Con Wellness Committee raises injury awareness

Kristi Ruff

To our musicians: We all know that you love your hours upon hours of practice in the con … but did you know that those hours spent bettering your technique could also cause permanent damage to your body? The Con Wellness Committee is a new student group that hopes to raise awareness of this issue.
Jordan King got the wheels turning on the project after he was seriously injured from over-practicing his violin during his freshman year. As a cross-country runner, Jordan related his practice level to running – no pain, no gain. Unfortunately, this mentality led to serious consequences. Lindsay Schwartz, a cellist, also suffered severe practice-related injuries. The two decided that, after visiting various doctors, some of whom actually made their injuries worse, they wanted to make sure that no other musicians suffered from the same issues. Together with organ major Susanna Valleau, they started a group dedicated to preventing future injuries in the con.
The issue was brought up at a recent Dean’s Advisory Council meeting and, since Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl made injury prevention a top priority upon arrival here at Lawrence, the group has received plenty of encouragement from the administration. “He’s been phenomenal … very supportive,” said Valleau of Pertl’s involvement with the group.
To get their name out there, the Con Wellness Committee held an open forum earlier in the year at which musicians could discuss their own practice-related injuries and learn more about how to prevent them. The committee also sent an injury survey out to musicians over the winter break and received the results early in winter term. Alarmingly enough, of the students surveyed, every string player that responded had experienced some form of practice-related injury. While the goal of the survey was not to target any specific studio or instrumental group, the survey did provide essential information about how the committee should approach its goals.
The committee is also working with Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Kathy Privatt, who is currently getting certified in the Alexander Technique. She held a workshop earlier this year providing musicians with tips on how to practice without running the risk of injuring themselves. One big problem is that many musicians simply do not realize that practicing can cause career-threatening injuries.
Valleau mentioned that many freshmen come to college accustomed to practicing an hour a day. Upon arrival, they are often asked to increase practice to 2-3 hours a day, and “they’re just not prepared for that.” Students often end up practicing incorrectly and suffering from repetitive stress-related injuries, often from practicing the same passages over and over again. Students don’t realize that “they need to take breaks every 15-20 minutes” in order to avoid risking injury, according to Valleau.
The committee has met with success so far, especially with its stress-relieving Con yoga night a few weeks ago. This Sunday there will be a workshop with Joanne and Ken Bozeman on how to stay healthy. The committee has also posted informative bulletins in all the practice rooms, and there is no way a person can miss them after spending several hours in the practice rooms each day.
In the future, the group hopes to get a brochure together with general preventative information for musicians, including names of doctors who were helpful to Schwartz and King in treating their injuries. They also encourage students to have a discussion with their teachers regarding how to practice for prolonged amounts of time in a safe, yet still productive, way.
The Con Wellness Committee welcomes questions or ideas in the form of e-mails to any of the committee members. They do not currently hold weekly meetings as they are still in the organizing process, but students can attend the Wellness Committee meetings for the whole campus every Monday at 8:30 p.m.