|Dale Rickert (2nd row far right) with board members and friends of the Performing Arts Medical Association
As the inaugural recipient of the R D Kitchen scholarship, UQ Music PhD candidate, Dale Rickert presented a paper on his research findings at the 29th international Performing Arts Medicine Association’s (PAMA) annual symposium in Aspen, Colorado.
Dale's latest research paper on shoulder injuries in cello players has been awarded the Alice G. Brandfonbrener Young Investogator Award. Dale will present the 30th anniversary Alice G. Brandfonbrener Lecture at the 30th PAMA symposium.
Dale Rickert's report on the 29th PAMA symposium, is presented below:
As the inaugural recipient of the R D Kitchen scholarship I had the opportunity to present my PhD research findings at the 29th international Performing Arts Medicine Association’s (PAMA) annual symposium in Aspen, Colorado. Apart from meeting half of the academics from my reference list, this scholarship gave me the opportunity to present my research to an informed audience and receive comments and ideas from leaders in the field. To top it all off, the symposium took place in conjunction with the Aspen music festival, which brought internationally acclaimed musicians to thepicturesque ski town nestled in the upper valleys of the Colorado mountain range.
Flying into Aspen from Denver was the beginning of a spectacular high-altitude adventure with Aspen (2300m) set in a valley that is higher than Mt Kosciusko and surrounded by mountains that stretch up to 4400m. As you pull into the airport the plane has to complete a 180o hard right bank that brings you almost within reaching distance of the sheer cliff faces and pine tree-studded outcrops that punctuate the mountainous landscape. Even in the middle of summer, the snow-capped peaks reminded me of just how high we had come into the Rocky Mountains. The air was crisp and clean and on the night before the opening ceremony I had the pleasure of meeting a black bear that was in the middle of raiding my rubbish bin!
The theme of this year’s symposium was “The hidden costs of performance stress”, and it offered me a perfect opportunity to present my research on the influence of stress on injury risk in the orchestral workplace environment. The theme brought together a diverse collection of great minds, ranging from Harvard Medical School’s leading neuroplasticity researcher Dr Gottfried Schlaug to the renowned author Dr Gabor Maté.
The opening keynote address was given by Dr Maté , a physician who takes a holistic approach to the treatment of many predominantly Western afflictions such as ADHD, addiction, and depression. He sees the mind and body as totally inseparable and believes that Western medicine, with its mechanistic and componential focus, misses the complex role the mind plays in illnesses of the body. To link this to the topic his keynote portrayed artists as members of our society who are valued for their sensitivity - for their ability to perceive the complex contextual and emotional nature of our society and reflect it back to us interesting and creative ways. Dr Mate believes that it is this artistic hypersensitivity that makes performing artists vulnerable to mental and physical illness. He then followed a number of interesting case studies of famous performing artists – from Michael Jackson to Jacqueline Duprée – who suffered ‘mind-body’ illness as a result of their vulnerable, hypersensitive natures.
The second keynote address was given by Dr Gottfried Schlaug, who leads pioneering research into music and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the natural ability of the brain and its structures to adapt in response to the activities that we undertake as well as inputs from the external environment. A growing body of research has shown that musical training is unparalleled in its ability to promote growth in multiple regions of both the developing and adult brain. Music performance requires synergistic recruitment of the auditory processing regions including the brainstem and thalamus, sensory and motor cortices, as well as cross hemisphere linking of the conceptual, mathematical left hemisphere with the creative and contextual right hemisphere. In normal brain function separate regions of the brain function in smaller groupings, however, through musical training they become linked together in an integrated feedback loop which helps to foster brain development, increase perception, and allow the creative and cognitive sectors of the brain to work together when facing new challenges. The act of creating music provides movement, emotions, communication, and interactions which stimulate the release of pleasure and reward neurohormones such as dopamine and serotonin which are essential in developing the neural pathways associated with learning.
Dr Schlaug sees music not only as central to increased brain function, but also as a powerful tool for regeneration of the damaged brain. One of the central tenets of neuroplasticity is that after brain damage the brain – given the right stimuli and incentives – has the ability to recruit alternative brain regions or regrow damaged areas in order process inputs (sound, touch, and vision) or produce outputs (speech, decisions, and movements). Often people with damaged brains may lose the ability to speak, move in certain ways, or understand sound. Dr Schlaug has found that through music’s unrivalled ability to unite our cognitive, perceptual, sensory, motor, and auditory brain regions it is an ideal tool for re-establishing essential connections required during neurorehabilitation. Using aphasia (loss of the ability to speak) as a case study, Dr Schlaug showed how music, song, and rhythm could be used to fully rehabilitate aphasics who would previously have faced a life of silence. Hearing about the integrative and cognitive powers music can foster reinvigorated my belief that both the creation and enjoyment of music is an essential part of human culture and should be encouraged in all sectors of life.
The remaining days of the symposium saw many interesting presentations and workshops. As a performing musician attending the symposium I became an obvious choice for workshop conveners wanting to display their frontier research and techniques to the crowds of interested medical professionals. This was all within my comfort zone when the workshops revolved around mental imagery and visualisation but proved more challenging when I was asked to be the guineapig for the amazing new technique of electrified acupuncture!
On the final day of the conference I presented my research in the main auditorium to a great audience including many of the board members of the association. The feedback and reception was fantastic. Apart from official comments and questions the most important part of having the opportunity to attend an international conference is the people you meet and the connections that you can make.
I can now put faces to the names on my bibliographic reference list and know, for many of them, that they are only an email away. As a researcher in a unique field, hearing the leaders of the sector speak about their research and adding your own findings to this dialogue brings your work into relevance and allows it to interact with the current body of scholarship on the topic. Your days become filled with interesting ideas, concepts, and interpretations and your evenings turn into collective digestion as you discuss and debate the day’s events over dinner and drinks. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to represent the University of Queensland Music School as the inaugural recipient of the R D kitchen scholarship and would recommend it any academic who is looking to further their connections in their chosen field of study.
Recipient of the inaugural R D Kitchen Scholarship
PhD candidate (University of Queensland, School of Music)
Board member of the Australian Society of Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH)