Hitting the right medical notes
Performing arts medicine, although relatively new in Ireland, has been developing as a medical specialty in the US and UK for a number of decades
“It was absolutely desolate, desolate, since the age of four this was it for me and suddenly I couldn’t do it. The gods know where to hit you, when they want to hit you.”
THIS WAS how world-renowned pianist and conductor Leon Fleisher described the experience of developing focal dystonia, a neurological condition that in Fleisher’s case caused the fourth and fifth fingers of his right hand to curl under, rendering him unable to play the piano with two hands for more than 30 years.
Fleisher’s story, as told by the director Nathaniel Kahn in his moving documentary Two Hands, shows just how devastating a condition like dystonia can be for a musician.
Dystonia was one of a number of physical conditions that can significantly affect a musician’s health and their ability to perform that was discussed at Ireland’s first International Conference of Performing Arts Medicine.
The conference, which took place in Galway on Saturday, October 13th, also featured a special showing of Two Hands, with the kind permission of Kahn.
Entitled Musicians Health 2012 – Keeping the Show on the Road, the Galway event saw a packed programme of talks and presentations by international experts in performing arts medicine and professional musicians.
Dr Mike Shipley, consultant rheumatologist, with the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), spoke on managing upper limb pain in musicians and Dr John Chong, president of the Performing Arts Medicine Association in the US, delivered the keynote address entitled: Tuning the mind and body of the musician for optimal health and performance.
Rather uniquely for a medical conference, the programme was interspersed with live musical performances and interludes with musician “patients” telling their stories of how physical injury has affected their ability to perform.
Enda Scahill, Banjo player with We Banjo 3, described his experience of repetitive strain injury, after which the audience was treated to a live performance by the banjo-playing trio.
Former drummer with the Sawdoctors, Johnny Donnelly, also addressed the conference and gave a drummer’s perspective on musician injury.
Much like sports medicine where doctors have developed special expertise in caring for athletes and treating sports-related injuries, doctors working in performing arts medicine are dedicated to caring for and treating musicians and other performers.
Although relatively new in Ireland, performing arts medicine has been developing as a medical specialty in the US and the UK for a number of decades. The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) for example, delivers specialist health advice and support to professional and student performing artists and has also developed an MSc in the specialty at University College London.
Dr Ronan Kavanagh is a consultant rheumatologist who runs a musicians’ clinic in Galway. He provides medical care and advice to musicians with musculoskeletal problems that affect their ability to play their instruments to their true potential.
Together with Dublin GP Dr Juliet Bressan, Kavanagh established Performing Arts Medicine Ireland and both doctors were responsible for staging the Galway conference.