Orlando Sentinel: Musicians face physical demands, as Philharmonic violinist knows

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By Matthew J. Palm
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer
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December 14, 2014 8 :45 PM

When the principal violinist of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra was injured in a car accident in September, she didn’t expect her music to be silenced.

But lingering pain kept Rimma Bergeron-Langlois from playing. She returns to the Phil for the first time since the crash to headline Monday’s concert, “Rimma plays ‘The Four Seasons,'” performing as soloist.

“I am glad to be playing,” said the Longwood resident. “It’s great to be back in my place again, where I belong.”

Bergeron-Langlois’s absence illustrates the physical demands on a musician’s body. Like athletes, musicians consistently use certain muscles. And as with athletes, a quality performance depends on peak physical condition.

“The body works as a whole,” said Timothy Jameson, a chiropractor who runs the website “Musicians have to be in good shape to do what they do.”

Bergeron-Langlois, 34, attends physical therapy three times per week. She said her recovery is helped because of her longtime routine of stretching before violin practice.

Stretching is key, said Jameson, who is based in Castro Valley, Calif. But musicians also have to watch their nutrition, stress levels, even sleep.

“That’s an important one,” Jameson said. “Sleeping is when most of the body’s healing takes place.”

Melissa Swedberg, an Orlando Philharmonic viola player, does yoga and runs triathlons.

“I figured out early on that the better shape my body was in generally, the better things would go with the viola,” she said.

Swedberg developed tendinitis as a college student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“It’s so intense what we do on the instruments,” she said. “It’s a lot of repetition for certain muscles.”

Jameson said although athletes such as long-distance runners heavily use large muscles, musicians put many small muscles to work over and over — muscles that aren’t necessarily designed for such repetition.

Robert Carpenter, the Philharmonic’s principal tuba player, uses flexibility exercises to combat occasional pain in his hands. The exercises were recommended by a colleague in the orchestra.

At age 49, he’s noticing his body aging.

“It definitely changes as you age,” he said. “That’s why good habits are important. There are stories of people whose careers fall apart. They just can’t do it anymore.”

Carpenter, who also designs tubas, is looking at ways of making the large instrument — which can average about 30 pounds — easier to handle.

Each instrument puts a different stress on the body, Jameson said. A violinist must maintain a certain posture for optimal playing. A drummer may suffer from lower-back or shoulder pain. The trombone can be awkward to hold, resulting in muscle fatigue.

He has seen plenty of patients who don’t understand the balance between physical and musical work.

“Musicians are notoriously bad about taking care of their bodies through exercise,” he said. “They just want to practice — they are using their instruments six-seven hours a day.”

That was the pitfall of Swedberg during her college days.

“I thought the way you got better was to practice as much as you can,” she said. “Then I found out sometimes it’s better not practicing as much so you can get some sleep.”

Bergeron-Langlois says she is easing back into her practice routine: “I can’t do five or six hours each day. That would not be smart.”

She’s concertmaster for the Philharmonic, a leadership position second only to the conductor. There has been an emotional strain from not being able to play.

“I did not feel like myself at all,” she said. “Not only was I hurt, I was depressed.”

As with most creative souls, she feels a deep connection with her art.

“Playing violin is not just my profession,” she said. “It’s who I am.”

“Rimma Plays ‘The Four Seasons”‘

What: An Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra chamber-music concert with music by Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Golijov. Eric Jacobsen conducts.
When: 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15
Where: The Plaza Live, 420 N. Bumby Ave., Orlando
Tickets: $16-$30
Call: 407-770-0071

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