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Wellness Routines: How GRSMA Musicians Stay Fit for Work

Playing an instrument for thousands of hours during the span of an orchestral musician's career can take its toll on the player's body. GRSMA asked its members how they stay fit to do their jobs.

GRSMA violist BARB CORBATO tells us that her wellness routine involves two things. "First, I do extensive stretching before practicing, rehearsals, and concerts. That is probably the most obvious thing that any musician would do. The other thing that I have done consistently over the years is to exercise with my dog. That generally involves visits to the beach, long walks and hiking, usually at a brisk pace to keep up with my active companion. These days, I walk about 2-3 miles each day at Shaggy Pines Dog Park with Lillie, my labrador retriever. Of course the dog ends up getting many more steps in than I do! I also walk a lot in my neighborhood and at local parks like Provin Trails. I find the time spent doing activities over the years with my many dogs has helped me stay fit and happy, which keeps me at my best when I am performing."

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Beach time with Barb!

Like Barb, GRSMA oboist ALE MILLER is a fan of Shaggy Pines and incorporates exercising his dogs into his wellness plan. "I walk every morning, always with our two dogs JoJo and Fievel. During the winter months, I take them to Shaggy Pines dog park and walk briskly on the paths there for about an hour. During the summer, when we are at our cottage up north, I venture into the woods, following JoJo’s nose on mushroom hunts. Also, I just got an Apple Watch and I love the health and wellness insights it gives."

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JoJo with fungi and a fun guy.

Ale's wife, GRSMA violist MARY JANE MILLER, has a fitness routine that does not include JoJo and Fievel (or Ale!). "I get regular tissue work done and am lucky enough to have a workout room in my home which I take full advantage of. You can often find me rolling around on a foam roller and using a shiatsu massager on my neck and back, depending on the repertoire that particular week. Thankfully the GR Symphony provides me with the type of chair I need to help keep me in alignment during rehearsals and concerts!"

Speaking of body alignment, GRSMA violist LEANNE KING keeps local masseur Jason Miller busy. Jason has attended GRS concerts to observe how his clients use their instruments, which showed him why they have certain issues with their bodies. "Jason was referred to me by another GRSMA musician. I had been injured by a different masseuse and was in pain for weeks. After one session with Jason, I was back to my happy playing self! Playing the viola can be taxing on the neck and shoulders, especially after days of rigorous practicing and performing. Jason would patiently work on those areas to make sure they wouldn’t worsen over time. I attribute my health and happiness to Jason Miller and his healing hands!" 

GRSMA horn player PAUL AUSTIN joins Leanne in singing the praises of masseur Jason. Paul has had a standing bi-weekly appointment with Jason shortly after joining the GRS in 1999, but also practices yoga to stay in shape. "When I was in music school, I was always told that I should look into yoga. However, I didn't take this suggestion seriously until after I had back surgery about fifteen years ago. As a New Year's resolution in 2006, I signed up for a weekly yoga class and have stayed loyal to The Yoga Studio/Grand Rapids ever since. They provide classic hatha instruction which incorporates body and mind, plus their breathing exercises come in handy for brass playing.

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Paul with yoga instructor Sarah Weber and her daughter at a recent GRS concert.

Like Paul, GRSMA violinist DIANE McELFISH HELLE is a long-time student of The Yoga Studio/Grand Rapids. It was her college violin teacher who encouraged Diane to take care of her body during their study by running, something Diane had never done. "I was a freshman in college when my violin teacher, Jens Ellerman, gave me a surprising assignment. After pointing out that playing the violin is a physically demanding enterprise, he sent me out to the track to start a running program, and I have been exercising faithfully ever since. Now that takes the form of lap swimming at the downtown YMCA and taking two classes a week at The Yoga Studio/Grand Rapids. I love the overall workout that yoga offers. And its emphasis upon awareness, form, and alignment correlates beautifully with what I do when I play my violin. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that, at this stage of my career, exercising is every bit as important as practicing to keep me doing my job as a symphony violinist."


Diane isn't the only runner in GRSMA, as trumpeter GEORGE GOAD mentions that he has been a lifelong runner and even began competing in triathlons over the past few years. He also coaches track and cross country. Read more about George in this issue's Musician Profile.


GRSMA flute/piccolo player JUDY KEMPH went into detail about her exercise and diet plans. "Early on in my music studies, I found that performing required a lot of stamina.  Physical exercise for flexibility and strength, excellent nutrition, and rest and relaxation are essential. My favorite exercises to choose from are stretching, core work, walking, and swimming. Balanced nutrition helps concentration and energy. While I endeavor to achieve a good mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, including a lot of vegetables and fruits, there are some items I avoid before rehearsals and concerts. Spicy foods are risky, and too much salt is a disaster. Salt can make my mouth dry and can even cause swelling in the embouchure which makes it difficult for any wind or brass musician to play. Following through with all of these sensible and healthy practices gives me an opportunity to do my best job."


The sound of a symphony orchestra is provided by the musicians, and those players must be mindful of their wellness in order for the product to be of a high caliber. Every GRSMA member has a routine for performing at their best, and we thank Barb, Ale, Mary Jane, Leanne, Paul, Diane, George, and Judy for taking a moment to share theirs with us.

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