Musicians: The unsung athletes

Picture this: You’re at your next family dinner. You see your aunts, uncles and cousins. Your cousin Ben says he has a scholarship to play football at a four-year university. Everyone congratulates him for his hard work and commitment. Then, your cousin Trevor comes along and says he got a scholarship to play piano at this really high-end music school. Everyone talks about how lucky he is for landing that.

Physical sports do get a lot of attention for good reasons — It is hard to achieve and maintain both that level of physical fitness and the mental strength to be good both off and on the field. But why don’t musicians get the same praise? It’s equally brutal — It already takes a large amount of effort to be good, but it takes superhuman amounts of effort to be great.

Maybe you only take physical strain into account in your assessment of the athleticism involved in a given activity. Well, with music, your form has to be spot on. Take singing for an example: According to the NIDCD, about 17.9 million adults in the US report problems with their voices, and a major cause is constant strain on their voices. So singers, whose main job and income relies on them abusing their vocal cords, are at a high risk of physical problems.

Let’s continue on this train for a bit. I went to the Academy of Art University (AAU) a while back, and I met a few musicians there.

“There are a lot of unforeseeable issues with playing an instrument,” said AAU alumnus David De Santa, a professional pianist. “With piano, it’s all about poster and finger and hand dexterity. If even one thing is off, I could blow out my back, I could get carpal tunnel, or just damage my nerves to oblivion.”

As you can see, musicians at the top levels also have to worry about physical issues that result from their craft. Just because they’re not playing a sport doesn’t mean that they’re not performing with everything they got, or that they’re not scared that performance could severely hurt them.

Let’s talk about mental stress as well. With sports, what it involves is drastically more mental than most people think, from the on-the-field strategizing, to the diet and workout, to the mental strength necessary to just keep going to training every day. Well, musicians go through this as well. Like I said before, it takes a ton of effort to be good at an instrument, but to be great takes superhuman levels of mental and physical strength.

“It only took four years to get my degree, but (the degree) is the only thing everyone else sees,” De Santa. “They didn’t see me in fourth grade going to piano practice every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They didn’t see me in freshman year, crying and wanting to quit after losing a talent show. They didn’t see all the hard work and doubt I had to fight through to get to where I am.”

Artists deserve more recognition, and musicians are some of the world’s strongest minds and strongest willed among us. To say that they reached where they currently find themselves just through luck discredits the years of training, stress, and strain they already put themselves through, and does not acknowledge the risks they impose upon their bodies. We need to start appreciating musicians more — We’re lucky to have a group as passionate and strong as them.