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Review: Performing Arts Medicine Association Symposium 2019

Wellness Blog

Review: Performing Arts Medicine Association Symposium 2019

Hannah Murray

by Hannah Murray, July 30, 2019.


This year I (finally) had the good fortune of attending the Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) Symposium. When I discovered that it was going to be held at UCLA this year, I jumped at the chance to be there. I read and reread the schedule and topics presented and planned out my days. The symposium ran from Friday - Monday morning with a certificate course, “The Essentials of Performing Arts Health” scheduled for the Thursday before. I relied heavily on their journal, Medical Problems of Performing Artists (MPPA), for source material when I was researching my dissertation, “Using Iyengar Yoga to Enhance Violin Playing.” It is by far the most comprehensive source for articles about musicians health.

What is PAMA?

PAMA is an organization comprised of dedicated medical professionals, artists educators, and administrators with the common goal of improving the health care of the performing artist. The Performing Arts Medicine Association was founded in 1989. Members join from around the world.

PAMA Mission Statement

The Performing Arts Medicine Association is committed to:

  • Promoting the highest quality of care to all performing artists and bringing to that care an appreciation of the special needs of performing artists.

  • Developing educational programs designed to enhance the understanding and prevention of medical problems related to the performing arts.

  • Promoting communication among all those involved in the health care and well being of performing artists.

  • Fostering research into the etiology, prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of medical problems of performing artists.

Certificate Course

The certificate course is a recent addition to PAMA’s offerings and covers singers, dancers, and instrumentalists. It discusses everything from environmental issues that affect dancers, such as the slope of the stage floor, to performance anxiety and focal dystonia. I enrolled in the course, which involved 12 video lectures, a full day of in-person lectures and a final exam (which was surprisingly difficult). I passed – phew! And am now certified in the essentials of performing arts health. The in-person lectures were very engaging. They covered basic anatomy, appropriate care methods, the biomechanics of playing different instruments, the muscles involved in embouchure, and how to create effective warm-up routines for each instrument. I wish there were a more substantial in-person component. There was no review portion of all of the videos and materials, so walking into the test, nobody was quite sure what to expect and what the breadth or depth of the exam would be.

The Symposium

Tina Nilssen of Timani - check her info out  here!

Tina Nilssen of Timani - check her info out here!

On Friday, the symposium kicked off at 8 am - and I now wholly respect Los Angeles rush hour traffic. Getting from Echo Park to UCLA during rush hour was no easy feat! 
Each day featured a variety of lectures, workshops, and discussions. I am more inclined to participate in movement-based classes, so I made sure to attend “Effective Pilates for Enhanced Performance” hosted by Regina May De Los Reyes, and Jennifer Yang, “Utilizing Embodied Self-Awareness for Decreasing Performance Anxiety” presented by Gary Ferguson, “Music Breath, and Meditation: Integrating Creative Arts Therapies, Yoga and Mindfulness for Performer Self-Care” by Michael Lihue, “How Can We Help to Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury in Music Students While Simultaneously Enhancing Musical Expression?” lead by Tina Nilssen, and “The Diaphragm/Psoas Connection” presented by Jo Ann Jones.

These presentations were so illuminating. I learned while doing dissertation research that increasing core stability and strength is one of the best ways to reduce injuries in violinists and violists. The Pilates workshop and the Psoas workshop helped me understand the nuance of a statement like that. I learned just how vital the Psoas muscle is both anatomically, and in regards to the body’s flight or fight response, and why aligned posture should not and does not overly tax the Psoas. I also learned release techniques to soothe these feelings and return to a sense of calm. Gary’s lecture was fascinating and made me want to prepare for auditions again so I can attempt to incorporate some of the things he taught. Perhaps my favorite workshop was presented by Tina Nilssen. I could not believe how well she has synthesized information about body awareness, body mapping, yoga, anatomy, biomechanics, Alexander Technique, and so much more. I practically rushed the stage after her workshop to ask more questions and beg for more of her time. I caught the second half of Aviva Wolff’s workshop, “Precision Rehabilitation for Upper Extremity Injuries in Musicians: Individualized Assessment, Prevention, and Treatment,” which featured two musicians from UCLA. She works with student and professional musicians at the Juilliard School and in New York City. She did a great job of reviewing common musculoskeletal risk factors facing musicians and help us identify patterns of movement dysfunction. 

I also attended several lectures - “Between the Lines - Common issues faced by professional baseball and performing arts athletes” by Gary Green discussed how acquiring data can lead to long term positive changes in a field. He used the example of concussions in baseball and the rule changes that lead to a large reduction in concussions in the sport. Dan Benardot’s lecture “Nutrition for the Performing Arts,” was engaging and entertaining. He provided excellent slides and commentary on the general approach to nutrition and eating, and how we should change it to enhance results, and recovery. Dr. Klaus-Felix Laczika from the Vienna Philharmonic also gave an entertaining presentation on the challenges of winning auditions with the Vienna Philharmonic, the mental health of performers and how they “self-medicate” and how modern orchestral management can aid in optimizing professional musicians’ health. He also provided many amusing anecdotes (like what conductors have died during performances and during what piece).

There were also some great discussions about why data collection is essential when creating rules, policies, protocols, and curriculum because you have “evidence” to refer to as proof of the importance. We heard from Gary Green about how he changed some crucial elements of baseball based on research that was collected. I also went to the research committee workshop where we talked about the limitations, and difficulties in the Performing Arts Medicine world particularly when it comes to disseminating the information to performers and others who are not yet aware of the data, maybe don’t have easy access to it, or prefer it in a different format. There seems to be a gap between the research and the easily accessible information that is good for musicians, but perhaps not founded in anything concrete. After this discussion, I felt proud of what corpSonore does and so much more committed to our goal of creating a platform that musicians can easily access where information is grounded in research. 


I met so many individuals invested in research, implementation, and the cultivation of different approaches to the treatment of instrumentalists, dancers, actors, and singers. I loved meeting the researchers, doctors, and therapists who were there to learn and improve their skills when treating the specific demands and needs of performers and the dialogue that happened as a result. 

The PAMA certificate course and symposium were enjoyable and immensely productive. I learned so many things that are easy to incorporate and effective teaching tools for injury prevention. I also discovered many new elements of musicians health and wellness that I want to study further. I am excited about the work corpSonore does in bridging the gap between academia and application, and I cannot wait to collaborate with some of my new colleagues in the future. You will hear from some of my favorite speakers and attendees in the coming seasons of the podcast so stay tuned!

To find out more about PAMA. click here

To find out more about MPPA, click here