FOR FOUR YEARS St. Louis Symphony concertmaster Nina Bodnar
swept onto the Powell Hall stage to enthusiastic applause. Young
and glamorous, she amazed audiences by confidently leading
musicians twice her age in final tunings.
But Bodnar's life wasn't so pretty as pictured. She usually was
playing in pain.
Tendons and muscles in her neck, shoulders and hand were
inflamed from the strain of playing the violin. Eventually pain
shimmied her finger's aim. Two years ago, pain kept her from the
orchestra's European tour. Last year, pain kept her from most St.
Louis Symphony concerts, including its Japanese tour.
In June, she resigned as concertmaster and player. When the St.
Louis Symphony opens its season Sept. 15, David Halen will be
Bodnar, 33, is not giving up. This summer in Colorado, she has
been finding ways to use her hands and arms differently so she can
play without pain. Her husband, the orchestra's principal cellist,
John Sant' Ambrogio, is buoyed by her determination. He hopes she
will join him playing for an hour or so in chamber concert here
Bodnar's injury is a dramatic example of a growing problem
among professional musicians. At some point, three of four
orchestral players experience upper body pain severe enough to
prevent them from working, says a survey of players in 45 major
orchestras. Younger players report injuries more often than older
players. Over a third of all musicians have missed more than two
months of work. At least 20 of the 110 St. Louis orchestra members
have taken at least a month off because of pain.
Soloists also suffer. Next spring, symphonygoers here will hear
Composer William Bolcom's "Piano Concerto for Two Left Hands"
played by concert pianists Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman. Bolcom
wrote it for his friends because the careers of both pianists have
been thwarted by their pain and loss of control in their right
Musicians' pain is not new. Centuries ago musicians' diaries
lamented missed notes because of cold hands. In 1887, a frustrated
doctor wrote about struggling to get pianists in pain to rest hands
long enough to heal.
Playing Under Pressure
But the problems are becoming epidemic, doctors say. Musicians
play longer schedules. The St. Louis Symphony's schedule includes
200 concerts a year, and as many as 40 recording sessions. They
also have two or three rehearsals most weeks. A generation ago,
they played 15 weeks a year and recorded on occasional years.
"Musicians play new music that didn't exist 50 years ago where
string players have to play harder, louder, to balance out the
brass," said Dr. Richard D. Norris, director of the National Arts
Medicine section of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in
Competition adds stress. Getting an orchestra job, and keeping
one, has become tougher as arts funding falters and orchestras fold.
Over the past 10 years, a handful of clinics in this country
and Germany and England have developed a sub-specialty called arts
medicine. Some doctors focus on hurt dancers, singers and painters,
but most of the work is with musicians. Music conservatories, the
musicians' union and instrument manufacturers' trade associations
call in these arts medical specialists to teach preventative care
and to help with fingering alterations for some instruments.
For years, many doctors pooh-poohed musicians' injuries as
stage fright or imagination. But now rehabilitation experts have
evidence: They can see musicians' inflamed tendons on magnetic
resonance imaging screens.
They also can see a range of other problems. Woodwind and brass
players suffer pain from jaw and joint dysfunction, tooth problems
and the loss of muscular strength in lips and tongue. Many lose
hearing. The high intensity at rehearsals and concerts makes
orchestra musicians just as vulnerable to hearing loss as rock