Enhancing Musicians’ Medical Care
A program launched this fall by Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and School of Music seeks to improve treatment of elite musicians and educate music students and teachers about the causes and prevention of performance injuries.
Says Toni-Marie Montgomery, DMA, School of Music dean, “Few music schools have adequately addressed the physical problems of singers and instrumentalists. Northwestern’s schools of medicine and music are both excellent, and it’s logical for us to collaborate.”
Dr. Montgomery contacted Alice G. Brandfonbrener, MD, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Medical Program for Performing Artists at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), who had taught a course called Medical Aspects of Performance. Dr. Brandfonbrener agreed to resurrect it as a graduate level elective and teach it with James M. Kjelland, PhD, associate professor of music education and string pedagogy. The course is intended for music education and performance majors.
“Musicians tend to have a skewed education,” says Dr. Brandfonbrener, who has treated musicians clinically for more than 30 years. “In a sense the body remains a mystery. Understanding how their bodies work, with the instrument and independent of the instrument, can help them solve problems on their own and prevent injuries.”
Voice students receive specialized evaluation in the School of Music’s voice lab, led by Karen Brunssen, associate professor of voice and opera. Dr. Brandfonbrener will have regular office hours on the Evanston campus to evaluate and treat instrumentalists. While Dr. Brandfonbrener addresses numerous parameters related to musical performance and practice, “being a good doctor” is still key. “Musicians are exquisitely sensitive to changes in their bodies,” she says. “A minor problem related to music may be the first sign of a systemic illness.”
The program’s research initiatives include a questionnaire to be administered annually to music school freshmen. A similar questionnaire project targets graduates 10â15 years out of music school. Program officials hope to learn ways to improve music curricula, medical treatment, and preventive strategies. Dr. Brandfonbrener has long been committed to expanding research in the field, serving as chief editor of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists since its inception in 1986. In 1989 she was a founding member of the Performing Arts Medicine Association.
Dr. Brandfonbrener helped organize the first-ever Health Promotion in Schools of Music conference, slated for September 30 through October 2 at the University of North Texas College of Music. Dr. Montgomery hopes this will be the impetus for many of the 550 accredited schools of music in the United States to develop programs like Northwestern’s. “We’d like to see health promotion and injury prevention routinely addressed as part of the music students’ training,” she says.
(Excerpted from an article appearing in the Fall 2004 issue of Ward Rounds. Chicago Symphony Orchestra photo by Todd Gustafson.)