Musicians Look to Rehabilitative Sciences To Understand the Biomechanics of the Body


Cellist Duo-Lin Peng, an award-winning musician, stopped playing the cello because he had wrist pain. A doctoral candidate in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, he became interested in the career of cellist Luigi Silva (1903-1961), who explored left-hand technique for cello playing because it had been suggested that his hands were too small to play his instrument.

Collaborating with Jane Bear-Lehman, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy, helped Peng gain insight on the biomechanical use of both hands for cello playing. The student learned how his own body moved in relation to his requirements as a musician. An occupational therapist with a specialty in hand therapy, Bear-Lehman, “helped me widen my vision toward cello playing,” Peng said. He learned to play the cello with greater understanding and without pain.

At Steinhardt, vocalists are also taking advantage of the rehabilitative sciences to explore how best to protect a musician’s life-long instrument, the voice.

Brian Gill, associate director for vocal pedagogy, and Celia Stewart, chair ofThe Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD), share patients and lecture in each other’s classes, providing invaluable information to students about vocal anatomy and physiology.

A recent lesson with Kristen Ruiz, a student in Steinhardt’s advanced certificate in vocal pedagogy program, included a detailed discussion of voice function with regard to breathing, phonation, and resonance.

“It’s important to treat a voice on both the speech and singing level as most people do not have the same awareness of their voices while speaking as they do while singing,” says Gill. “Many singing voice issues can be linked to bad speech habits; these are addressed very directly by a speech language pathologist. As the speaking voice becomes more efficient, the singing voice often follows.” He says the inverse is true as well: a more efficient singing voice can lead to clearer speech.

Stewart notes that the students in communicative sciences and disorders have benefited from the collaboration as it has given them “a greater appreciation for the impact of voice disorders,” and “an opportunity to further develop their knowledge, and expertise in a clinical setting.”

Photos: Duo-Lin Peng and Jane Bear-Lehman, associate professor and chair, Department of Occupational Therapy.

Brian Gill, assistant professor of vocal performance, and Kristen Ruiz discuss ‘The Jewel Song’ from the opera, Faust.