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Physical Exercise for Artists

'Un-master' class helps musicians
tune their inner instruments

Acclaimed pianist and music professor William Westney is not fomenting revolution among music students, but his "un-master classes," like the one he held at Yale, do fly in the face of certain staid traditions.

Westney presented the 90-minute group workshop to about 25 students from the School of Music on Nov. 7 in the Yale Opera Studio in Hendrie Hall. A Yale graduate who earned master's and doctoral degrees here in 1971 and 1976 respectively, Westney has more than 35 years experience as a solo pianist. He has received many prestigious musical awards and has produced critically acclaimed recordings as well as, most recently, a book titled "The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self." He developed and teaches the 90-minute "Un-Master Class" around the globe. Describing the workshop as a "complement" to the time-honored "master class," Westney enjoined the Yale participants to connect in a new way to themselves as performers and to their audiences. Standing in front of the class, Westney began by asking the students to try to remember a particularly moving performance, their own or someone else's. "How do you know it's special?" he asked. Students volunteered various physical responses -- such as tingling up the spine and a glowing feeling in the chest. It is critical for performers to capture that "special" feeling and to incorporate it in their playing, asserted Westney. "If classical music is going to survive, it has to have 'vitality,'" he said. "It has to connect." Westney noted that toddlers listening to music respond instinctively with their whole bodies. This "bodily intuition" is fundamental to the musical experience, Westney contended. With the human brain as their new frontier, scientists are particularly fascinated by musicians, he said, because "we use our body as an instrument of knowing." Bringing his students to the front of the classroom and asking them to form a circle around him, Westney put them through a series of exercises designed to sharpen that intuitive instrument. As a warm up, students were asked to loosen their knees by jiggling, then to shift their weight from side to side, then to shout out loud as they assumed various positions with their arms outstretched. In one exercise, the young musicians passed around a ball in time to pre-recorded musical selections -- ranging from Tchaikovsky to Gregorian chants to unaccompanied drums -- while expressing their emotional response to what they were hearing in the way they handed over the ball. In another exercise, Westney asked the students to describe in words the physical gestures they made in response to music, demonstrating, he said, that it was in fact impossible to verbalize that response. After the physical exercises had, as Westney put it, "opened the class up in that two-year-old way," he declared that the students were ready for the performance phase of the workshop. He told the students that, unlike normal master classes, they could not critique their fellow performers for their technical skills -- they could only respond by saying, "here's what I got out of it." Then Westney turned to the performers who were to play a wind quintet, and asked each of them to answer specifically, "What do I want to get out of this performance?" In a later solo piano recital, Westney made the pianist who had just played a Chopin piece repeat the performance, this time looking into the eyes of another student standing in front of him every time he shifted his "thought" as he played.

"You have to love what you're doing," Westney advised the young musicians, adding, "Put the book away, and find out who you are."

Allegro: Associated Musicians of Greater New York


Alternative Treatments Can
Benefit Musicians: Body Tuning

by Richard L. Simon and Adam C. Fisher

The physical problems of musicians, particularly injuries due to misuse of the body, have received considerable attention in recent years. Most of the interest has been focused on resolving injuries that already exist, rather than on preventing these injuries. A recent discussion with Shmuel Tatz – a rather remarkable Manhattan-based physical therapist and physical education specialist – provided some important perspectives on these subjects.Tatz has worked with hundreds of musicians during his career, including such artists as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and Vladimir Ashkenazy. He has also worked with countless ballet dancers, and with people who work in other fields. When asked how the average musician's case compares to that of a dancer or a person who works outside the arts, Tatz pointed out that "everything we do in life can lead to physical problems. It's just a question of when in life the problems begin. For a dancer, the problems usually start between the ages of 15 and 20; for a musician, between 20 and 30; for someone who has a desk job, between 30 and 40."Why this discrepancy? "Dancers have problems the soonest, because they demand so much from their bodies that they abuse themselves. Mussicians, on the other hand, are often taught early on to ignore their bodies. Frequently, when a teacher or parent discovers that a child is musically gifted, the child will be discouraged from engaging in normal physical activities, such as sports. This is very bad for physical development. It can prevent the child from acquiring the strength, flexibility and endurance that serious instrumental study and performance require. It may also set the stage for problems later on."A knowledgeable, attentive teacher should recommend that a student's parents allow normal amounts of physical activities. In addition, teachers' understanding and awareness of what may turn out to be physical misdevelopment in their students, coupled with referrals for physical therapy when required, can go a long way towards reducing these problems in childhood and afterwards."Unlike a ballet dancer, musicians generally require only normal strength and flexibility, to perform at a peak level," Tatz said. "What is surprising is how many musicians don't have even normal mobility. Often, the development is uneven – an arm is too flexible in one direction and stiff in the other, and therefore unstable." Specific physical training is not the norm among musicians. "In fact, musicians are frequently taught to disregard the body, to be result-oriented – only the musical product matters, no matter what kind of physical deprivation or damage is required to achieve that end. In general, people are taught to see a health practitioner, such as a physician or physical therapist, only when they are already sick or injured. In my opinion, that is waiting too long. People need to seek out physical educators and medical doctors who are willing to help someone who is healthy to stay that way, so that certain avoidable problems can be prevented from ever occurring."What about adult musicians who are already suffering from physical problems? Tatz uses a unique approach called "Body Tuning" in his work as a physical therapist. "The body is an instrument that needs to be kept in tune, just like a violin or an automobile. When a musician comes to see me, I try to address not only the specific problem he is having, but also more general aspects of movement and posture."Tatz's Body Tuning draws on a diverse combination of Eastern and Western disciplines. One component of his approach is "manual medicine" – hand-on physical therapy, a discipline to which he ascribes European and Australian origins. Manual medicine served as the focus of his studies in Israel. His earlier studies in Russia dealt with the use of "therapeutic modalities" such as laser therapy, microcurrents, ultrasound and magnetic therapy. "Russia is 15 to 20 years ahead of the West in these high-tech applications," Tatz explains. "These approaches have caught on in the West only during the last ten years. In Russia, electrical modalities and magnetic therapy were already in use in the 1950s."Tatz also incorporates disciplines from the Far East, such as yoga, Tai Chi, energetic healing and acupuncture, as well as Western adaptations such as the Alexander and Feldenkrais techniques.When working with a patient, Tatz begins by trying to establish a spiritual rapport. "I want a musician to feel that I understand what it means to be a professional musician, that I know how much energy and passion go into making music, and what the physical demands are. If a pianist, for example, knows that I understand his art and way of life, he will trust me to help him to take proper care of his body. This trust is the most critical aspect of my work with the patient." After a personal connection has been made, Tatz begins by testing the mobility in the patient's joints, the flexibility and strength of the muscles, and the condition of ligaments and tendons.The second step is to help loosen tight joints or muscles through hands-on manipulation of parts of the body. Next, Tatz shows the patient exercises that can be done on one's own to increase flexibility and strength in the areas that need improvement. "I start with the specific problem or injury, but in the back of my head I am always thinking of the patient's general health. Once the particular problem is fixed, I go on to do a more general tuning, as a mechanic would tune up an automobile after replacing a defective part."Afterward, I might make some more general suggestions. These suggestions could deal with general physical health, including diet (in which case I have sometimes referred patients to a dietician)m and physical presentation on stage, which is extremely important for performers, but which teachers often neglect to address. The way in which a performer moves on stage is a crucial factor in establishing a connection with the audience."

The last step in the process is finding out what kinds of physical activity the patient enjoys. According to Tatz, finding a physical activity that someone really enjoys is the best way to ensure that the patient will continue to exercise effectively. Continued exercise is critical, because it is "only when a musician can fully enjoy playing his instrument." And that is, after all, the kind of enjoyment that musicians seek.


From HEALTHMAP, The Ultimate Health Magazine

In an unassuming studio nestled in the heart of Carnegie Hall, Shmuel Tatz and his team of Physical Therapy and Body Tuning experts are found adjusting spines, manipulating ligaments, stretching muscles, teaching patients to move correctly, and using their hands as their main tool in diagnosing patients.

Indeed, Tatz Studio at Carnegie Hall - as it is appropriately called - is no ordinary physical therapy center. It is a place where the old world philosophy of listening carefully to each individual body, and providing treatment accordingly, still rules.Originally from Lithuania Shmuel Tatz studied Western physical therapy in Jerusalem. Soon realizing that modern physical therapy concentrates mainly on serious injuries alone, he searched for treatments that would help those who have no classified medical condition, but who experience chronic aches and pains. He broadened his scope of learning to include postural integration, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, tai chi, Iyengar yoga, reflex therapy, and hydrotherapy, learning to draw from the various disciplines when treating each individual patient. Since his arrival in New York in 1985, he has been developing and perfecting what calls "body tuning."Much like a skilled musician communicating with his instrument, Shmuel converses with the body and "tunes" it. "It's my job to feel the bones, the muscles, the ligaments, and the tendons with my hands, and to evaluate what is wrong in each area," he explains. "When I what the problem is, I do adjustments and manipulations on the patient, and I try to reeducate his or her body to move as it should - as it used to. But the first step for me is to feel the problem."And feel he does. Lying on his treatment table on a quiet morning with Schubert softy playing in the back ground, I see Shmuel towering over me, gliding his fingers swiftly along my muscles and joints. Constantly reminding me to relax and to let go of my limbs (one of the most difficult aspects of the treatment for me, since I tend to be quite tense), he locates painful areas in my body without me having to say a word, all the time mumbling to him self in deep concentration. With in a few minutes, he knows my body better than I do, and already communicates with it way better than I do, feeling the areas that are at war, and those that are at peace. He stretches my muscles, does deep-tissue massage and acupressure, adjusts my spine, and works with me to improve the range of motion in my joints. He concludes our session by placing magnets on my legs in order to improve my circulation, and teaches me exercises I can do at home to overcome blockages in my body. I leave his studio feeling thought an iron has pressed out every crease in my body, and as I walk to word 57th Street to catch the subway, I notice that my back is straighter and I feel taller. I even find my self humming an old jazz tune on the subway platform. This therapy, I tell my self must be working.Shmuel’s fascination with body movement began early on. He had originally wanted to become a dancer, but, he says with a smirk, ‘I had no talent.‘ A cousin advised him to get into the field of physical therapy. That seems to have been his calling, since ha has taken physical therapy into the next phase, spending nearly twenty-five rears to learn various modalities. "Every patient who comes to me is experiencing pain or discomfort at a different level," he explains. "In order to assist each one appropriately, I must have a large repertoire to draw from. One modality is not enough to help every person who walks in through the door."Shmuel’s philosophy is well appreciated by his patients, and, in fact, quite a distinguished cast of characters have walked trough the doors of Tatz Studio at Carnegie Hall. Among Shmuel’s patients are world-renowned violinists Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin, prima ballerinas Alexandra Danilova, Nina Ananiashvili, and Susan Jaffe, as well as reporter Peter Jennings. In fact, during one of my sessions (I’ve become a regular patient), I learned that Andrew Lloyd Weber, composer of such popular musicals as Phantom of the opera and Sunset Boulevard, was getting ready for treatment in the next room. Not without enthusiasm, I took off my sweats, donned my "interviewer" outfit, and ventured into the next room.I a serene and poised tone, Mr. Weber informed me that he was seeing Shmuel mainly for tension in his shoulders. Carrying his five-month-old baby, along with long hours of playing the piano , he said, were taking their toll on him, and hr was coming to seek relief. "Shmuel is very good at making you feel relaxed. Though I’m normally based in London, I manage to visit him whenever I’m in New York."Other patients, perhaps lesser known but equally appreciative, regard Shmuel’s work as unique, and have found relief from pain when now other therapist was able to help. One patient, Lucy M., who has been receiving treatment for back pain, told me that her sister, her daughter, and her self have all been seeing Shmuel throughout the past year. "My daughter, who is eleven years old," she explained, "had been suffering from severe migraine headaches since she was five or six years old. When I brought her to Shmuel’s, it turned out that the culprit was not her head itself, but the stress in her back - which was also contributing to her poor posture. He's been working on her back, and her headaches are slowly vanishing." Lucy's sister, a non-believer in any kind of non-conventional therapy, was suffering from a pinched nerve that caused severe cramps in her leg. She was dragged to see Shmuel much against her will, but several sessions later, with the pain completely gone, she changed her tune. "She'd been seeing numerous physical therapists, who had not be able to help her, as well as an orthopedist who prescribed a $1,000 pair of therapeutic shoes," Lucy explains. "You don't know my sister," she laughs. "She is a very careful with her money. Still, she got the shoes, hoping they were going to help her. She's now placed them on top of her armoire, as a joke."Among Shmuel’s patients are numerous physicians, who, like most people coming to Tatz Studio, had been unable to find relief elsewhere. Dr.Jamie C., board-certified in internal medicine, had a ruptured and was experiencing chronic pain. After getting physical therapy treatment to no avail, she was referred to Shmuel by one of her patients. "He works on my neck and upper beck, and I usually leave the studio pain free." Though her pain does return, Dr. C. indicates that it is much more manageable than it used to be.Shmuel’s art lies not only in using his hands to provide relief, but also in reeducating patients to move properly and efficiently. "Years of misusing a muscle or a joint," says Shmuel, "impacts your range of motion and ultimately leads to joint displacement, circulation blockage, and chronic pain. You must teach the body to move as it was intended to." Indeed, when we are born, we have no prior knowledge of movement . Our childhood experiences (whether we were active or passive, happy or cheerful, encouraged or chastised) teach us to move a certain way, and we adapt to our way as adults, all the while not realizing that there are myriad movements that would allow us to accomplish the same activities more efficiently. The way we walk, the way we sit, the way stand, the way we hold the phone, and countless other daily activities can all stress our bodies of not done correctly. Performers and athletes in particular, who place repetitive strain on the same muscles, joints, and ligaments, often suffer even more severe consequences. Shmuel helps alleviate pain by working on the body and works with patients to teach them to move more effectively. "If you don't correct your body movement, your pain is bound to return. It's not enough for me to work on you. You have to actively participate."An integral part of any holistic protocol, active participation in one's own health, according to Shmuel, is essential to maintaining good health and increasing the quality of life." We're lucky we live in a country where we can pay attention to personal details," says Shmuel, and "can fine-tune our health to the best of our ability. We don't have to worry about hunger, or war. We should be glad we have ample opportunity to tale care of ourselves."To help him treat patients, Shmuel has surrounded himself by equally competent practitioners : Mariyus Talochka, also from Lithuania, who combines athletic rehabilitation with Eastern healing philosophies, and Rivi Har-El, a native of Israel who emphasizes a mind-body treatment protocol. Mariyus and Shmuel, incidentally attended the same college in Lithuania. In the 1970s, Shmuel left for Israel and Mariyus traveled to Russia, both to further their education in physical therapy. Years later they accidentally reconvened in New York City. Now the two collaborate in treating patients, Mariyus often concentrating on patients who have suffered severe physical injury. Rivi mostly treats patients interested in receiving both touch and talk therapy, and combines her diverse background of physical therapy, Rubenfeld Synergy (touch-talk therapy), the Feldenkrais Method, imagery, as well as dance movement, to assist patients in overcoming chronic pain. Helping patients understand how their body language, their movement, and their posture, she works with them to release emotional blockages stored in the body, and reeducates them to move more efficiently.Together they form a remarkable team, providing comfort to thousands of patients who would otherwise have had to undergo surgery, or live with chronic pain. They bring years of learning of dozens of various treatment modalities into one place. So appropriately located in Carnegie Hall amid dancers, musicians, and conductors, Shmuel Tatz and his troop play a symphony all their own.


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