Monday, August 09, 2010

More About Injuries and Careers

Another perspective on the playing through the pain debate, this time a comment from an anonymous reader:
One of the best collaborative pianists in the US who was also my teacher had this conversation with me once:

Him: Could you help me lift the piano lid? I've hurt my arm...
Me: Oh my god... Will you still be able to fly to New York and Europe for your concert tour? What will you do?!
Him: Of course. I'll just play anyway like everyone else who maintains a performing career.

I have to agree with him that sometimes, if you want/need the work, and the job is important enough, you would play through some pain. On the other hand, I hurt my arm very badly typing and the same pianist/teacher immediately suggested that I cancel everything for six weeks, except one concert which was very important, and that I see a specialist he knew if it was not better immediately. So he didn't always advocate playing regardless of the pain. While those six weeks off was necessary and healthy, like anyone who has gotten a serious injury, it actually took me almost 6 months to feel completely normal and healthy in my playing and arm again after that incident. I wasn't going to cancel work for half a year-- how would I have supported myself?-- I couldn't afford to do so and wouldn't want to.

I also know pianists who have played after slamming fingers in closets, doors, cars, hurting themselves exercising, etc. Painful, of course, but they weren't going to let someone else step in at the last minute to events that people bought tickets to hear them play.

In contrast, I know a pianist who, literally the week that he got tenure at a good school, declared that he had critically injured his arm and has not performed as a pianist in four years. I believe him to be lazy and irresponsible. Who would want to study with a pianist who could not maintain a playing career and who stopped playing as soon as he conveniently settled into a good job because of pain? Yet tenure keeps him on the faculty.....

With these issues in mind, I don't see the issue as simply black and white: pain=no playing. Sometimes you can/must go on and sometimes you can't. Successfully navigating these options actually seems to me to be what keeps a long career-- knowing when you can afford to pull out of playing versus when you can and should keep going. 
Hive call for CPB readers: I would like to hear your own personal injury stories, and how you healed and coped with them. I also have a story, which I'll share in the next few days.

Stories of injuries and healing are often taboo in the music business, so if you don't feel comfortable sharing your identity, you're always welcome to post anonymously.


  1. Maura1:31 PM

    Chris - Thank you for these perspectives. The concept of the show must go on .... The idea that instrumental beauty (the music - my pleasure) could come from a musician in pain upsets me.

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  3. Interesting post, I have had injuries myself in the past and wished bad to keep on playing, but the truth is sometimes we all need rest.

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