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Home » Recent News » OCSM Conference Focuses on Musicians’ Health

OCSM Conference Focuses on Musicians’ Health


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by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

The Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) held its 2019 Conference from August 12-16 in Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton is the birthplace of performing arts medicine in Canada, so we devoted a full day to health issues, beginning with a presentation by Dr. John Chong, one of the founding physicians of the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada. His overview of more than 30 years of working with professional musicians was an excellent introduction, culminating in a live demonstration of technology designed to map the movements of muscle groups of musicians while they are performing.

We also welcomed audiologist Heather Malyuk of Soundcheck Audiology to OCSM for the first time—she has previously presented at both the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) and Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA) conferences. Heather is one of only a handful of audiologists who specialize in musicians’ hearing health, and one of the few in the world with extensive knowledge of the realities orchestral musicians face in their work. We were fortunate to witness the testing of a prototype device that will potentially revolutionize the way we protect our most precious resource: our hearing. This device allows the wearer to both attenuate (reduce) sound levels to protect hearing, and boost frequencies where needed, thus eliminating the one-size-fits-all approach to hearing protection. This is, of course, an oversimplification of how the device works—I would encourage you to follow Heather at her website ( to learn more.

Our day continued with a field trip across town to the campus of McMaster University and the LIVELab facility. As mentioned in one of my previous columns, this is a concert facility equipped to assist in research on how music and the mind/body interact. For those in the Hamilton area who haven’t been to the LIVELab, this is an amazing performance space—the acoustic makes use of enhanced technology to create a highly variable listening environment, from a cathedral-like reverb all the way to an almost anechoic chamber. The delegates took part in a study where we were asked to evaluate performances recorded on a Disklavier piano, to determine if performance anxiety could be “heard” when the performer was not “seen”. It was an interesting exercise, but I couldn’t help but think it would have made a good study of audition committee fatigue, because we were all pretty tired from our two days of meeting up until that point!

Our day concluded with a panel on mental health issues, including the concertmaster of the Hamilton Philharmonic, Stephen Sitarski, and Rachael Finnerty-Hauser from the Ontario Music Therapy Academy. Steve gave a good overview of how a musician’s career typically unfolds, and how different aspects of the stages of a musician’s career affect mental health. Again, this was an issue one could center an entire conference on—we just got enough of an introduction to realize how much work needs to be done toward making our workplaces healthier.

We took advantage of our location to amass the best legal minds in our profession at this conference. Kevin Case, ICSOM’s legal counsel, gave his first presentation to an OCSM conference, on the preparation of negotiation surveys. Our own legal counsel, Michael Wright, gave a presentation on the intersection of criminal law, off-duty conduct, and labour law. AFM Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick, in addition to all her assistance throughout the conference, led us in an excellent role-playing exercise where we took part in a mock peer review of a dismissal for artistic reasons (including some Oscar-winning performances by our delegates!).

In addition to reports from each delegate, our AFM SSD staff, the other Player Conferences, the Musicians’ Pension Fund of Canada, our group musical instrument insurance carrier (Western Financial Group Insurance Solutions), and AFM President Ray Hair, we had an annual update from Orchestras Canada as well on their initiatives toward diversity in our orchestras and their presentations to government bodies on behalf of the industry. We also had a presentation from Elizabeth Simpson (horn player with the National Arts Centre Orchestra), and Erin Parkes (Lotus Centre for Special Music Education) on the “Music Circle” program that NACO operates. It is an educational/outreach program directed at students in the special needs community (especially children on the Autism spectrum).

There were a number of changes on our executive board: Elizabeth Johnston (Canadian Opera Company Orchestra) has moved from the treasurer position to the position of first vice president. Peter Sametz (Regina Symphony) has been elected treasurer, and Xiao Grabke (National Ballet of Canada Orchestra) was elected to the position of second vice president. Melissa Goodchild (Saskatoon Symphony) continues in the role of secretary, and Robert Fraser (Victoria Symphony) was re-elected president.

A more detailed conference report will be published this month in Una Voce, the official OCSM publication, and of course, you are always welcome to consult with your orchestra’s OCSM delegate to learn more.

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