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Artist Blog Series #9: Lisa Stoneham

Welcome to the ninth 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 Lisa Stoneham, Acting Bass Trombone of the Hawaii Symphony and Bass Trombone with the Bozeman Symphony .

What is your name (and preferred pronouns)?

Lisa Stoneham (she/her)

Where do you currently work, and what is your instrument/voice type?

I’m currently Acting Bass Trombone with the Hawaii Symphony and Bass Trombone with the Bozeman Symphony, and I’m based in Portland, Oregon.

What was your injury, and how did you get injured?

I had an overuse injury in my left shoulder that caused pain and occasional numbness through my left arm, wrist, and hand (not ideal when your left side does most of the weight support for your instrument!). My injury was ultimately caused by overuse, less-than-stellar posture, and unneeded tension.

What were the biggest challenge(s) of your injury?

One of my early challenges was struggling to get effective care. When I first went to a doctor after my left ring finger went numb while practicing, they told me to “take a day off” and didn’t offer any other pathways for recovery. This discouraged me from seeking care going forward. I ended up not getting help that actually worked for another 8 years after that doctor’s appointment (just a note that I definitely would not recommend waiting that long!).

I think our industry has made strides in awareness about injuries - there is more discussion about injuries and prevention, and I think we are (generally) encouraged to rest and recover when necessary. When I was going through undergrad, I had this view that I had to push myself as much as possible to be successful and I definitely bought into the “pain is gain” mentality. Brass playing can also have a somewhat macho vibe. Having an injury made me feel weak and less confident in myself overall. As a result, I tried to fix this by working out and trying to get stronger, which definitely just made the overuse worse!

What was your recovery like? What struggles did you face trying to overcome your injury?

I’m so grateful to Austin and the Functional Musician Team! I met Austin briefly at an audition and eventually followed his Instagram page. Austin’s honesty about his journey with injury encouraged me to reach out to him. I was feeling at a loss for what to do and having another person that plays bass trombone (among other skills!) guide me through the process was a huge help.

I learned a lot about my body, perceptions of myself, and functional movement during recovery. Right around the 6-week mark, I remember feeling very discouraged because I had been diligent with exercises, hydration, being aware of my posture etc., but was still feeling pain when practicing. Thankfully, Austin guided me through these feelings of doubt, and about another week later, I started noticing a difference and less pain! Sometimes a change can be right around the corner! (I think that’s a direct Austin quote!)

What was the biggest lesson you learned during your recovery?

I realized during my recovery that certain perceptions/narratives that I had created for myself were not useful. It’s not helpful to beat ourselves up about feeling pain. I used to treat my body like a machine and just expected it to do what I thought it should do without actually paying attention to what was going on. During recovery, I’ve become much more aware of how I feel overall. Now, when things aren’t quite right, I can avoid feeling discouraged. Instead, I know how to take the appropriate steps to check in with myself and rest and recover as necessary.

What was something that surprised you during your recovery?

Hydration! I had no idea how much water I should actually be drinking and wow, what a difference it’s made! Hydrated chops are happy chops!

What are you actively doing to stay healthy and pain-free?

Taking the time to drink coffee and read a book in the morning, doing mobility exercises as often as I can, trying not to neglect ab workouts, and getting outside as much as possible (with proper hydration of course)!

Do you have any words of encouragement for someone currently going through an injury?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you don’t have to face your injury alone! Most musicians will go through an injury at some point in their careers. Taking the time to rest and recover is necessary and you've got this!

Any other final thoughts about your recovery journey you’d like to share?

I want to reiterate how grateful I am to the Functional Musician! While I’ve had some flare-ups here and there, I now have the tools to cope and my injury is no longer holding me back. It’s a gift to make music as a career and I’m so glad to get to do so without pain.

What are you currently working on musically? Do you have any projects you’d like to plug?

I have a little break in auditions so I’ve been working on Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4! I’ve never seriously worked this suite up and I’m excited to dig into this music. I don’t personally have any projects at the moment, but I’d love to plug my friend Thea Humphries’ new audience engagement activity database, Audiensync. This is a fantastic resource for musicians and administrators alike who are looking to dig a little deeper with their audiences and create unique concert experiences. Thanks so much for reading and to FM for the feature!


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