“I’ve been playing violin since I was four, so I’ve always defined myself as a musician,” Claire Motyer, U3 Music, said.
Motyer spent her whole life immersed in musical performance, until she injured herself in her first semester at McGill University from over-rehearsing.
“I was […] practicing four hours a day plus rehearsals, so up to six to eight hours a day,” Motyer said. “It was just way too much on my body and I immediately started experiencing discomfort and pain.”
After only a month of studying in an intense violin performance programme, Motyer developed tendonitis in her wrist, creating a major setback in her degree and passion. Her injury also took a toll on her mental health. The sheer demand of the music programme at McGill can create a stressful environment for students, which led to the development of a mandatory peer mentorship program for musicians’ mental health in 2015. For Motyer, studying music caused her to experience high levels of anxiety.
“I think part of the reason I got injured was the stress and anxiety that I was experiencing when I arrived here, and feeling like I had all these expectations that I had to meet,” Motyer said. “[….] Then when I was faced with this injury, I had to redefine who I was if I wasn’t going to be a musician anymore.”
This unfortunate event ultimately kickstarted Motyer’s interest in musician’s health, and over the past couple years she has invested increasing amounts of her spare time into the subject. In September 2016, she started an Instagram account, @c__natural, and last month she posted her first blog post on her new website, C Natural.
Over 80 per cent of orchestra musicians have experienced a physical injury during their careers, but discussion of the topic is stigmatized, as many perceived health struggles as a flaw that would detract from their image as an accomplished musician. Motyer speaking out about her personal experience will hopefully demonstrate, not only to musicians but the wider public, that such struggles are normal and can even provide a path to alternative opportunities.
Though the blog is still fairly new, it has provided Motyer with an outlet to express her thoughts on the under-acknowledged issue of musicians’ health. In some of her first blog posts, she discusses her personal experiences and gives advice to other musicians who are also suffering. As the blog develops, Motyer aims to explore structural flaws in the music world.
In her most recent blog post, published on Jan. 15, Motyer discusses the pressures of practicing an instrument as a musician. Even when there is good reason to continue practicing, such as an upcoming concert or audition, pushing oneself too hard can lead to injury. This is more harmful in the long-run, as it can affect one’s future opportunities or success by hindering his or her ability to play.
“I want to […] show it’s not necessarily what [musicians] are doing wrong, but what the education system is doing wrong,” Motyer said. “[Physical strain] wasn’t just the reason that I got injured, it was [also] because I had to do so many things, […] its because I had a lot of pressure on me.”
Considering the short amount of time that the blog has been active, she has already received positive feedback for her efforts, and regularly receives messages from professional musicians, former music teachers, and colleagues about her work.
“I wanted to start a lot of this a long time ago, but because I was still experiencing [health problems] so much myself, I couldn't start everything,” Motyer said. “Now that I’ve come to terms with my own situation and my own mental health, as well as the injury, I’m really able to see where this is going.”
Motyer’s focus on musician’s health is paying off. In addition to her online presence, she is currently working as the Music Intern at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which has enabled her to speak to a large and diverse audience of people about health issues for musicians. As of January 2017, she has also put together the Schulich Musicians' Health Committee at McGill, which has organized a Musician’s Health Awareness Week to take place from Feb. 13 to 19.
“Musician’s health is [now] where I want to go [professionally], instead of being a performer, but it took me a long time to acknowledge that I couldn’t be a performer anymore,” Motyer said.
Though Motyer hasn't fully recovered yet and still struggles with her injury while playing, she frequently incorporates her own daily practice into her blog and social media posts. The violinist also has plans to develop the blog further by including featuring guest posts from peers and professors. She has a friend working on the next blog post for C Natural, who will be describing her own experience with music and mental health.
“People that I’d rarely spoken to who wanted to share their stories and contribute to the blog,” Motyer said. “[….] That’s what I want this blog to become, it’s not just about me sharing my experience, but people in general communicating more about this issue and really coming together on this and raising awareness about it.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Motyer has fully recovered from her injury, and that Musician's Health Awareness Week will take place from Feb. 18-19. In fact, Motyer has not yet recovered from her injury, and still struggles with it while playing, and Musician's Health Awareness Week will take place from Feb. 13-19. The Tribune regrets these errors.