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The Things We Carry

By Kayleigh Miller
San Antonio, Texas
Published: November 22, 2014 at 12:22

Musicians have it rough- simply practicing our instruments leads many to pain, either from the sheer volume of practicing, misalignment, or from overuse. But for others, simply carrying our instruments (and purses, man-bags, totes, etc.) can be painful, and can exarcerbate (or be a contributing cause in) shoulder, forearm, and back issues. Instruments in their cases can be anywhere from 7-30 + pounds, and many people carry them on one shoulder, or with one arm for periods of time which can result in serious damage over the long haul.

First of all,a mini biomechanics lesson courtesy of Katy Bowman: your body is impacted by all of your movement choices (or lack thereof), which includes how you carry things, hold your instrument, walk, run, squat, sit, etc. The process in which the body inputs load/movement is called mechanotransduction. Now, factor in magnitude (how much something weights), location (where you carry it), duration, frequency, etc., and you can see why how you carry your violin case, bag, double case, and more impacts your body.

Violin (and viola) cases by themselves weigh anywhere from 5-12 lbs, and with instruments in case, sheet music, and other accoutrements, can be solidly in the 10-20 lb category. In addition, many musicians carry their instrument on one shoulder, which causes that shoulder to elevate and contract to support the case. For example, let's say someone has injured their left forearm or shoulder, and always loads their right shoulder with their case. That long term load will contract the whole right side of the body to support it, which can encourage spin and pelvis misalignment, and put extra strain on the neck as well. The heavier the case, the more detrimental, especially if the straps gouge in your flesh, or if you're loaded down with other bags.

So what can you do if you carry a double case, need to shoulder a heavy load of sheet music, or already have shoulder and back pain?
First, ask yourself these questions:
Do I favor one shoulder over the other when carrying my case?

Do I swing my case over one shoulder?

Do I carry my case with one side more often than the other?

Do I always put one backpack strap on first? Or take it off first? (I.e., always put strap on the right first, always take left off first)

Do I load down my case (or purse) with things I don't need?

Do I carry the same bag/tote/purse every day?

Does carrying my case sometimes cause pain?

Carrying on its own is not intrinsically bad-it's how you carry it that matters. If you carry your case (or a heavy purse) in hand frequently, switch sides as much as possible since that side is being pulled down by the weight of the case. If you use backpack straps,notice if one shoulder does more of the work than the other and that the straps are even lengths. If you carry your case (or purse) on one shoulder, see how much you can vary that pattern to keep your soft tissues from being overworked on one side. Even if you don't have pain while shouldering your instrument, bags, etc., the more variety of movement you can create, the better balanced your upper body will be, and more pain-free you can be in the long-term.

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Don't Call Me Rusty

By Karen Allendoerfer
Belmont, Massachusetts
Published: November 22, 2014 at 09:52

Late one Friday afternoon, a friend from orchestra posts a note to her Facebook page: "Bucket List! I just sent in my application for the BSO's 'Onstage at Symphony' Program." She provides this link and tags a bunch of us in the orchestra. Suppressing my general curmudgeonly annoyance at being tagged on Facebook (by anyone, for any reason), I click on it.

"The 2014-2015 season will see the launch of the BSO's Onstage at Symphony: a program convening amateur musicians of all backgrounds from across Massachusetts for a set of rehearsal and sectional experiences culminating in a performance on Symphony Hall's stage, celebrating their talent and continued commitment to music while also providing them access to the resources of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Symphony Hall. This opportunity is intended to build long-term ownership of orchestral music and the BSO."

These musicians will also be working with the BSO's Youth and Family Concerts Conductor, Thomas Wilkins.

I'd been reading about initiatives like this in other cities--Baltimore's "Rusty Musicians," for example (which I first read about here on violinist.com), or the San Francisco Symphony's "Community of Music Makers" workshops. Boston is an area with a rich, vibrant community of adult amateurs and semi-pros, music schools, concerts. I wondered why we didn't have something like this too. Well, apparently now we do. And we don't even have to be called "rusty" to participate ;-)

And, not only is this particular friend participating, a bunch of other people whom she tagged are too. Another friend from our orchestra mailed her application last week. "I'm dropping mine off in person today!" posted another. With all the time I spend on the internet, and playing music, why is this, less than an hour before the already extended deadline for receipt of applications, the first I've heard of it? Maybe I am rusty.

In the last couple of years, since I changed jobs, I'd been trying to make other changes too, such as doing fewer things at the last minute. Back then I saw myself as chronically late, always rushing to get things in under the wire. That was the way the office where I used to work had operated, and my natural tendency towards procrastination had fit right in. In my new job and new role, I had wanted to make a change, to be more intentional and less reactive about the things that I did, including music. I also had been practicing saying "no." I mean, you can't do everything cool-sounding that you read about on Facebook. Right?

My friend had their email address. And I had a printer and a scanner. I downloaded the application, filled it out by hand off the top of my head. Name, address, instrument. List your musical experiences. Why do you want to participate in this program? If I'd had a day, or a week, I would have agonized over these answers. Violin or viola? Should I include playing in church with my son? There's the old concertmaster/mistress thing. Should I mention that our string quartet has a name, or does that sound too pretentious to describe 4 players who get together a couple times a year to play at a Farmers' or Winter Market? Will they know what MITSPO is, or do I have to try to spell it out, and will that even fit in the space they give us? And then there's "being part of something larger than myself." How cornball is that? Well, if it is, too bad. That is really why I love playing in orchestras. Deadlines focus the mind. And they don't leave time for too much equivocation.

Back at my old job, another administrator and I used to trade war stories about grant submissions. He had an old one from the 1980's about driving to the airport on the last possible submission date for a big NIH grant to meet the very last Fedex pickup in the city. More recently we joked about pressing the submit button at 4:59:30. I emailed the Onstage at Symphony application at about 5:29, missing the deadline by almost a half hour.

A few weeks later, I got an email:

"Dear community musician,

On behalf of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, we are excited to announce that you have been chosen for the BSO's inaugural Onstage at Symphony program! We will be mailing parts for the pieces you will be performing directly to you in the coming weeks so that you will have ample time to practice and prepare for the event."

The program will be:
WEBER Overture to der Freischutz
VON SUPPE The Beautiful Galathea
DELIUS The Walk to the Paradise Garden
LISZT Les Preludes

I don't know, and haven't played, any of these pieces before. I suspect there will be a lot of listening and practicing needed--listening and practicing that I'm looking forward to and need in any number of ways. More intentional and less reactive.

I really have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Lately it had been acting like a time sink, a drain down which my spare time (and not a little of my sanity and resolve) gurgle accompanied by a giant sucking sound.

But every once in a while, I find a gem that makes it all worthwhile.

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V.com weekend vote: What kind of exercise goes along best with violin-playing?

By The Weekend Vote
Published: November 21, 2014 at 15:04

Everyone needs to exercise to promote good health, but what are the most effective forms of exercise for someone who regularly plays the violin?

Even if you've reduced your playing to the most ergonomically efficient and pain-free set of motions, playing the violin still sets us up for some unequal muscle-building. Add to that the stress of performing and the repetitive, solitary and possibly fairly sedentary nature of practice, and you're in trouble if you don't find a good form of exercise.

But what kind of exercise best helps even muscle tone, or reduce stress, or add that cardio-vascular element that is missing from long days of practice, teaching or performing?

I've listed a few below, but I'm sure I'm missing quite a few forms of good exercise and I invite you to list more. You may do several of these forms of exercise, but choose the one that you feel is doing the most for you, or tell us in the comments what exercise you prefer.


Running: Definitely good for endurance and cardio-vascular health. Related to running: Walking. Walking is so underrated, and yet it is a wonderful form of exercise. Take 10,000 steps a day, says the doctor!

Weight-lifting: For a long time I thought this was a bad idea because of the potential to overdevelop certain muscles. What changed my mind? David Garrett! Here is someone who is in great shape and does high-energy stadium shows on a regular basis. He said he is careful to target particular muscle groups and not to push too hard. Seems to work for him!

Yoga: This can help both build muscles and stretch muscles, and the controlled-breathing element can help with reducing stress in situations of pressure.

Swimming: A number of famous string players swore by this low-impact form of exercise, among them, Janos Starker. Great for the lung, and it doesn't stress the joints.
Please let us know your favorite form of exercise, and add your comments.

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MARIACHI: What is it?

By Joe Baca
Orlando, Florida
Published: November 20, 2014 at 20:16


I am new to this site but I am happy to be connected to more string enthusiasts than ever. I will leave my personal story to those interested in reading my bio and cut right to the chase. I hate to say it this way but really there are three types of musicians I run across: those who don't know what Mariachi is, those who think they know what it is and Mariachis themselves.

Mariachi music just like any other style of music can be molded to fit whatever the Mariachi Musician wants or even needs it to be to satisfy their musical hunger, within certain parameters of course be it instrumentation or sticking to certain sub-styles within the genre (there is always debate within the mariachi circles about this; purists & non). Regardless though, Mariachi runs deep not only with folk roots but now more than ever it is infused with classical instrumental training and the songs themselves are arranged with much thought and complex musicality by those knowledgeable in music theory, arranging, composing and orchestrating. (In fact Mariachi kept me ahead in all of my theory classes in college.)

This music then must be internalized once read from the page and memorized so that the performance aspect can then be put into effect. The performance of Mariachi music is a whole other aspect in-and-of-itself that involves not only conveying emotional significance but stage techniques as well typically found in the Drama field. As you can see, there already may be a few things about Mariachi you may not have been really aware of.

My blogs will primarily cover my main musical interest, which is the Mariachi genre. (I may throw in a few other things here and there.) However, my hope is that I can enlighten and excite more and more people about this genre that is ‘famous but fuzzy’ so that the next time you think of Mariachi Music only the best thoughts come to mind because remember just like there are great and poor bands, orchestras, singers, etc. the same goes for Mariachis.

I hope you enjoy what I have to say and do remember that what I say in my blog, unless stated as fact, is only my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the ideology and opinions of any of my associations.

It is nice to informally meet you all and feel free to message me anytime.

Your brother in music,

Joe Baca
Mariachi Cobre

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