Welcome to the tenth post of The Artist Series, where I interview musicians who have overcome injuries to help demystify performance-related pain and inspire musicians to better take care of their health.
Our next guest is Nick Fitton, a professional flute and piccolo studio teacher based in Massachusetts.
What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Hi everyone! My name is Nicholas Fitton, but most people call me Nick. My preferred pronouns are He/Him/His.
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I am based in Massachusetts and work for myself as a flute and piccolo studio owner/teacher, while simultaneously auditioning for and substituting with orchestras around the country.
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
My injury was an overuse of the tendons in both of my arms prior to the start of the pandemic in 2020. I was in the second semester of my Master’s degree in Piccolo Performance at the Peabody Institute and was preparing for 2 orchestra auditions, a school wind ensemble concert, and a short recital for the woodwind department, in addition to hours of individual practice for my lessons. I was playing a total of 6-8 hours a day and I wasn’t listening to my body. If I felt a tugging or tingling I would just power through it because I had so much to get accomplished by the end of a given day. This also included texting on my phone and typing on my laptop for school assignments.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
Looking back at my recovery and rehabilitation period, the biggest challenge for me was adapting to new ways of functioning on a day-to-day level without texting, typing, or playing my instrument. I felt lost without my flute or piccolo in my hands, but it also made me reanalyze the other aspects of my life, personality, and time that I had sacrificed for my pursuit of music as a career.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
Once I began my recovery journey using physical therapy, body mapping, and working with Austin all in tandem, one of the biggest struggles I experienced was learning not to push myself to or past any threshold of discomfort or pain in any action. This included simple daily tasks like writing with a pen or pencil, driving my car, opening a jar of food, or holding the leash to walk my dog, Julie. I’m also not the type of person who likes to ask others for help out of fear that I will inconvenience them. It was a real challenge to be honest with myself and understand my body’s limitations.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
The biggest lesson I learned in my injury recovery was, just as we have daily exercises in music, you MUST do your physical exercises every day to see an improvement. There were days that I didn’t do them for whatever reason and I could feel the regression or discomfort from not being diligent.
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
The thing that surprised me the most was how incredibly important the role of hydration is to your body’s ability to feel good! And not hydrating with coffee, tea, juice, sports drinks, or soda…but with water! I was fortunate that when I graduated, Peabody gifted each student a 32 oz. blue water bottle which I now drink out of religiously, close to 2.5-3 x a day!
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
In addition to continuing the stretches and mobility work from my initial recovery process, I have added more breathing work and some very basic yoga into my weekly regimen. I am also fortunate to live near the Atlantic Ocean, and now that the weather is getting warmer, I will do about a 2-3 mile walk 3 to 4 times a week at the beach. When I get to my halfway point I will sit and not only observe the beauty of nature around me but I will also use that time for a bit of meditation and breathing work.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
My words of encouragement to someone currently experiencing an injury is the same type of advice we were given in elementary school by the fire department on fire safety, “Stop, drop, and roll!”
STOP: The most important thing is to not aggravate whatever is going on with your body for the sake of saying “I practiced today." Don’t do it! You’ll do more harm than you will good!
DROP: You will most likely have to reduce activity/physical practice to let your body heal and this will be the hardest part of your recovery. You will feel like an extension of yourself is missing, but there are other ways to continue fulfilling your artistic cravings -
ROLL: listening to various recordings, score study, watching an entire opera performance, listening to repertoire outside of your primary instrument/instrumentation, or even gathering the courage to do a deep analysis of the score of a piece you had been working on #musictheory.
You could also look into other creative mediums/hobbies that, because of your pursuit of music, were put on the back burner such as painting, drawing, cooking, baking, journaling/blogging, or in my case: photography. The “roll” is the hardest part to keep in perspective, but don’t just stop being creative because you can’t spend time with your musical instrument. Challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone!
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
Don't be afraid to ask for help! Just as athletes at the highest level have surrounded themselves with a team of specialists in their field, we also need to build a team of coaches for the longevity of our craft, and that needs to expand past the teachers of our instruments. Find a personal trainer at a gym, sign up for classes at a yoga studio (or go on YouTube and do it in your own home!), work with an injury prevention specialist for musicians, team up with a mindset coach, and take advantage of the programs offered by our superhero recovery and mobility master, Austin Pancner! There are so many wonderful people out there who will be completely supportive of your recovery journey and you will be better off having invited them to be a part of your team.
What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
In addition to preparing for 2 auditions for the Cape Cod Symphony and the National Symphony Orchestra, some fun things I have coming up are substituting with the Omaha Symphony on a Pops concert with The Temptations! I will also be returning to the Boston Flute Academy as an alumnus to teach two masterclasses focusing on flute repertoire & etudes, and the Vivaldi C major Piccolo Concerto.