Welcome to the fifth 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 Lindsey Wiehl, a bassoonist and college professor.
What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?
Lindsey Wiehl (she/her)
Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?
I teach college students at Valley City State University. While my primary focus is bassoon, I teach all woodwind lessons, plus courses in music theory, composition, and music production.
What was your injury, and how did you get injured?
My injury began at a summer festival in the summer of 2019. I was spending my days practicing for an upcoming audition while spending my nights in rehearsals and concerts. That bloom in my practice routine alongside several changes in my sleeping patterns and sleeping environment, my body went through some drastic and unfortunate reactions. I was experiencing pain during practice and performance in my left wrist. I began relying on several types of supports just to keep my instrument up while I was playing it, and eventually felt spasms and discomfort from simple tasks such as opening doors or sipping my morning coffee. I would visit specialists that I really hoped would be able to diagnose my exact problems and give me an easy step-by-step recovery plan. However, that was not the case. Each professional I went to had a different idea of what was happening in my body, and I was not always being taken seriously by medical professionals. By the end of the summer, I ended up with a bit of heartbreak, leaving my summer festival early due to injury, and returning to live with my parents for a while and tried to come up with a plan of how to proceed.
What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?
One of my biggest challenges was dealing with what felt like a loss of control over my body. I felt that I should have been at the healthiest part of my life at age 26, but I was unable to depend on my body to do things that I had been practicing for years. It was also really discouraging to spend so much money on doctor and medical visits, while still not be experiencing positive changes. On top of the natural level of doubt that most music students experience, I began to wonder how behind I was getting without my daily practice schedule. I felt really unsure about the future and felt like I was missing out on a lot of performing opportunities.
What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?
My recovery seemed to take forever. From the onset in summer of 2019, I began by putting my instrument down as the doctor ordered a year away from performing. Of course that seemed impossible. I was in my final year of my doctorate in music performance. The one good thing about all of this was that the spring before I began injury, I finished my final doctoral recital. This means that what I really needed to complete my doctorate was a dissertation and no longer was dependent on my performance abilities. In that sense I am grateful. I received a lot of support from my professors and was given a lot of flexibility in my duties and requirements for the semester, and was given a lot of time to dedicate to my dissertation. By the time I finished my dissertation and defended on March 12th, 2020, the world was changing in different ways. I was now officially a doctor of music in a world in which performances were cancelled for the foreseeable future. While other musicians took it upon themselves to increase their practice time amidst other cancellations, I was still struggling with my injury.
Over the next several months I began to incorporate music in my life in different ways. I took a position as a music teacher an elementary school and concurrently started and online program in music production at Berkeley online. I attempted to continue my practicing and increase my practice time throughout my injury, but I continued to be disappointed by my progress and even more disappointed when the pain continued to come back. I wasn't able to figure out what was causing this. Through continued doctor's visits, I was realizing that my injury had to do with multiple different factors.
When Austin reached out to me in April of 2021, I had gone through many good weeks and many bad weeks and I never really knew how I was going to feel from day-to-day. I enrolled in his 1-1 Recovery Program and through weekly one-on-one online meetings, I was able to be honest with Austin and get specific feedback on pain that I was feeling. I was taken seriously and knew that I was in company of somebody who knew exactly what I was going through. Through releasing tension in several of my muscles and learning how to take control of my body more, I was experiencing more freedom in my own recovery than I had in the year prior.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?
One of the biggest lessons that I learned during my recovery was how to engage with myofascial release, one of the skills I learned from Austin. This was really helpful in taking ownership over my recovery and being able to take care of some aspects of injury in my own home and with my own hands.
What was something that surprised you during your recovery?
I was really surprised to experience some release of built-up emotions in concurrence with the myofascial release exercises. It was really interesting and surprising to see a direct correlation in the tension that I was releasing in my physical body and tension being released in my emotional body.
What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?
I continue to use myofascial release as a tool in my life. My trigger point release balls are easy enough to transport and travel with, so I feel like I can be more confident going on trips and participating in performance opportunities further away from home. I also am continuing movement classes in my local yoga studio, and making sure to follow guidelines on appropriate diet and water intake combined with movement.
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?
Musicians' injuries can be extremely heartbreaking and a shock, especially for somebody that is generally very healthy. As much as it might feel like it, injury is not the end. In some ways, it might be the beginning of a new journey of learning more about yourself. Also, it's really easy to fall into a trap of thinking that you are always going to be “behind” after an injury. One encouraging thing that I noticed was that even after taking over a year off/away from my instrument, I am back to performing and having some of my most exciting performances. Most of the people I perform with or teach with would never know that I have gone through a long period of injury.
Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?
I would not say that I have it all figured out. There are still days and moments where I overdo it or under prepare my body for something and then feel not so great afterwards. However, I'm grateful for learning about different ways to problem-solve amidst discomfort and take more control over my well-being. I’ve learned that I don’t need to rely entirely on other medical professionals to do what is best for me.
What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?
I have several ways that I am incorporating music into my life now. In addition to my teaching duties at the VCSU campus, I also perform regularly with the Fargo Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, and other regional orchestra opportunities in my area. I also spend a lot of time with music by myself, of which I am currently working on creating music with electronics. Lately, I've been doing a lot of preparing for a performance sponsored by the Musik Link as the 2023 Infinite Sounds International Fellowship winner. As part of this fellowship, I am giving an outreach concert at a local brewery in Valley City, Brockopp Brewery. I'll be performing with loop pedals, distortion, effects, visuals, and other aspects of performance while performing on acoustical instruments including my bassoon.
I have also been allowing myself a lot more freedom to compose music and write songs. This year I have been commissioned for several musical pieces by artists all over the country. I love composing music, and I think that I allowed myself to compose more during my period of injury. While I would say that overall a musician's injury really is an unfortunate and emotional thing to go through, I am grateful for some of the other aspects of music that I allowed myself to explore while finding my way to recovery.