Environmental Issues for Musicians
by Dr. Timothy Jameson
Doctor of Chiropractic
Castro Valley, CA
The amateur or professional musician must become aware of their environment before they begin playing. "Environment" means such things as temperature where you will be playing, sun exposure, dry ice exposure, lighting, and noise exposure. A musician who investigates these aspects of his/her environment beforehand will be more apt at maintaining optimum health, while at the same time be prepared to perform at the highest level possible. Let us take a look at each of these different factors.
Ambient room or outdoor air temperature: Where you will be performing your gig? Is it in a concert hall with regulated air temperature? Or will it be in a cold damp church on a winter morning? Make an attempt to visit the site where you will be performing ahead of time. Determine how you will need to dress. Are you going to be subject to direct sun exposure on a hot summer day? If you are, don't plan on wearing that flashy hot red polyester suit. You'll suffer from heat exhaustion if you do.
Here's some suggestions: If playing in cold environments, wear clothing that will keep your core body temperature maintained. If your band or orchestra has standardized clothing, then consider long underwear to keep you warm. Also, consider how the cold will affect your finger dexterity. Temperatures below 62º will lead to decreased dexterity and clumsiness. For cold weather performances purchase a pair of gloves with the fingertips cut off (If playing your particular instrument allows this). Maintaining hand warmth is critical to preventing repetitive strain injuries to the tendons and muscles. Besides that, your speed and dexterity are much better when your hand and fingers are warm. If you are playing in warm environments, such as outdoors in the summer, remember to take with you at least two water bottles filled with spring or filtered water. Take sips between every song or at least every 10 to 15 minutes to maintain hydration. Wear clothing that will "breath" - will allow air flow to the skin, while allowing heat from the skin to escape. Avoid costumes and suits if at all possible. Have two towels handy - one to wipe off perspiration, and one that is dampened with cold water to wipe your head and face with. This will help keep your body cool. Maintaining proper hydration days before the performance is just as important. Drink six to eight glasses of water daily in preparation for the hot climate.
Sun Exposure: Everyone knows, or should know, that sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancers. Musicians who are continually performing outdoor gigs throughout the summer must take preventative measures to reduce the risk of overexposure to the sun. Use sun screens with SPF 30 or greater. One application should keep you protected through a typical two hour performance. Wear sunglasses that block UV rays. It has been proven that sunglasses without a ultraviolet ray block can actually cause retinal damage in your eyes. Just because everything seems darker doesn't mean your eyes are being protected. Most sunglasses made today offer protection against UV rays, but if you are using your favorite sunglasses from 1975 then take a good look at purchasing some new "shades."
Dry Ice: Dry Ice is gaseous Carbon Dioxide. Blocks of frozen carbon dioxide are put into water and the solid form goes immediately to the gaseous form to create those clouds that reflect lighting so well and create that misty appearance on stage. Many performers state that this dry ice irritates their throat and affects singing. Breathing in large amounts of carbon dioxide over a long period of time can affect your overall health and throw off your blood gas levels. (Such as the carbon dioxide/oxygen ratio) If you are involved in stage performances that include dry ice use, consider the location where the ice will be blown from and attempt to position your equipment away from that location. Talk with the production manager about pointing the dry ice machine away from the performers. In most cases, working together with the stage crew can provide the desired affects of the dry ice, while at the same time preserving the health of the musicians.
Noise Exposure: Noise exposure is not only a consideration for rock musicians. Every musician must plan carefully how they will handle the sounds on-stage or in the orchestra pit. Are you sitting directly behind a brass section that can reach over 100 decibels? Are you an electric bass player standing right next to a drummer? Consider the health of your ears. Prolonged exposure to loud noise WILL cause damage to the sensitive structures of the ears. Many types of earplugs exist for musicians that maintain adequate range of tones, while dampening the total decibels entering the ear. For comprehensive information on hearing issues, visit our links page and go the HEARNET. This site offers many great articles about hearing loss and prevention issues.
Lighting: If you are reading music on-stage, will you be able to see the music with the lighting that's available? Or will you be straining every muscle in your face trying to see the music? Some music stands come with small lighting for this issue, but many do not. Again, planning ahead will prevent a great deal of discomfort, and will keep your eyes healthy.
A musician who is serious about maintaining health will take a serious look at these factors as well as many others when preparing to perform. Don't go into a performance with no knowledge of your playing environment. Knowing your environment is as important as the amount of practicing you have done over the past few years. Poor preparation can ruin your performance and even lead to health complaints down the line.
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