Interview with Dr. Bridget Rennie-Salonen (PhD, LicAE, PGDip, LRSM, BA)
by Andrée Martin
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Dr Bridget Rennie-Salonen, flautist, educator, and musicians’ health practitioner and researcher, is Research Fellow and part-time lecturer at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, and core member of the Musicians' Health Literacy Consortium’s international research team. An award-winning performer, she is principal flute of the Cape Town Festival Orchestra, the Free State Symphony Orchestra, and Baroque flautist with Camerata Tinta Barocca.

What drew you to your research?
I became interested in musicians’ occupational health and optimizing musicians’ performance whilst in a full-time orchestral principal flute job for many years! As both a professional performing musician (solo, ensemble and orchestral) and as a music educator (primary, secondary, and tertiary), I saw performance-related health problems amongst colleagues and students. At times, I too found rehearsals, personal practice, and performances overly challenging, draining, and arduous; both physically and psychologically. I noticed the widespread lack of musicians’ health awareness, and the alarming absence of preventative strategies. My interest grew into initial research in somatic (body-related) education methods, and their potential integration into instrumental and vocal pedagogy. I realized that my undergraduate degree parallel major in psychology had also provided a foundation for my interest in health and wellbeing.

What somatic disciplines have you studied?
As a young professional, I took lessons in the Alexander Technique and subsequently the Feldenkrais Method. I later trained in Body Mapping for musicians, becoming a Licensed Andover Educator in 2010. Body Mapping is wonderful as it is the only somatic practice developed specifically for musicians, with its integration of movement training with musical technique and artistry. Musicians learn how to use their bodies in more biomechanically efficient ways by being taught relevant anatomical information and sensory awareness skills. My professional development, which included a year’s course in musculoskeletal and movement anatomy, then culminated in my PhD (2018) on the content, implementation, and assessment of musicians’ occupational health education at tertiary level, with the incorporation of Body Mapping as the somatic component.

How did you meet Dr. Bronwen Ackermann, the keynote speaker for our upcoming conference?
At first, I got to know about Dr Ackermann’s research and publications through my extensive literature review for my PhD. Later I enjoyed meeting her briefly at a few conferences! What a privilege! As a world leader in the field, she has published extremely widely, she has presented internationally hundreds of times, and is a performance consultant to several orchestras and music institutions. We got to know one another better when I attended professional training workshops (mainly for occupational therapists and hand physiotherapists) that Dr Ackermann presented in both Cape Town and in Johannesburg for the South African Society of Hand Therapists, on “Focal Dystonia and Motor Control issues in the Upper Limb”. These workshops were pivotal in my learning.

What are the connections between Dr. Ackermann’s work and your own research?
It was there that I felt that there was a link between her work as a specialist musicians’ physiotherapist, and what inspired me to become an Andover Educator: namely our aim to improve the teaching of the art of movement to musicians. Her extensive knowledge, innovative research, incredible skill, vast clinical experience, and highly specialized medical expertise for musicians enables her brilliant diagnostic, rehabilitative, educational, and preventative work with musicians, particularly in movement-related issues.

Dr Ackermann has been assisting me in the rehabilitation and recovery work that I have been doing with some musician clients. The sensorimotor and technical retraining protocol for the musician client included regular sessions with me and collaboration with a team including a physiotherapist or occupational therapist, the music teacher, counsellor or psychologist, and the appropriate medical specialist. I am very grateful for Dr Ackermann’s mentoring and guidance for the instrument-specific motor-control exercises, and I have been encouraged that those exercises were supported very well by the Body Mapping that I was able to teach the musician.

What other projects are you working on?
I am also on an exciting international research project with Dr Ackermann: The Musicians’ Health Literacy Consortium (MHLC). The MHLC is an interdisciplinary team of musicians’ health researchers, initially the “Health Education Literacy and Mobility for Musicians: A Global Approach” project, which was developed and funded in 2018 by a Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) Research Development grant. The MHLC comprises 9 universities and 11 researchers from 6 countries: Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Canada, and South Africa. Information at https://wun.ac.uk/wun/research/view/health-education-literacy-and-mobility-for-musicians-a-global-approach  gives you an overview.

Can you tell us more about your conference presentation?
In my presentation called “Efficacy of Body Mapping as the somatic education component of a musicians’ occupational health course”, I will reveal some of the very interesting and most important insights from my PhD research results. The focus will be on the incorporation of somatic (body-related) learning in the form of Body Mapping, and the students’ experiences, understandings, and perceptions. I plan to make sure that attendees will take away very tangible, useful, and applicable information so that my research can finally really benefit everyone! After 5 and a half years of working on such an in-depth and rigorous research study, I am so happy to be able to share and ‘pay it forward’…

Dr Ackermann and I will also present jointly on our case study, entitled: “Optimising well-being, performance skills, and return from embouchure dystonia in a French Horn player through an integrated team rehabilitation approach  incorporating Body Mapping”. This is highly significant because it demonstrates the multifaceted aspects involved in a musician’s recovery from Focal Dystonia, including the musician patient’s vital role, and the kinds of collaborative expertise that facilitate successful teamwork, with the inclusion of somatic learning in the form of Body Mapping.

Can you tell us a little about the types of workshops and classes you teach?
I have taught body mapping workshops to a diverse range of audiences/groups, for example, at music teachers' professional development workshops, at university where the information is integrated into general music education courses, and at chamber music camps for high school music students. I have also taught university opera students where body mapping principles are combined with acting, characterization, and vocal specifics and at a low brass holiday course/symposium where the workshop is designed to meet needs of a wide range of ages and ability levels from high school to professional.