I think I've found a version of heaven: Me, in a room with six massage therapists.
Even better, this group of therapists was assembled for a class especially designed to address the needs of musicians, taught by Royal Academy-trained violinist Jenni Asher, who also is a certified massage therapist. She founded Musician Bodywork of London, which specializes in massage therapy and osteopathy for musicians. She was offering this class in Pasadena, California, her hometown, where I also live. (Next week she goes back to London.)
Jenni sent out the call for subjects, so these therapists could study our playing techniques and test their new massage techniques on our fiddle-twisted bods. I willingly volunteered. Despite a reasonably consistent yoga practice and a decent playing position, my upper back, shoulders and neck seem to always carry considerable tension. My husband has waved the white flag, when it comes to working on the solid-rock knot that persists in my right upper back!
I would argue that, even if you've perfected the ergonomics of your playing, the fiddle presents an awkward proposition: Violin resting on left shoulder, left arm suspended, left fingers flying, right shoulder with no balancing weight, right arm in motion -- this simply does not create balance in the body.
I've had a number of massages, but few therapists seem to understand the particular problems of a violinist. But look at how closely these guys were studying my every muscle, as I played for them!
Frankly, it was a little disconcerting, but I'll go to great lengths for science. And a massage! I believe they were observing which muscles I tended to use, whether I was standing with my hips straight (as opposed to one more raised than another), any arching or torquing of my back and shoulders, etc.
The therapist who picked me was Susan Platz, also a violinist and a massage therapist working in the Los Angeles area. I felt pretty good when she said that, for the most part, I wasn't exerting a lot of unnecessary muscles and playing with undue tension.
But that does leave the considerable "necessary" exertion (and contortion!) needed just to play. Something I'd never noticed --which Susan did -- was the fact that I tense some muscles in the front of my neck when playing. She worked on those muscles, as well as my infamous upper back. We were in a room full of musicians on massage tables -- others included a trombone player, flutist, cellist and a few other violinists. I heard a lot of talk about the benefits of yoga, (in between exclamations like, "Yes, there, oh sweet mama!") And here's a tip: get a tennis ball, place it on one of those nasty tension spots on your back, lie on the floor and roll around.
All in all, I think it would be great to have a monthly appointments with a massage therapist who had this kind of willingness to analyze the physical motions that cause tensions in a violinist or other instrumentalist. With some back-and-forth, one could probably come up together with a good plan for relief through massage, and also through changing this and that, while playing. It could be a real lifesaver for someone with serious chronic pain from playing, to work with someone who had a knowledge of kinesiology.
Meanwhile, that sure felt good - thanks Susan and Jenni!
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