The Case of the Accidental Collaboration

From awareness comes action when opportunity presents itself, at least that’s what happened to me.  I manage a music industry program at Loyola University New Orleans and I’m also a classically trained musician, a music producer, and half-ass jazz trumpet player so, naturally, I love musicians and music.

Maestro Jean Montes was in my office.  Speaking English in the French patois of a Haitian native, Jean was telling me about the needs of the youth symphony he conducts; he also the conducts the university symphony.

“We lose so many of these young people!  They practice too much, they practice incorrectly, they play too much and they injure themselves and then they cannot play anymore! It is a serious problem but no one seems to know of it except teachers and parents and they don’t know what to do about it or who to call.  It’s such a shame because music is the focus and passion for these young people.  It not allows them to make meaning, it gives them something to do, it makes them better students and, I think, better people.”

I was a bit surprised by this.  It was all quite dramatic but then he is a maestro and that’s why they get paid.  But I could tell from his sincerity that he was quite concerned about the problem, although I wasn’t sure why he was telling me about it.  We were having a conversation about how our music industry program could help his orchestra program.

Our students are good at producing stuff, making things happen, videotaping concerts and broadcasting them live on the Internet, and we can market and promote and take care of sync licenses and talent releases, but focal dystonia, carpel tunnel syndrome, muscular-skeletal injuries, repetitive stress, performance anxiety, hearing loss, tendonitis, loose teeth, cramps, nodules and polyps?

A week or so later I was dealing the usual array of phone calls and emails and there came this phone call I just happened to answer mostly because it was my phone and my assistant was out.

“Hello, may I speak to John Snyder?  My name is Randy Dick and I’m calling on behalf of the American College of Sports Medicine.”

I was tempted to say “One moment please, I’ll connect you” and hang up.  But, since I’m in academia, I said, “This is John Snyder, how may I help you”.

“The ACSM Joint Commission is meeting in New Orleans in February and we would like to arrange for a musician to talk to our group of 50 to 60 leaders in the field of sports medicine.”

“So, why are you calling me?”

“Well, I called the Chamber of Commerce and they recommended I call the Arts Council and the Arts Council recommended I call Loyola and Loyola recommended I call the College of Music, and that nice lady seemed a bit confused and recommended I call you.”

I get all the weird calls. I’m the default setting for weird calls. Not that I’m complaining, it’s usually a good thing so I was hoping for the best.  I asked Randy Dick to explain it to me again and as he was explaining it, it became suddenly obvious that this man’s request could connect musicians with sports medical professionals to the benefit of both.

It hit me that he could connect trainers, therapists and doctors who take care of high school and college sports teams with high school and college bands and orchestras, with Jean’s kids, with traveling musicians, with all musicians!  I reasoned that the sports world had to be much more developed in its methodologies for prevention and treatment of injuries than the arts world. I didn’t really think all of these things at once but I sure did over the next few days.

“Let me see what I can do”, I said, and we exchanged numbers and promises and I hung up.  I thought about the problem for a few minutes when in walks Adam Shipley who was managing Preservation Hall at the time and also teaching a course for our music industry program.  I blurted out my problem and he blurted out the answer:

“I can take care of that.  How many players?  What’s the money?”

I guessed “four” and “a Ben Franklin per?”

“Done.”  I knew I could squeeze $400 out of my operations budget so I thought it was a good deal all around.  I’d get my students involved.

Next thing you know it’s a few months later and we’re downtown at one of those boxy hotels in the Quarter and there was a sound system and my video kids were there and in walked the core of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  There were four of them, a drummer, a clarinet player, a keyboard player, and a trombone player.  They moved slowly but in concert, like basketball players walking onto the court, elegant and graceful, no energy wasted but quietly evincing the great power they can call up in a split second.  It was impressive.

I turned to my sound guy and said, “Can we handle this?”

The hardest part about videotaping stuff is getting sound to camera.  He said “We have four lavs and two hand helds but there’s a problem with the mixer so we can only get two mics to camera.”

“Fix it, please” (magic boss talk rarely works) and I went about setting up the band in that flat, semi-ballroom, facing 60 well-dressed sports medical professionals sitting behind long tables with microphones and glasses of water in front of each one of them.

The band was booked to play a few songs and then talk about the physical issues involved in playing a musical instrument for 40 or 50 years and being on the road for almost as many.  There was to be no moderator.

“Sorry boss, no can do.  This thing is busted.”

“Spare me the tech talk kid, what’s the alternative?”

Next thing you know I’m darting around with a hand held mic asking questions of the musicians like Jerry Springer on a short leash.  It wasn’t supposed to be me doing the talking or asking the questions.

Well, to make a long story longer, it was all a great success.  The band played wonderfully, questions were asked and answered, the sports medical people had their highest rated session ever, and the musicians were healed and received little plaques and great thanks.  It was one of those “happy feel good” experiences we tend to do well in New Orleans and the ACSM is good at too.

This was six years ago and a lot has happened since.  Many meetings and conference calls, presentations and conventions, website issues solved and documents exchanged, but there has always been a core group of people who’ve kept us going and led the way, who are determined to make the Athletes and the Arts initiative happen.  This includes Randy Dick and Kris Chesky and the leadership, staff, and membership of the ACSM and PAMA and the other partner organizations in the coalition, who together provide the paradigmatic example of the power of collaboration and common purpose.

How is that people come together to accomplish something greater than their individual goals?  The answer is their shared belief in the importance of a sustainable collaboration that benefits other people far into the future.

The future they see is one where musicians, dancers and all performing artists have access to the specialized medical attention the hazards of their occupations require; where fewer are injured and more are rehabilitated using the models of sports health management.

The future they see is one where young artists and athletes become aware of their responsibility to take care of their bodies – the platforms for the delivery of their art and athletic skills – by eating well, exercising regularly and adopting good health habits.

The future they see is one where high school and college sports trainers, physicians and therapists attend to the needs of school bands and orchestras, dance and theatre troupes, as well as to the school sports teams.

The future they see is one where the performing arts medical community is as supported, funded and research-dependent as the sports medical community; a future in which information and knowledge are shared and unknown connections are explored.

The future they see is one that improves the health and well being of performing artists and athletes of all ages, types, and levels of achievement.  From these two groups come the heroes of our youth, our culture and our society.  We emulate and celebrate our heroes and we certainly will eat, drink and do what they eat, drink and do.

What began as a musical presentation (“something different from concussions”) for a group of sports medical professionals has grown into a coalition of national organizations and dedicated individuals that has as its primary goal the good health and well being of others so that they may achieve their goals, reach their potential, and live their dreams as they create our arts and culture, our sports and entertainment, and a healthy and prosperous society.  I am very proud and humbled to be a part of such a group.

John Snyder

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