Hal Grossman Talk: No Pain, All Gain

On Monday, Apr. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Harper Hall, violinist Hal Grossman conducted a workshop titled “No Pain, All Gain.” Grossman holds the position of Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Louisville, has performed in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and won several awards, including first prize at the National Fischoff Chamber Music Competition. In addition to his illustrious teaching and playing career, Grossman has developed The Grossman Method, an educational course with a stretching regimen that helps musicians who experience pain when they play. On Monday night, Grossman shared his method with attendees, most of who were musicians in the Conservatory.

Associate Professor of Music and violinist Samantha George introduced Grossman, who talked briefly about his course. He mentioned how great athletes are taught how to properly warm up and cool down their muscles before and after a workout, and their coaches usually educate them about different muscle groups and how they should be used. However, musicians do not always receive this same kind of education, though they use their bodies in strenuous physical situations similar to athletes. When Grossman asked the audience if anyone was experiencing pain while playing their instrument, nearly everyone raised their hands. Grossman asked a few audience members to elaborate on where and how they were experiencing pain, and he offered a few possible problems and solutions. Then he talked about a couple of major “playing no-nos:” panic practice, over practice and not practicing. Grossman explained how muscle fibers ball up from lack of use, but musicians need these fibers to be long and fluid to accomplish the physical movements necessary to play. Therefore, practicing many hours after an extended period of not practicing can cause injury since the muscle fibers are balled up. Grossman proposed stretching as a primary therapy for sore muscles, and he emphasized the importance of warming up before playing and stretching after playing.

Grossman then invited workshop attendees to the Harper Hall stage for a series of activities. First, he gave each person a long, thin stick and instructed everyone to hold the stick against their back. Grossman said the stick should touch the body in three places: behind the head, in the middle of the back and by the sacrum (near the tailbone). If one’s body touches the stick at these appropriate points, they have achieved spinal alignment, the basis for good posture and proper muscular use. Grossman had workshop attendees practice bending over while keeping their back aligned with the stick. Next, Grossman led everyone in a series of stretches such as “bear hug,” where one crosses one arm over their chest and uses their other arm to hold the stretch. He also led the group in a couple of warmup exercises including his favorite, “breath of joy,” which involves bending over one’s knees and transitioning up onto one’s toes with their arms held aloft. Grossman referred to his slideshow presentation often to show different illustrations of muscle groups, playing postures and stretching exercises.

Throughout the workshop, Grossman asked participants for questions and often used volunteers to demonstrate certain exercises. His affable personality showed itself in all of his interactions with the group, eliciting laughter from everyone on several occasions with his jokes. Grossman’s presentation educated on different muscle groups, and everyone seemed to enjoy performing his stretching exercises. All in all, Grossman presented productive and valuable information on the human body and how it works, which remains particularly helpful to musicians but important for people in every occupation. For more information on Hal Grossman and The Grossman Method, visit <thegrossmanmethod.com>.