By Michelle Cragle

Health and well-being became front-page topics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While everyone uses their bodies to work, for vocalists, their body is their instrument. And for all other musicians, their body is needed to play their instrument.

As a result, learning how to maintain good health and prevent injuries that would sideline their performances took on an even deeper meaning for Old Dominion University's F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music students enrolled in MUSC 471/571: musician's health: music and medicine.

This innovative course, which has been offered since spring 2016, is the brainchild of co-instructors James Kosnik, an organist and professor of music, and Douglas T. Owens, a trumpeter and associate professor of music.

Owens knows firsthand the importance of injury prevention: His years spent in a less-than-ideal music room left him with a 20-decibel deficiency in his left ear. He has been recognized for his musicians'health-related research and publications, including the paper "Sound Pressure Levels Experienced by the High School Band Director."

While planning for the spring 2021 semester and knowing that virtual teaching would be required due to the pandemic, Kosnik and Owens quickly realized their pool of potential guest lecturers, who complement their own expertise, could now extend beyond the local community. In years past, visiting speakers presented to the class in-person.

"I took the liberty of reaching out to my colleague Dr. Elizabeth West Marvin at the Eastman School of Music in New York and asked if she would like to participate in our class. Not only did 'Professor Betsy' moderate and present, but so did four of her graduate students, each with an impressive area of study to share with the class," Kosnik said.

The Ph.D./DMA students spoke on a variety of topics including, "The Brain's Role in Pain and Injury in Professional Musicians," "Predictive Processing of Music in Autism" and "Singing Your Feelings: The Mechanics of Vocal Expression."

Kosnik and Owens also broadened their outreach by using curated email lists and social media to invite all F. Diehn School of Music students, faculty, staff and guests to attend portions of the lectures.

"Musicians' health is so important that we believed the whole music community could benefit from learning these techniques and exercises," Owens said.

Another expert who became available as a result of the new virtual instruction was James Bliss, senior research scientist at Leidos in Ohio. A former professor of psychology at ODU, his topic was "Ergonomic and Biomechanical Factors, Repetitive Motion Disorders, Anthropometry and Range of Motion."

In addition to posture and ergonomics, MUSC 471/571 students also learned about nutrition, yoga, stress management, hearing loss and conservation, and performance anxiety causes and intervention strategies.

"We were thrilled to have such high-profile and prestigious scholars Zoom in from across the country to join our class," Kosnick said. "The variety of knowledge adds to the learning experience."

Community members who tuned in shared their appreciation.

"What an excellent program you've created, and how very helpful it is to everyone evenly remotely involved with music," Jeanette Epplein said. "Thank you so very much for including me. I have gained so much from just 'sitting in' on the sessions. I plan to follow up with the textbook and keep your observations and recommendations in mind as I try to get back into playing piano with just a bit of proficiency."

Not only did the course increase its community involvement, but more current students showed an interest. The class averaged three to four times the number of people who attended past in-person lectures.

"More ODU students that were not in the class participated, either by viewing by Zoom live or by viewing the recording later," Owens said. "It is so gratifying to see students embrace these topics and apply them to their life and future profession."

Nancy Klein, professor and chair of ODU's F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music, summed up the impact.

"With this type of outreach, the plan now is to develop MUSC 471/571 as an annual online course offering," she said, "something good that has come out of the COVID pandemic."

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