Yet still, the information dedicated to the physical aspects underpinning flute performance matters is under-researched and more work needs to be done to investigate claims made concerning aspects of flute playing.
Like an athlete, a musician’s body will perform at its best when the muscles are used that can perform the task most efficiently, particularly where repetition of movements is high and energy is saved by avoiding unnecessary use of muscles or movements. The posture of a musician requires tensing and relaxing of different muscles during different stages of performance – a skill usually taught at the beginning of learning a new instrument, though quite often not considered of primary importance. A basic knowledge of anatomy and physical training when playing an instrument could prevent unnecessary fatigue and physical disorders, by musicians becoming more aware and knowledgeable of their body’s physiology and capabilities (Samama 1981).
Little is known by musicians of the mechanics of breathing during flute playing and this has created difficulty in the pedagogy of flute teaching. Jargonistic expressions such as ‘support the diaphragm’ and ‘breathe with the diaphragm’ have integrated themselves into common teaching terms, without consistent explanation. In a study by Spillane (1989), 90 different descriptions of the term ‘breath support’ were reported. It seems that a lack of knowledge in the mechanics of breathing during wind instrument playing has led to misconceptions, with technical skills such as breathing and ‘support’ being taught by teachers based largely on their personal experience and opinions rather than upon physiological principles.
Playing an instrument does not only use intellectual and emotional energy – it also requires much physical exertion and, like most things, a musician’s body will work best when all aspects necessary for the task (mental, emotional and physical) are at their optimum. It has been suggested in non-scientific papers, that when a musician’s posture is correct, it allows the mechanics of breathing to work in an optimal way. When the breath is not used effectively it may increase the workload of the embouchure, by using the facial muscles to try and adjust the embouchure to compensate for insufficient sound production. This overuse may increase the risk of injury to the orofacial muscles. It can be postulated that each process will affect the other. It is widely acknowledged in music and physiology fields that the way one breathes, their posture and embouchure are all important determinants to the success of a player, yet to my knowledge, no study has yet to examine all of these aspects of performing in relation to how each may affect the other and suggestions about this remain based on non-scientific opinions of the teacher or pedagogue books.
In existing health literature, there is evidence from many authors that posture has an impact on the function of musculoskeletal structures involved in respiration. The relative impact of breathing on embouchure has never been investigated and may have important implications in improving tone production, as well as avoiding muscle overload and subsequent injury. This needs to be taken into consideration in light of the postures adopted for flute and woodwind performance based on the known potential adverse effects that postures, such as slouching, may have on respiratory function and embouchure.
The project that I am undertaking for my Masters will aim to investigate the pattern and amount of muscle activity that occurs in muscles that are integrally involved with sound production in flute players. By taking into account multiple variables and investigating the possible interactions between these important elements of flute performance, this research will break new grounds by attempting to substantiate claims of the interrelationship between breathing, embouchure and posture. This research aims to increase our understanding of the complex muscle activities involved in the face and respiratory muscles for woodwind players, and whether posture has an effect on these variables.
Papers are listed in alphabetical order according to first named author.
Singers and proprioception: A Feldenkrais approach to learning how self-awareness and self-monitoring provide a safe and secure path to further learning
Anna Connolly and Stephen Grant
This paper presents examples of how the development of proprioception, or the kinaesthetic sense, can be an important learning strategy for singers. This presentation will be based on their on-going teaching research with the Feldenkrais Method as it applies to vocal pedagogy. This particular aspect of the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais is perhaps the most central and the least understood part of his legacy. Though improved posture, a freer sound and easier movement are often the results of work with this method, it is the participant’s developing awareness of their own patterns of movement, breathing and overall functioning that contribute to a more deeply embodied learning experience.
About the presenters
Anna Connolly is Head of Voice at VCA Music. Her teaching, at the forefront of vocal pedagogy, is informed by a thorough knowledge of human movement and anatomy. Her students have won every major competition in Australia and perform in the world’s major opera houses.
Stephen Grant is Lecturer in Voice at VCA Music. He is an international performer and teacher, and he gives workshops in the US, Europe and Australia whose focus is the connection between vocal pedagogy and the Feldenkrais Method.
Performance anxiety: A music therapist’s perspective
Rebecca Craner, Claire Weller
Through the pressures of performing and preparing for performance, performing artists can experience occupational related anxiety also known as performance anxiety (PA) or ‘stage fright.’ Anxiety symptoms can include those of a physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional nature. Current treatments of PA include cognitive therapy, behaviour therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, pharmaceutical and lesser known treatments of hypnotherapy, meditation, Alexander Technique and music therapy. Although music therapy treatments are lesser known, they have been found to be valuable and worthy of further attention. Music Therapy is an allied health profession practised throughout Australia and in more than 40 countries around the world. It is the planned and creative use of music to attain and maintain health and well-being. Music Therapy can address physical, psychological, emotional, cognitive and social needs. It allows an individual’s abilities to be strengthened and new skills to be transferred to other areas of a person’s life.
This presentation aims to present information on PA and relevant research and practice in the area. Directed towards performing artists and educators, this presentation also aims to introduce and provide information on music therapy methods.
Through a brief review of the literature, this presentation describes and critiques both music therapy and non-music therapy treatments. It will also present a proposed program that is practical, creative and accessible to performers and their educators.
Music therapy is a practical, creative and accessible form of treatment for those who experience performance anxiety. Examples of such techniques described will be implemented with conference attendees, followed by an open discussion.
About the presenters
Rebecca Craner is a qualified musician and registered music therapist. She completed a Bachelor of Music (clarinet) in 2003 and performs regularly throughout Australia and New Zealand with local gypsy band “Doch” and other classical and contemporary groups. Rebecca completed a Masters of Music Therapy in 2008 and currently works with children and adolescents with special needs at various schools and privately across Brisbane.
Claire Weller is a registered music therapist based in Brisbane. Since completing a Bachelor of Music (flute) in 2005, Claire has completed Masters of Music Therapy at University of Queensland. She is currently working as a music therapist at Belmont Private Hospital in adult psychiatry and early intervention private practice. She continues to teach flute in her private studio.
Velopharyngeal Insufficiency in wind instrumentalists: A questionnaire study
Alison Evans, Tim Driscoll, and Bronwen Ackermann
Velopharyngeal Insufficiency (VPI) occurs when the soft palate fails to close the oronasal cavity, which results in air escaping through the nose when aiming to blow only through the mouth. This is due to the increase of pharyngeal pressures when playing a wind instrument. VPI is usually seen in advanced student musicians aspiring for a professional career. It is commonly associated with a dramatic increase of practice time, which results in undue stress to the soft palate muscles.
This study will ascertain the prevalence of VPI in Australian wind and brass instrumentalists through an online questionnaire.
Three questionnaire studies have been conducted in London, Germany and the U.S. The authors reported respectively the following prevalence rates of 7%, 31% and 34% of student and professional wind musicians have experienced VPI. Due to the small sample sizes, these figures do not accurately represent the significance of the disorder. The prevalence of VPI in Australian musicians is not known, however informal discussion with musician colleagues suggests that VPI is a well known phenomenon. An online questionnaire will ask student and professional wind instrumentalists about their knowledge and experience of VPI.
It is important for wind and brass musicians to have firm velopharyngeal closure for optimum performance. It is therefore necessary that students and teachers be aware of any performance disorders which may be associated with the soft palate. VPI can be a frustrating problem, which could potentially threaten a professional career. The initial findings from this questionnaire will provide the basis for future research.
About the presenters
Alison Evans is a bassoonist and a PhD student in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.
Tim Driscoll is an Associate Professor in epidemiology and occupational medicine in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.
Bronwen Ackermann is a musician’s physiotherapist and a lecturer in musculoskeletal anatomy in the discipline of Biomedical Science in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney.
Physical screening practices in dance: Applying the research
Melanie Fuller and David Peirce (Pondera Physio & Pilates, Brisbane)
Screening for dance readiness is an accepted practice used to identify risk factors to injury and minimise “down time” from performance. The results can be used to design and implement programs to help directors, teachers and choreographers better understand possible physical limitations rather than perceive technical fault. Screening is not considered to be a strict filtering tool for acceptance into companies or dance schools but rather to gain a baseline profile of an individual and a good opportunity to introduce the dancer to healthcare providers.
To encourage participation in screening practices to aid collection of data for further research, education of dance professionals & awareness of individual limitations.
The results can be used to further scientific knowledge, implement educational programs, design preventative programs and help instructors to better understand possible musculoskeletal limitations rather than technical fault.
This presentation aims to arm dance practitioners with practical, research-based strategies to apply in the realm of traditional teaching procedures. The female athlete triad & inherent joint hypermobility will be discussed within this population. The Dance Functional Outcome System & the Dance Specific Aerobic Fitness Test will also be described.
About the presenters
Melanie Fuller and David Peirce are Physiotherapists with a special interest in dance medicine. David is director of Pondera Physio & Pilates in West End, Brisbane with 17 years experience across all dance genres. Melanie also has an Adv Dip PA (Dance) from WAAPA. Pondera are the official providers of Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Services to Queensland Ballet and consultants to Expressions Dance Company.
Socio-ecological perspectives of performance health: Optimizing function within an environmental context.
Sandra Kirkwood (Music Health Australia)
To date, the occupational performance of musicians, dancers, and actors have been viewed mostly from a bio-medical or bio-psycho-social perspective that tries to assess and bring about changes within an individual. There is growing evidence that occupational performance is part of an eco-systemic interface between people, task and environment. The International Classification for Functioning, Disability and Health (WHO, 2001) is concerned with people’s participation in activities within an environmental context that includes physical access, social attitudes, policy and political issues. Occupational therapists have responded to the challenge of supporting and enabling people to maximize their performance by developing a whole range of models and strategies that optimize function through manipulating factors outside of the individual.
This paper aims to describe occupational performance models and explore socio-ecological approaches to optimizing the function of performers.
The investigation is grounded in literature review of various models of occupational performance. There is an applied focus to the discussion, as examples are given of how the theoretical models can change how we understand and deal with performance health issues.
The discussion challenges people’s perceptions and presents the professional reasoning for using strategies such as design and adaptation of equipment, environmental modification, political lobbying, networking and advocacy to bring about change in the music industry. Reference is made to new initiatives in service delivery, networking and advocacy that have occurred through the establishment of Music Health Australia.
About the presenter
Sandra Kirkwood has worked in the health, education, and disability sectors for more than 25 years as an occupational therapist, disability project officer, and allied health consultant. In 2005 Sandra completed a Bachelor of Music degree and is currently enrolled in a Research Higher Degree at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. The research involves developing “Frameworks for culturally engaged community music in rural Ipswich. Sandra had completed a number of music projects with communities in Ipswich that were funded by Ipswich City Council and Arts Queensland. In 2008, Sandra established Music Health Australia to promote better networking and service by music health professionals.
Finding a functionally efficient flute playing position: A descriptive study using EMG
Ms Karen Lonsdale, Dr Liisa Laakso, and Dr Peter Mills
Several studies have shown that injuries are common in flautists and may be caused or aggravated by unnecessary muscular imbalances, or postural flaws in playing. While a perfect body position may not be achievable in a uni-lateral stance, flautists can optimise the way the flute is played, resulting in both musical and physical benefits.
A scientific approach is necessary in evaluating muscle activity during performance, and establishing positions that are functionally appropriate for flautists. The outcomes of an electromyographic (EMG) analysis were used to provide quantitative information to assess muscle activity and understand possible causes of symptoms reported in surveys.
EMG data obtained from a professional flautist and a tertiary music student was compared directly against the maximum voluntary contractions of each player, in order to gain information about the relative percentage activity in each muscle group during playing. Percentage outputs of EMG give an indication of the amount of work required by muscle groups for playing pieces of varying complexity.
The primary data demonstrated muscular responses to playing loads, such as technically easy versus complex passages, and those requiring sustained airflows, or difficult breathing. There were significant differences in EMG activity in specific muscle groups between body sides in individual players; and in some muscle groups between players. The data provides a baseline against which to compare body positions, or flautist experience. The results have been used in preparing guidelines on playing position, and practices that may be helpful in reducing the risk of injuries.
About the presenters
Karen Lonsdale is a Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, professional flautist and music educator.
Dr Liisa Laakso and Dr Peter Mills are both Senior Lecturers in the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Griffith University (Gold Coast campus).
Reflections from the Upper West Side: On training to become a teacher in the Taubman Approach to piano technique
After having overcome nearly a decade of injury through retraining in the Taubman Approach to piano technique, the author recently returned from an intensive residency in New York City, training as Australia’s first Taubman teacher. Certification was under the guidance of leading Taubman exponent Edna Golandsky, through the Golandsky Institute.
This paper aims to outline the certification process, and report on this rich time of learning, with reflections of the author’s experiences of study and observation, and latest developments in the Golandsky Institute.
Conclusions were drawn from mixed methods including reflections on a rigorous program of lessons and practice regime, observing the Taubman Approach being taught from pianists overcoming dystonia to those seeking the highest level of performance and artistry, and discussions with Taubman teachers and students.
Observations of the pedagogy and process of learning the Taubman Approach will be addressed, as will Golandsky’s collaboration with violinist Sophie Till in adapting the Taubman Approach for stringed instruments. In addition, the paper will discuss Taubman / Golandsky’s remarkable understanding of the clear relationship of the shapes on the musical score and the physical movements behind these shapes, which not only assist musicians in overcoming technical limitations and injury, but create an indivisible line between artistry and technique.
About the presenter
Therese Milanovic has recently returned from an intensive residency in New York City, having successfully completing the requirements to be certified through the Golandsky Institute as a teacher in the Taubman Approach to piano technique, the first in Australia. Having overcome her own struggles with playing-related injury through studying the Taubman Approach, she has gone on to build an active performance and teaching career, including a position at Young Conservatorium and national touring with Topology. She is continuing to develop her growing understanding of healthy virtuosity through her DMA studies at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
Playing With Pain: Ways to manage and prevent playing-related overuse injuries for musicians
I am a percussionist and just completed a Master in Performance (percussion) at the Faculty of Music, University of Melbourne in July this year, despite developing a severe playing-related overuse injury in 2006.
In the first six months of my injury, I struggled to find advice on the subject. I strongly believe in increasing the awareness of injuries such as mine and discussing ways to manage and prevent them. I aim to provide techniques that may assist musicians in dealing with the physical and psychological effects of playing-related pain, based on personal experience and advice from medical experts and music professionals. By discussing the methods I employ to maintain my progress as a performer, I hope to bring relief to those who currently suffer from playing injuries and assist those who do not from developing them.
My methods include three main elements:
(1) A structured practice regime.
(2) On-going professional advice.
(3) Mental strengthening.
I have been able to successfully complete a Master in Performance with a playing-related injury. I could not have completed my studies without implementing the methods described above. I will provide details on how these methods have worked successfully for me and their sources. After three years, I still suffer from chronic pain but it is less severe and the psychological effects have greatly reduced. It is possible to overcome this type of injury with care and determination.
About the presenter
Erica recently completed a Master of Music (Performance) in Percussion at the University of Melbourne. In 2005 she studied at McGill University, Canada, with Andrei Malashenko. Erica was a member of the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra tour of China in 2008. This year
Erica enjoyed six weeks at the Banff Centre, Canada and recently received the Moonee Valley Foundation Scholarship for 2009. She is a founding member of BED Percussion and is currently employed as a percussion teacher and as Artist-in-Residence with The Song Room and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
A Sound Knowledge: Assisting and preventing injury in flute players by researching the physiology and workings of the body and flute
Vanessa Ropa, Bronwen Ackermann, James Kortum
Correct breathing, good posture and a well formed embouchure are considered fundamental components required to achieve successful playing in any wind instrument. Surprisingly, research in these aspects of performance in wind players is meagre and much pedagogical literature is based on personal experience and opinions rather than physiological evidence. This study aims to look at the literature devoted to the physiology behind breathing, embouchure and posture in flute playing. It will examine how the current literature has developed, based on developing knowledge of the mechanics of the flute and sound production. This study aims to contribute to further research into flute playing to boost the current lack of knowledge in the physiology of flute playing, that may then be applied to assist in teaching future performers optimal ways to master their skills. This study aims to: provide flute players with knowledge of how the body works when playing the flute based on current literature; investigate the embouchures, postures and breathing that might achieve optimum performance results; and study the relative impact of a deficiency in skill in one component on the other variables and whether this may be linked to an increased incidence of injury.
About the presenter
Vanessa’s lifelong passion for music and medicine is an unusual combination that has ultimately led her to a Master’s thesis in the study of injury prevention and physiological awareness in flute players. Previously to studying her MMus, Vanessa completed a BMus (Hons) majoring on flute performance and continues to perform in orchestras that she has toured with both nationally and internationally.
To be or not to be – is that the right question?: Psychological health and wellbeing of actors in training and in the work place in the UK
Dr Mark Seton
Dr Seton has a deep concern for the psychological health and wellbeing of actors in training and in the work place. There are irresponsible and sometimes abusive interactions that occur between acting teachers and their students. Training often leaves actors ill-equipped to manage their professional lives in a sustainable way. The award of a Churchill Fellowship has enabled him to visit the UK and gain access to the insights and experiences of those in the UK who train and work with a larger actor population
In the UK, a Working Group will meet to address 20th and 21st century actor training which Dr Seton will participate in. Immediately following is a conference supporting dialogue and research between performing arts practitioners and health professionals. Following that, Prof Buckroyd, at the University of Hertfordshire, who is a leader in the field of emotional aspects of teaching and learning of dance, has welcomed an interview about her practice and how it might also apply to actors.
He has confirmed interviews with practitioners and researchers, involved in either actor training or performing arts healthcare, in London, Plymouth, Northampton, Leeds, Lincolnshire and Ulster. Dr Seton intends to compare his own uniquely designed coaching for actors, who want to ensure they are not adversely affected by what he has termed as ‘post-dramatic stress’, with strategies being used in the UK.
Dr Seton will use the experience and networks he establishes to call on actor educators in this country to form a national association both for their own professional development and for the well-being, sustainability and creative potential of this country’s acting community.
About the presenter
Dr Mark Seton, recipient of the 2009 Gilbert Spottiswood Churchill Fellowship, has been studying actor training and workplace healthcare practices in the UK. He has lectured in performing arts theory and practice for dancers, actors and theatre-makers. His specialisation is ethical and sustainable training of actors for stage and screen.
Tuning your most important instrument….. Your spine!
Dr. Aidan McGuigan
The purpose of the workshop will be to educate the audience about common injuries within the industry; assessing injury risk; advice on management and rehabilitation strategies; and how to prevent further occurrences.
The workshop will begin with a 20 minute presentation followed by some audience participation in assessment, management and maintenance ideas (postural self exam and correction, ergonomic advice, basic core strength exercises). Following this, there will be an invitation for members of the audience to ask questions and to attend one-on-one on site postural checks and spinal screenings. This typically comprises a quick (5-10 min) posture and problem related assessment with advice on appropriate actions for further investigation and/or management. This has also been popular at past corporate in-services and sporting events.
About the presenter
Since graduating Aidan has worked in short and long term positions both in Australia and in the UK. He is currently a practising chiropractor in Brisbane inner city. Inherent in day to day practice chiropractors will treat patients presenting with traumatic, repetitive strain and postural related injuries. This requires a proficiency in injury management at the crisis level; rehabilitative management and advice; and maintenance and injury prevention strategies. The majority of Aidan’s experience has been in inner city practices where an exposure to a large range of demographics is the norm. This includes the whole gamut of the performing artists. On any given day there can be actors, opera singers, musicians, dancers, acrobats and gymnasts attending our practice for treatment and advice…… Do pole dancers count? Artists from Cirque du Soleil; Mama Mia; The Wiggles; Rock Star Supanova; and dancers accompanying touring celebrities have utilized chiropractic with Aidan’s practices when in town.
Qualifications: 1997 Graduate RMIT University Melbourne; B. App Sc. (Clinical); B. Chiro Sc.
Vocal unloading and the performance voice
As the livelihood of many performers, the importance of voice production needs no introduction. High performance load, choreography and costumes are all aspects of performance which can create muscle tension of the laryngeal mechanism and thus create difficulties in voice production.
This workshop aims to provide an introduction to the role of vocal unloading and physiotherapy for the performance voice. Vocal unloading alleviates laryngeal muscle tension and promotes laryngeal mobility with specific laryngeal mobilisation techniques. These techniques have a place in voice injury prevention by improving laryngeal mobility and position, decreasing the requirement for performers to strain through excessive muscular tension.
Posture and breathing techniques play an important role in voice production and can be used to optimise the effects of vocal unloading. Real time ultrasound is a tool that can assess and retrain the activation of the deep abdominal musculature, specifically to unload the laryngeal mechanism in voice use.
This workshop will demonstrate the anatomy of the larynx and its inter-relationship with the cervical spine, jaw and thoracic cage. There will be performer specific examples, including the role of vocal unloading in post surgical rehabilitation and a demonstration of techniques.
About the presenter
Annie Strauch owns Performance Medicine Physiotherapy, Melbourne, and specialises in physiotherapy for vocal performance. She works closely with Voice Medicine Australia and vocal coaches to optimise the effects of laryngeal mobilisations and vocal unloading. She works with performers and companies including the Melbourne Theatre Company and currently, Avenue Q. Annie has spent the last three years working in London where she worked extensively with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, English National Opera and over 30 West End productions in vocal performance.
Qualifications: B. Physiotherapy (Hons) 2003; M. Sports Physiotherapy (Current); APA Physiotherapist
Problem solving with the Taubman Approach: Applying the basic principles
Would you like faster octaves? Are you looking for more sound? More freedom and comfort in playing big chords? Is there a passage which doesn’t feel so comfortable, or an awkward bar which is causing you grief? Bring those pesky passages and your questions to this problem-solving session.
Although little known in Australia, the Taubman Approach has had remarkable success in helping musicians overcome injury, fatigue and technical limitations to go on to develop the highest levels of healthy virtuosity. This hands-on workshop will offer participants an introductory practical experience of the Taubman Approach and of the basic principles of healthy virtuosity, through learning about the invisible movements underneath a healthy virtuoso technique. Elements discussed include maintaining the unity of the finger, hand and arm, which is achieved through proper seating, alignment, rotation, the walking hand and arm, and moving the finger, hand and arm together in and out as a unit.
NB This is not a performance workshop. Participants are encouraged to bring specific passages or excerpts from the repertoire and / or more general questions about different aspects of technique and sound production. Although pianists in particular would benefit from this workshop, other instruments are welcome to attend with their instruments. If there is sufficient interest, the application of the Taubman Approach to computer, mobile phone use and handwriting can also be addressed.
About the presenter
Therese Milanovic has recently returned from an intensive residency in New York City, having successfully completing the requirements to be certified through the Golandsky Institute as a teacher in the Taubman Approach to piano technique, the first in Australia. Having overcome her own struggles with playing-related injury through studying the Taubman Approach, she has gone on to build an active performance and teaching career, including a position at Young Conservatorium and national touring with Topology. She is continuing to develop her growing understanding of healthy virtuosity through her Doctor of Musical Arts studies at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
ASPAH CAREER DEVELOPMENT AWARDS
Thanks to a generous donation to ASPAH by Dr David Meyers of Mackay, this year ASPAH offered two Career Development Awards, covering costs of travel and conference registration, to encourage the development of performing arts healthcare in the performers and practitioners of the future. Advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students from health and performing arts disciplines were invited to apply for these awards to attend the conference.
Applicants were required to submit a short essay on a healthcare concern for performing artists that they were researching or interested in exploring. The following were the two successful submissions.
Velopharyngeal Insufficiency in wind instrumentalists: Are we teaching and practicing in a harmful way?
To play a wind instrument requires a sustained mouth pressure and a constant air flow through the instrument. High intraoral pressures are needed to vibrate the reed (either the lip or the reed), with reports that wind musicians can generate pressures as high as 130 mm Hg, compared to the minimal 6 mm Hg required for speech. To maintain these pressures a firm seal to the velopharyngeal port, the soft palate junction between the nasal cavity and the oral cavity, is required. If there is any loss to this seal, air will escape from the nose resulting in the disorder commonly known as velopharyngeal insufficiency or VPI .
VPI is most commonly reported in patients with a cleft palate deformity. However, the musicians with VPI dysfunction may have normal speech but cannot maintain the increased pressures required to play a wind instrument. It is usually seen in advanced student musicians aspiring for a professional career, suggested to be at least in part due to the dramatic increase of practice time resulting in undue stress to the soft palate causing muscle strain and dysfunction.
Of only ten articles investigating VPI in wind musicians, fourteen cases were reported. Three questionnaire studies were conducted in London, Germany and the U.S which found respectively 7%, 31% and 34% of student and professional wind musicians have experienced VPI. Due to the small sample sizes of these studies, these figures do not accurately represent the significance of the disorder. The prevalence of VPI in Australian musicians is not known, however informal discussion with musician colleagues suggests that it is a well known phenomenon.
The optimal functioning of the respiratory system is well-known by music students and teachers to be of crucial importance to achieve skilled performance on a wind instrument. It has been argued that although students are trying to breathe as their teachers are instructing them to, they may be inadvertently creating excess tension in the throat, which inhibits the air stream to flow freely. By contracting the neck muscles, wind players are attempting to forcefully direct the breath, at the cost of straining the throat and diminishing the quality of the sound.
To make this problem worse many students who are aspiring to become professional musicians are practicing daily for long periods of time. As it has been seen in the above studies, the high intraoral pressures sustained over time may result in impairment of the soft palate. Which leads us to question are we practicing safely and efficiently?
An online questionnaire will be conducted to ascertain the prevalence of VPI in Australian wind musicians. It is hoped that the results will provide the basis for future research in managing and preventing VPI.
Although, music students and teachers are aware of the respiratory muscles when playing wind and brass instruments, misleading concepts about the complete functioning of the respiratory system still exist. It is crucial to have a firm velopharyngeal closure for optimum performance. It is therefore important for students and teachers to understand the function of the soft palate in playing a wind instrument. More research is needed in the mechanisms behind performance related problems. A part of this study will be to review the functional anatomy and physiology of the soft palate. This will provide students and professionals with more understanding to optimize their performance, to employ safe practice methods, and to prevent injury.