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C Natural: Opening Up About Musicians’ Health


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In 2013, Claire Motyer was a driven and passionate conservatory violinist. It was when she started having pain in her wrist that her life plan began to take a drastic turn. Her diagnosis of tendonitis due to excess tension and over-practicing would prove to be more than a temporary injury. It was chronic, and therefore, when it came to violin, essentially debilitating.

In struggling through the injury, Claire learned about its true causes. The root of it was deeper than physical playing technique; it also came from other factors such as “anxiety and the fear-driven environment of music school,” Claire says. Through the disappointment, Claire couldn’t have predicted that this life-altering diagnosis would lead to other doors opening.

Claire engaged in conversations about the issue with her peers, and soon realized that injury and illness, both physical and mental, were rampant in music students and professionals across the world. Physical injury is only one of the all too common problems. Pressure to succeed in the competitive conservatory environment and then obtaining the shrinking number of performing opportunities after graduation often leads to mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. Claire discovered that the problem is as widespread as it is unacknowledged. From that, she went in deeper with her research.

“I quickly realized that it’s been a highly stigmatized topic for many decades,” she says.

Some of Claire’s more jarring discoveries include:

  1. According to a study in the UK, musicians are up to three times more likely to suffer from depression and/or anxiety. This can be due to occupational stress, financial difficulties, persistent injuries, discrimination in the music industry, and more.
  2. Playing-related musculoskeletal disorders (which are performance-related injuries that can be described as pain, numbness or tingling, and that persist for many months) are related to mental illness, specifically anxiety and depression.
  3. Musicians seem to always be lumped together with athletes and high performance sports. Here, Claire identified a problem that can be solved.

“The more health professionals there are who used to be professional musicians or understand what it’s like to be a musician, the more accurate treatment will be,” Claire says.

With this new knowledge of under-discussed musician injury, Claire took her findings to the inter-webs. This resulted in C Natural, a blog that brings awareness and discussion to musicians’ illness, injuries, and struggles.

“I had a desire to change the way musicians with injuries and mental illness are treated and perceived, both in their professional and personal lives,” she says.

Claire found the blogging process incredibly therapeutic, both to share her own story and to inspire change in the industry.

“I can sense from the response I’ve gotten to the blog that people feel relieved and also comforted,” she says. “I hope to give other musicians who are struggling silently the chance to experience this feeling as well.”

From C Natural blossomed new plans for her future. Claire first plans on obtaining a Master’s degree in Performance Science, a relatively new research field in the performing arts that focuses on musicians’ health. From there, she envisions potentially becoming a healthcare professional for musicians, continuing to do research in performance science, and/or helping create more musicians’ health courses at music conservatories and universities. She hopes to help accommodate musicians’ injuries, disabilities, and mental illness by incorporating better administrative support systems for students, and helping to give musicians extra-musical skills while they are still in school.

“Instead of being told that not being able to meet the demands of a music program means you won’t be able to meet the demands of the professional music world—as I myself have been told—musicians should be encouraged to pursue a diverse musical career, not to leave it all together,” she says.

For the immediate future, Claire has big plans for C Natural: growing its following, expanding the types of people it features, and making it into a prominent resource for practice strategies and tips for injury prevention, performance anxiety, and more. She also envisions publishing a book with a collection of musicians’ stories, including her own.

Another more ambitious goal of the blog is to provide needed critique of the music industry, the music education system, and the musician mindset, so that injuries become both less prevalent and also better dealt with.

From her experiences with this issue, Claire advises other musicians to “not feel limited by what you might think a performing career should look like or used to look like,” she says. “Music careers are inevitably changing, and you can accept this change as a blessing instead of a fear. Your career will be filled with ups and downs, but it will also be incredibly diverse. Use music as your tool to affect positive change in the world.”

 

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