The University of North Texas leads the world in musician health and safety

Anna Engelland

Career-ending injuries are one of the biggest threats to professional musicians to-date. From a ringing in the ears to chest pains to motion injuries, musicians and performing artists face a myriad of potential injuries in their field. UNT’s College of Music made plans to address this by offering the world’s first Ph.D. in music with a concentration in performing arts health, beginning in fall 2018. The research-based degree will place an emphasis on the hearing, vocal, musculoskeletal and psychological health of musicians and performing artists.

“The real issue is the lack of in-depth research about causes and prevention of injuries,”said Dr. Sajid Surve, the co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health and osteopathic physician, in a phone interview.

Students planning to pursue this degree plan will perform large-scale research studies with the hopes of uncovering trends and new information relating to the causes and prevention of music-related injuries. Recently, more importance has been placed on the health and safety of musicians and other performing artists. Government entities have begun to set policies and standards concerning the issue. The Texas Education Agency set forth a new standard requiring all middle and high school music educators to include health and safety in their curriculum. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has also outlined basic criteria for what constitutes as performing arts health in four categories: hearing health, vocal health, musculoskeletal health and mental health.

“This degree program, offered through the TCPAH, combines the skills of musicians, music educators, engineers, speech pathologists, audiologists, psychologists and physicians to develop a well-rounded education and support for music students,” said Kris Chesky, a professor in UNT’s College of music and co-director of the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health, in a press release.

Kourtney Austin, a singer and teaching fellow at UNT, has enrolled in the course for this fall. She hopes the research from this program will allow a more free and open discussion about music-related injuries.

“We compare it a lot to sports,” said Austin in a phone interview. “But in sports-related injuries, you always hear about who’s out for the season or who’s on the disabled list. In music, we’ve been conditioned to hide it because there’s always someone waiting in the wings to take our spot.”

Surve is concerned with the staggering amount of injured musicians. He hopes the research will reduce the amount of injuries by providing information about music-related injury causes and prevention to professional musicians and music educators.

“The numbers are catastrophically high,” said Surve. “Anywhere between 60 to 90 percent of musicians have experienced a music-related injury, depending on their instrument.”

Nearly 75 percent of professional musicians sustained performance-affecting injuries in 2014, according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Some of the most common music-related injuries include Repetitive Strain Injury, nerve compression, tendinitis and muscle tears. Performing arts health also includes mental and emotional well-being and addresses problems such as stage fright, anxiety, depression and insomnia. UNT’s degree plan will cover both preventative measures and injury management of the broad spectrum of performing arts injuries.

UNT plans to award roughly three Ph.D.’s in music with a concentration in performing arts health per year. The degree program will be offered through the Texas Center for Performing Arts Health, which is partnered with UNT’s Health Science Center. The Texas Center for Performing Arts currently offers clinical resources for voice, musculoskeletal, auditory and mental health at both the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth and the UNT Denton campus.

“As a student, I would like to see the program thrive,” said Austin. “Both Dr. Surve and Dr. Chesky have done a lot of great work.”

Here’s what two UNT Music majors think about performing arts health:

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