Welcome to the eleventh 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 Sophie Volpe, a master's student in trombone performance.
What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Sophie Volpe she/her
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I am currently earning my MM in trombone performance at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University!
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
I had an overuse injury in my forearms, wrists and shoulders. I believe my injury was a cocktail of many circumstances - stress, over practicing, lack of awareness while practicing, emotional processing that lived in my body and my tendency to over grip. I believe that all of the factors were lying dormant waiting for a final dose of stress to bring me over the line into injury.
In June of 2021 had traveled to perform at a brass band festival and the 6-hr drive combined with an 8-hr rehearsal day, emotional stress of meeting a lot of new people and being around many folks for the first time since the worst of the pandemic, was that final straw for me. On the drive home I began to have nerve zaps in my forearms, my upper traps were locked and firm to the touch, and I could not fully turn my head to the right.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
The largest technical struggle I had with my injury was physically being able to hold up the horn for any amount of time that enabled me to practice or perform. When I straightened my slide arm to reach outer positions, I got a zap from my right middle finger, up my arm to my neck, I had tendonitis symptoms in my wrists due to my muscles gripping around my tendons, I had knots in my forearms and upper back and very bad headaches.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
I struggled with consistency and with keeping my pride in check. It was easy for me to find answers to questions like ‘what exercises do I need to do to strengthen and relieve my pain?’ and ‘can you refer me to a massage therapist and chiropractor you trust?’ It was much more difficult for me to do the exercises prescribed to me every day, especially when I was starting to feel relief. When the injury was especially bad, I had trouble feeling like I could still reach my playing goals - I was working up graduate school auditions at the time and didn’t feel like I could take any time off of playing and didn’t want to say no to any work. At the time I was also
working as a barista, which is a very physical job that can easily irritate one’s wrists, arms and neck.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
I feel like I finally learned how to practice! It became imperative to my recovery that I be as efficient with my practice time as possible. I had a limited amount of physical resources to use in order to hold up the horn.
I feel like I learned how to advocate for myself. I was working as a barista, freelancing, teaching, and preparing for graduate school auditions during the bulk of my injury. It was difficult to say no to work, but sometimes I knew that it was in my best interest to do so. I asked my boss at the cafe if she could schedule me on days I knew were less busy and therefore less physically demanding for a short time. I asked coworkers if they could help me lift a heavy garbage bag or took multiple trips up from the stock room with heavy bags of coffee beans, etc…
I reached out for help and tried to learn as much as I could. I went to a physical therapist that specialized in musician and dancer injuries, I sought out a massage therapist, chiropractic care, body mapping lessons and took Austin’s injury prevention course! Becoming a student to my injury rather than judging it or wishing it looked differently was a game changer for me.
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
I was surprised to learn that the vast majority of musicians get injured during their career. This is not something that I heard talked about in the brass/wind world during my time in school (outside from chop injuries).
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I consider how things will affect my overall wellness far more than I did before. I know that my injury was a perfect storm of physical and emotional stressors, so I try to get good sleep, hydrate, take care of my emotional wellbeing, stretch daily, do exercises to keep a base level of strength and pay attention to my sugar intake and general nutrition.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
I want anyone going through an injury to know that they are not alone and they didn’t do anything wrong. Allow yourself to celebrate what may feel like small wins - doing your exercises two days in a row, finding a massage therapist, reaching out for help from a teacher, saying no to something you know won’t serve you or even drinking enough water that day. I am rooting for you and it *will* get better!! :)
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
It took me looking over my injury in hindsight to notice the role that emotional stress played in my injury. I want to emphasize the role that that kind of stress can live in the body and I want to encourage anyone to consider emotional stressors with as much weight as you would a physical stressor.
What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
I would love to connect on Instagram! My account name is @sophie_volpe! Thank you for reading!