Exploring the Unseen Strains – A Deep Dive into Research on Musician Injuries

By Christoph Wagner. With the support of the Expanding Horizons Scholarship, Christoph was afforded the opportunity to travel to Paraguay to research injuries that affect musicians.

Christoph with his cello.

Christoph Wagner traveled to Paraguay to research musician injuries, simultaneously initiating a crucial dialogue on this subject matter. Their trip was funded by the Expanding Horizons Scholarship, generously provided by alumnus Walter Loewenstern.

My doctoral research investigated injuries in musicians around the world. Through a systematic review, I identified a shortage of available information and data in South America: Despite a significant number of orchestras and music schools, no data currently captures the prevalence of injuries in musicians in most South American countries. Therefore, it was my goal to initiate much-needed research in the field of performing arts medicine throughout South America, with the vision to initiate long-term education and research programs to support the local performing arts community and enhance the quality of music-making.

I proposed Paraguay as a starting point to initiate this work. Thanks to the Expanding Horizon Fellowship program's support, I could visit Paraguay in January/February 2023. My goals for this research travel were:

  1. Observe current practices in professional and educational music institutions in Paraguay
  2. Collect data and information surveys and in-person interviews of musicians, educators, and stakeholders
  3. Support the local performing arts community by providing training and education programs to improve the health and well-being of music students and musicians around the country
  4. Build partnerships with musicians, researchers, and health professionals to initiate processes to capture data throughout South America and ultimately implement protocols to mitigate the risk of injuries in musicians

Throughout this research visit, I collaborated with the following institutions:

  • Universidad Nacional de Asunción - Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Arte
  • The premier educational institution for music
  • Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional del Paraguay (OSN)
  • The national symphony orchestra of Paraguay
  • Orquesta Sinfónica de la Ciudad de Asunción (OSCA)
  • The symphony orchestra of the City of Asunción 
  • Paraguay Barroco
  • A world-class baroque orchestra based in Paraguay
  • Sonidos de la Tierra
  • An “El Sistema” inspired national youth orchestra program aiming to empower young people 
  • Orquesta Reciclados Cateura
  • The world-renowned orchestra playing on recycled instruments
  • Academia de Música Villarrica del Espíritu Santo, Villarrica
  • A growing music school in Villarrica 
  • Conservatorio Bellas Melodias in Colonia Independencia
  • A community music school based in Colonia Independencia, a mostly German colony
  • Conservatorio de Musica “Maestro Herminio Gimenez” 
  • A well-known conservatory with a first class symphony orchestra in Itá
  • Violin Making Project in Caaguazu
  • A violin making school initiated by a German violin maker

Thanks to the generous cooperation of these above institutions, I was able to observe current practices and collect information and data from a diverse range of organizations. The data suggests a significant prevalence of injuries and playing-related symptoms and disorders in musicians and music students across the country. At the same time, the topic of musicians’ health and well-being and injury prevention has not been addressed at all and is almost a “taboo” topic in the culture of Paraguay. At the same time, a sound understanding of the injury prevalence among musicians in Paraguay is an important foundation to adequately address the needs of the local community. Due to the lack of access to advanced health care, avoiding injuries in the first place is of extraordinary importance.

In addition, I provided numerous masterclasses, lectures, and workshops to a diverse range of students, professional musicians, educators, and organizations. I am grateful for the eager reception of information I could convey in the context of string technique, pedagogy, musician wellness, and injury prevention. I made powerful connections with local musicians and stakeholders to continue this agenda and build a collaborative effort to address the needs of musicians in Paraguay and, ultimately, throughout South America.

My vision is to continue supporting the musical communities in Paraguay and beyond as part of my artistic and professional work. I see a lot of potential to continue this work through education programs providing evidence-based information on the risk of injuries in musicians and raising awareness that musicians are indeed athletes and must address healthy and sustainable practices early on. This includes the development of an integrative curriculum to enhance the role of health and injury prevention in music education and collaboration with music teachers and faculty on the best strategies to implement this approach. The feedback from musicians, educators, and stakeholders has been truly remarkable, and I am honored to continue serving as a consultant to the various organizations I collaborated with.

I look forward to revisiting Paraguay regularly to continue partnering with the music community and supporting them through education, research, teacher training, and professional development programs. After this visit, I am convinced that music and art play an integral role in the country's advancement, and I am committed to supporting this process with my expertise and resources. I am incredibly grateful that the Expanding Horizon Fellowship allowed me to start this process - thank you!