In my spare time…I keep musicians healthy

Musician and GP Jonathan White gets orchestra musicians with ailments back on stage

I no longer play the organ in public as I used to before I went to medical school, but I own a Wyvern Koralia organ and enjoy playing for my own amusement. Now I combine business with pleasure and act as medical adviser to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

This started after I heard a piece on Classic FM about the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM). I saw a chance to do something different from everyday general practice so I attended training days at its clinic in London, and was appointed to the orchestra three years ago. I also became a member of the Association of Medical Advisors to British Orchestras.

Having three musical sons, I was increasingly aware of the health problems of young musicians and now provide health and fitness advice to the Conservatoire music college at UCE Birmingham. By early intervention and awareness of correct posture and technique, we hope to avoid musculoskeletal and other problems in students’ future careers.

Once a month, I visit the Conservatoire and Symphony Hall to deal with individual problems, often people who have consulted their own GP but are unhappy with the advice. I liaise with their GP and other professionals to ensure the right action is taken. This involves understanding the specific difficulties faced by different instrumentalists. They can usually continue playing but many are told to stop while awaiting treatment — not ideal when ‘the show must go on’. It gives me great pleasure to see or hear a musician return to the orchestra after addressing a problem they feared might end their career.

I also promote the concept of the musician as an athlete, and will give talks to groups who can take this message forward.

The work is voluntary – the reward is seeing world class musicians continue to perform.  

Dr Jonathan White is a GP in Penn, Wolverhampton

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