Now is the right time to become an American Federation of Musicians member. From ragtime to rap, from the early phonograph to today's digital recordings, the AFM has been there for its members. And now there are more benefits available to AFM members than ever before, including a multi-million dollar pension fund, excellent contract protection, instrument and travelers insurance, work referral programs and access to licensed booking agents to keep you working.
As an AFM member, you are part of a membership of more than 80,000 musicians. Experience has proven that collective activity on behalf of individuals with similar interests is the most effective way to achieve a goal. The AFM can negotiate agreements and administer contracts, procure valuable benefits and achieve legislative goals. A single musician has no such power.
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Like the industry, the AFM is also changing and evolving, and its policies and programs will move in new directions dictated by its members. As a member, you will determine these directions through your interest and involvement. Your membership card will be your key to participation in governing your union, keeping it responsive to your needs and enabling it to serve you better. To become a member now, visit www.afm.org/join.
November 1, 2023IM -
When a professional musician reads music it is at a longer distance than the average person reading a book. At the same time, they need to monitor the conductor’s motions, which can range from one to 20 feet away—and sometimes they must switch from one instrument to another. Suffice it to say, musicians have many visual demands during a performance.
There are additional demands that vary by instrument. Violinists tilt their head to their left to the extent that there is a medical condition commonly called “fiddler’s neck.” This tilt may have visual implications, especially if the violinist has presbyopia, or the gradual loss of one’s ability to focus on nearby objects.
Performers on a concert stage are often looking into intense stage lighting, while performers in orchestra pits for operas or theatrical productions must play under low lighting. Tinted eyeglasses could help with the former, but would likely be contraindicated in the latter case. One alternative could be to use a gradient tint. A doctor and lab can adjust both the positioning and density of gradient tints.
Factors that put musicians’ eyes at risk for injury and eyestrain include focusing on small notes on a page for long periods of time, frequent reading with inadequate light, dry eyes, and playing loud and high-pitched notes on wind instruments, which can double eye pressure.
The eyes are not designed to repeatedly scan small text such as musical notes for an extended length of time. Doing so overworks the muscles in the eyes to the point where they begin to spasm and cause vision to blur. This is called eyestrain and it can sometimes lead to ocular migraines.
For all the reasons above, you should make it a priority to visit an eye doctor at least once a year. Discuss your vision challenges. Provide details about your instrument, the venues in which you perform, and if during a single performance you play multiple instruments. Talk about the amount of time you spend practicing and the typical level of lighting available to you when performing or rehearsing. To help an optometrist or ophthalmologist better determine various special needs, make them aware of any eyestrain or fatigue (asthenopia) you experience while playing. Knowing the actual distance of the music stand and score from your eyes will help to ascertain your prescription needs. Consider bringing along a sample piece of sheet music.
Prevention is the best way to curb eyestrain. One simple way to relieve stress on your eyes is blinking regularly. On average, people blink 15-20 times a minute. Musicians who complain of discomfort only while performing may have a dry eye problem. Concert halls often are a low humidity environment. The stress of performance may lower the blink rate. When the corneas become dry, the eyes begin to ache. Blinking lubricates them.
Depending on the performance situation, lighting can simultaneously be too low for reading the score, yet high enough to cause glare and photophobia (a sensitivity to bright light). Prescription or over-the-counter eye drops can help. For musicians suffering from dry eyes and for contact lens wearers, drinking plenty of water in the days leading up to a performance will make reading music and playing more comfortable. If you wear contact lenses, you are more susceptible to dry eyes. Consider wearing your glasses to gigs or when you rehearse. Take appropriate breaks to rest your eyes when they begin to feel tired.
Proper lighting during practice sessions is also important to avoid eyestrain. Be sure to use the proper amount of light in practice rooms—possibly mimicking stage lighting. If the orchestra pit is too dark, ask the director, manager, or tech crew for help in making appropriate modifications.
If you practice with a music stand, be sure to adjust it to eye level or slightly below and place it where you won’t have to turn your body or crane your neck to see the notes. Maintaining a neutral head and neck position is a key element to reducing the occurrence of eyestrain. If you share a music stand with another musician and are used to craning your neck to one side, try switching places to create a better balance.
Studies show there is a higher rate of astigmatism in musicians. Some musicians often play in asymmetrical positions. The amount of eye and head movement when tracking notes on a page should be balanced. Your eyes are no different than the other muscles in your body. Occasionally, give them a rest.