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Artist Blog Series #11: Sophie Volpe

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?