Book Review: Notes of Hope

photoOne summertime activity I really enjoy is catching up on my reading list, which consists of a variety of books; some purely for pleasure – the Riverworld Series by Philip José Farmer and The Bourne Legacy by Eric Van Lusbader – and others for professional purposes. Notes of Hope, the topic for today’s brief review, is something I think belongs to both categories. This new publication from Mountain Peak Music consists of twelve personal accounts from musicians who have dealt with some kind of performance-related injury. Here’s an excellent video introduction to the book by its compiler, David Vining.

The book’s professional relevance is obvious, but beyond that I found each author’s story inspirational and uplifting. Their courage and perseverance in the face of potentially career-ending hardship transcends any one discipline, and each chapter is written in a straightforward manner without an excess of jargon. This is all to say that yes, musicians will be interested in this book, but I think many other readers will be as well: athletes, dancers, painters, teachers etc. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds and career paths, with vocalists, wind players, and string players being represented. Here is a list of the authors and their instruments, in the order they appear.

  • Amy Likar, flute
  • Shelley Rich, violin
  • Sarah Schmalenberger, horn
  • Adam Cole, piano
  • Bonnie Draina, voice
  • David Vining, trombone
  • Andrée Martin, flute
  • Marie Speziale, trumpet
  • Allison Dromgold Adams, saxophone
  • Constance E. Barrett, cello
  • Jennifer Johnson, violin
  • Kristin Delia Hayes, flute

There is a wealth of information in these pages, far too much to quote at length, but here is a short list of  common themes I took from their stories.

  1. Every injury is unique. Although there are generalizations that can be made about certain types of injuries (such as focal dystonia), the path to recovery for each author was incredibly personalized, often consisting of a variety of therapies. In the case of these authors, there was no magic bullet for recovery.
  2. You can’t go back to the way you used to play. Though it is tempting after an injury to try to get back to the way one used to do things, recovering from an injury often requires the retraining of neural pathways. In many of these stories, the authors had to re-conceptualize the way they produced sound in order to move forward.
  3. Seek out specialists. Performing arts medicine is a relatively new field, but there are specialists out there who can help. Groups such as the Performing Arts Medicine Association and journals such as Medical Problems of Performing Artists can help make us aware of the latest research.
  4. Perception is everything. Many of the injuries documented by the authors were at least in part the result of false perceptions – either mental or physical – about the way they produced a sound with their instrument or voice. Our kinaesthetic sense is incredibly powerful, but prone to misconceptions.
  5. Awareness matters. Disciplines such as Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method, Body Mapping, and Yoga are playing an increasingly larger role in the arts, especially in the field of performing arts medicine. Though different in their specifics, each one helps bring about a greater awareness of the body/mind connection. If you aren’t familiar with any of these, you owe it to yourself and your students to find out more!

Notes of Hope is a great book, and one that I plan to come back to with my students this fall. It is also available in a version for iBooks, which at $4.99 is an incredible deal. In closing, here are a few links to related stories on this website. Looking ahead to this summer, I will post some summary comments about our visit and performance at the upcoming International Women’s Brass Conference, but will be taking a few weeks off following that.

For Further Reading

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