Following a hectic final term at school, my return home last Friday was greeted with the excitement of both the women and men’s Wimbledon finals. Throughout the whole of the tournament this year, I couldn’t help but compare the lives of tennis players with our lives as musicians, and how tennis may be revealing the darker injustice in the musical industry.
Much of my cello playing career so far has been enormously rewarding, but I did encounter a traumatic tendon injury for 6 months last year. I don’t feel it an exaggeration to admit that I felt very much alone during this time. This was not entirely out of the fault of my school, but largely because I felt injury wasn’t discussed or accepted within the school. Prior to my injury I had received little, if any, education about injuries and prevention, and had no idea who to talk to. So often I was made to feel I was letting people down, the fault being my own. This stemmed from being one of the only injured musicians in my school at the time.
The isolation I encountered through my injury is far from the experiences of those in the sports world and tennis in particular. If a player has recovered from injury, many of the commentators and treat it as a tremendous act of resilience and bravery for them to be competing. They understand the impact of an injury and don’t ‘expect’ the player to return at full health straight away, because injuries are understood in the sports world. Sports people don’t fear them because they know they will have the support they need to recover. Why are musicians different? As well as physical injury, being unable to play and has a significant mental impact that needs treatment and support. Injury is a big deal because you lose your means of expression. Injured Musicians are left watching rehearsals, excluded from concerts and plagued with the fear of missing opportunities that their fitter fellow students will instead receive. I know my experiences aren’t rare and, although musical injuries are perhaps less common than those encountered by sports players, most musicians will experience an injury at some point in their career.
It’s also interesting to question why injury happens in musicians and highlight another comparison between the sports and classical music industry. It is without a doubt that success in the classical music industry nowadays is based around perfection. We attend a concert expecting a certain standard. If a musician makes a name for themselves, they are expected to maintain this level throughout their career and at every concert they perform. The classic example of a ‘bad day’ was seen in Djokovic’s devastating 4th round loss in Wimbledon this year. Of course, many fans were disappointed, but the sports world as a whole appears much more understanding of failure. Djokovic has been so successful in his career that this one set back doesn’t fail him in our estimation. I’m not entirely certain whether the same would be true in the classical music industry. This fear of failure and constant search for perfection puts stress on the body for many people, and it is here that injury is likely to occur. It feels more often that our motives in practice are turned towards perfection, rather than the ability we have to communicate the inner soul of the composer. This can’t be healthy or rewarding in the long term.
Musicians are communicators, just as sports people are, and both, more importantly, are human. It appears that the sports world are much more in tune with this fact than the musical world and, as a result of this, the failings of the athletes are both respected and expected. Musicians are humans with human needs and functions. Although my injury turned into something positive in the end, it took a lot of pain, darkness and loneliness before I was able to release myself. We shouldn’t go at it alone and don’t deserve to.
I can only hope we begin to learn from those in the sports world; an industry that is far closer to us than we may invisage.