UNT music student wins award at international conference

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 20:35

DENTON, Texas (UNT) – When University of North Texas senior Melissa Hatheway experienced pain while playing clarinet following a performance-related injury, the then-freshman was encouraged by her parents and College of Music professor Kris Chesky to research health issues of band musicians.

Following nearly four years of research, Hatheway was presented the Alice G. Brandfonbrener Young Investigator Award at the July 20-23 Performing Arts Medicine Association annual symposium. The Cedar Park student is only the second undergraduate to win the award – and the first from the United States. This is also the first time that a non-medical student has won the Young Investigator Award.

The symposium, which draws arts medicine professionals from across the world, addressed medical problems of performing artists this year. Hatheway received funding from the Honors College, of which she is a member, to attend the event with five other College of Music students and alumni, and Chesky. The five other students and alumni who made presentations were:

  • Amy Laursen, of Powell, Wyo. – presented a poster and lecture on “Addressing the National Association of Schools of Music Health and Safety Standard through Curricular Changes in a Brass Methods Course.”
  • Jason Powell, of Lufkin, Texas – presented a lecture on “Reducing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Risk in Collegiate Ensemble Based Instructional Activities through a Human-Computer Interactive System.”
  • Kristen Thompson, of Boston, Mass. – presented a poster on “The Inner Instrument: What is the Role of the Vocal Mechanism in Playing a Wind Instrument?”
  • Eric Wallace, of Los Angeles, Calif., and Derek Klinge, of Colorado Springs, Colo. – presented a workshop and poster on “Pain and Music Related Musculoskeletal Problems: Results from the UNT Trombone Health Survey”

“Our students garnered respect with the research they presented at the conference,” said Chesky. “Melissa presented a superb keynote session prior to her award presentation for her comprehensive research on marching band injuries – the first of its kind.”

For Hatheway, the path to her research started when she felt pain in her hand. Though it was difficult, Hatheway played through the pain. The pain continued to spread, climbing up to her elbows.

“My hands felt useless. I turned 18 and I felt like my body was falling apart,” Hatheway said.

Yet, she was still able to audition and gain entry into UNT’s prestigious College of Music. It was here that she started to think about how other musicians often play through pain. There seemed to be a lack of preventative injury knowledge for those who played in marching band throughout high school and experienced health issues as they transitioned to college, Hatheway thought.

Her own process of obtaining a proper diagnosis and finding the right therapy took nearly four years – but she is now playing the clarinet again.

To help figure out what was going on with other band members, she developed a 70-question epidemiological study for members of the University of North Texas Green Brigade Marching Band. The questionnaire asked the performers about their perceived impact of marching band, musculoskeletal health, hearing health, stress and pain experienced. She divided their responses between music majors and non-music majors since music students put in more hours of daily practice. She then further segmented the responses by specific instruments, including the color guard, percussion, woodwinds and brass. Those answering the questionnaire were also given a drawing of the body to map out where they felt pain and how intense it was.

Hatheway hypothesized, based on her knowledge of marching band techniques, that music majors participating in marching band would experience more pain and injuries than their non-music major peers. The results of the study backed up this theory, showing that music-major participants experienced more musculoskeletal pain during and after marching band rehearsal, while non-music majors reported the exact opposite.

Although Hatheway, who is entering her senior year, plans to work as a teacher after graduation, she hopes to continue her research at UNT and earn her master’s and doctoral degrees – and eventually change the way band is taught in order to prevent health issues.

“I’ve come up with a list of what I would recommend to prevent injury, but, as a researcher, I can’t say, ‘You should do this to avoid injuries,’ because the research isn’t complete yet,” Hatheway said. “That’s really what I’m interested in – the pedagogical techniques that a teacher can use to lower the risk of injury.”

The research of Hatheway and the other students is as important as it is timely, noted Chesky. The National Association of Schools of Music has established national standards to address health risks for musicians. By identifying and working on the injury risks to musicians, these students are helping UNT stay at the forefront of research and solutions, Chesky said.

“Our time at this conference helped me see and better understand the relevance of our research,” Chesky said. “Three medical research scientists from Taiwan told me that a paper we published a few years ago prompted and guided a recent national musician health campaign across their country. I heard similar stories from Australia and South African researchers. Our impact is clearly global.”

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