Earlier on this blog I pondered the difference between acute and chronic stress as part of a discussion of the “fight or flight” instinct. As humans we are set up to respond beautifully to acute stress – the cortisol surge, the heightening of senses. But chronic stress besets us with a litany of both physical and psychological woes – the pandemic and ensuing lockdown and disruption to life are a prime example.
Like chronic stress, chronic pain wears both the body and the psyche. Sylvain asked in the comments section of my last post for a discussion of injuries among musicians; there are many. If you think of the position a flute player or violinist takes, with one arm twisted over the torso, another arm holding the weight of an instrument, you can begin to imagine the kind of small stress that is constantly asked of the body.
Bass players need to hunch over their instruments to draw the bow over their strings; pianists need to create downward force on the keyboard with the arms in a pronated position. As musicians we’re put in unnatural positions, and the motions are repetitive and incessant.
Most musicians I know are always nursing some sort of pain; tendonitis is a constant affliction, neck pain, elbow inflammation. It’s essentially like being an athlete, it’s just that we use smaller muscles and finer motor movement.
As a conductor my shoulders get tired; I’m try to do a lot of exercises for my upper body – yoga, weight lifting – to keep those muscles strong. And as my work requires that I stand for hours on a podium, I have to be very mindful of how I’m balancing my body and if I’m favoring one leg over another.
Most working musicians I know are always dealing with some sort of pain, and one becomes accustomed to it. There’s the delicate balance of knowing what you can bear and what might become something more serious, of course. There is also the sense that life is not always comfortable, but that it’s possible to find a way to make it work nonetheless.
It’s a kind of practical resilience that stands us in good stead in times of difficulties, and it’s a quality that I’ve witnessed in my colleagues as this pandemic continues. Many of us, especially freelancers/independent contractors have found all of our work dissipate like so much mist, no income in sight, maybe for a year. Yet I see my colleagues finding ways to stay creative, to engage, to adapt and to be open to a future vastly different from our not-so-distant past.
As I reflect back on these 2 1/2 months since the world changed, I’ve been thinking about the incessant stress on our lives, and the need to mitigate it as the world lurches forward into uncertainty. I’m going to continue that thought tomorrow – I’m back on nurse duty with Pink, the best stress reliever I know!