A new refuge for Ottawa musicians

Posted on Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Close-up of hands on piano keys

The Musicians’ Wellness Centre opening in the heart of campus offers specialized care to the uOttawa music community

When uOttawa professor and Spanish pianist Leopoldo Erice was 17 years old, he started having spasms in his right pinky finger. It twitched while he practiced, during meals—and it even woke him up at night.

“Doctors performed a number of different tests, some of which were quite painful because they put needles straight into my muscles to measure their activity,” he says. “In the end, they told me that I was under a lot of stress and that I should take Valium. But I was 17 years old. I wasn’t going to take Valium!’”


leopoldo erice playing the piano


Instead, he worked up the courage to broach the subject with his teachers and peers. He was nervous about it at first, because no musician had ever talked to him about pain, injury or stress. But he soon realized he was not alone.

Performance injury or stress is often something we associate with athletes. But given the rigour of their training, musicians are also at risk. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders affect between 39 and 47 percent of professional adult musicians, with disability and pain being the most reported symptoms, followed by performance anxiety. Despite this, most musicians don’t have the specialized physical and emotional support they need.

All of this will soon change for Erice, his students and the wider uOttawa music community when the Musicians’ Wellness Centre officially opens its doors in early October 2019. It will be a refuge for musicians who, until now, have been treated by healthcare providers who are unfamiliar with their movements and training practices. The Centre will focus on treatment and training for physical pain and injury, performance anxiety, hearing loss and vision problems.




“Many musicians believe the common saying: no pain, no gain,” says Gilles Comeau, who heads the Piano Pedagogy Research Lab at the University of Ottawa’s School of Music and is now Director of the new Musicians’ Wellness Centre. “But this can result in more serious injury and can impact performance. In some cases, it can end a career.”


Gilles Comeau seated at a piano


The Musicians’ Wellness Centre — a joint program between the Faculty of Arts and the Piano Pedagogy Research Lab — is unique in Canada in that it is run by musicians for musicians and is composed of three areas of expertise: education, research and clinical care.


  • The Centre offers a variety of programs, courses and workshops around musicians’ wellness taught by health professionals and researchers.


  • The Centre’s interdisciplinary research focuses on the impact that various treatments and interventions have on musicians’ mental and physical comfort and the quality of their performance.


  • The clinic offers psychological counselling for performance anxiety, mindfulness and body awareness training for adopting healthy habits and movements, physiotherapy and chiropractic sessions for the prevention and treatment of physical pain and injury, and auditory and visual assessments to diagnose hearing and vision problems.


Student undergoes treatment in wellness room


The Centre serves musicians and performers of all ages and levels, as well as students, instructors, professors and members of the music community, including professional musicians, health care professionals, policy makers and the general public.



The idea for the Musicians’ Wellness Centre was first conceived by two master’s students interested in helping musicians in their own way.


Dapne Mercado dans une séance de physiothérapie avec une étudiante


Dapne Mercado, who studied music and physiotherapy in Venezuela, moved to Canada to pursue a master’s in human kinetics at the University of Ottawa and help Professor Gilles Comeau expand the health and wellness side of his music program.

While completing her thesis, she was also helping students and coworkers at the Piano Lab with their physio needs and leading workshops related to stretching and posture.

“People seemed to be happy with this, so I spoke to Professor Comeau about having a space at the Piano Lab to help with musicians’ health,” Mercado says. “It wasn’t a big idea at the time; just a place for musicians where we could help treat their pain.


Nicole Stanson with her trumpet


Nicole Stanson had a similar idea. While doing her master’s in trumpet performance at uOttawa’s School of Music, she experienced performance anxiety and turned her focus towards studying this phenomenon.

“Dapne really wanted to help musicians with their physical pain, and I really wanted to help them with their psychological health,” Stanson says. “It was her dream to have a physiotherapy clinic to help musicians and I thought it would be so cool if it were a multidisciplinary clinic where we could treat musicians for all kinds of different ailments.”

The University of Ottawa Musician Wellness Centre opens October 5, 2019. Visit the centre’s website for more information on its many resources.

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