Sound Exercise: SFCM Student Partners with Local Gym to Create Fitness Videos for Musicians
Raquel Fisk urges every musician to develop an understanding of how their craft impacts their body—and what they can do about it—and has partnered with a local gym to film videos aimed at helping them do just that.
By Alex Heigl
Raquel Fisk wants you to think about how your triceps help your Tchaikovsky.
The SFCM junior, a pianist studying with John Nakamatsu, is working towards unifying her lifelong love of fitness and music into a larger mission of helping fellow musicians better understand the impact that their practice and performance has on their bodies.
Fisk has partnered with Fitness SF to produce videos featured on their social media channels focusing on musician fitness. The Bay Area chain has over 10,000 followers on Instagram, and while Fisk is, understandably, spending more of her time on piano, she sees an opportunity not just to help her fellow musicians, but to expand her pursuits into a potential sideline gig.
"People could totally start a whole new branch of business. There's so many ways musicians are constantly poor, right? So you could go about it in a more intelligent way that would just help better the economic ecosystem of classical music, if you wanted to just view it from a purely utilitarian perspective. You invite investors to put money into this, as much as there is in the fitness or sports realm. I firmly believe the potential for music to be regarded or treated as seriously as athletics."
Much of her work stems from a personal place: Fisk was a cross-country runner in high school who added weightlifting to her workouts, but her life was thrown into disarray on a micro and macro level when she injured herself from over-practicing when she was 18, overseas in Italy on a gap year, just as the COVID-19 epidemic was cresting.
"Everything was shut down, and there was no access to doctors because of the pandemic. I was trying to heal from this injury and play again, and there was literally no help, so I had to figure it out on my own," Fisk says. She parlayed her talent for sketching and drawing into educating herself about muscle anatomy to increase her awareness, creating diagrams and illustrations of the hands and arms to better understand how she was using them.
"We all have inflamed muscles as musicians," Fisk continues. "Even if people say 'I have no pain,' all of our fingers are just constantly being used, so they're always inflamed, but it's a healthy inflammation. It's nothing that causes damage, but it's just we're not meant to be doing this—the body's not not set up for that." But, she adds,"the body is really adaptable and it is set up for things like grip strength. So I actually started analyzing rock climbing techniques to understand more about forearm strength."
Fisk's work concerns the entire body, and is also focused on not just the more passive damage that musicians do to themselves by sitting for hours while practicing or studying but the other unhealthy aspects of the trade, like poor sleep habits and alcohol consumption. And while SFCM's courses include Alexander Technique, which promotes kinesthetic awareness to prevent injury, Fisk's methodology incorporates techniques from her entire fitness history, from running to weightlifting to Pilates and barre workouts.
"Stretching is super important," she explains. "And then strengthening posture. Your legs, your glutes, they get very weak when you just sit all day. So it's really important to strengthen those, necessarily with high weights. I put a strong emphasis on low-weight workouts, but just really focusing on the muscle so that you don't get injured."
"There's a lot of crap training out there," she says bluntly. "I see people get injured all the freaking time. Even when you're not injured, you're kind of injured. If you feel sore the next day, it's because you just did a crazy workout on your extensor muscles by practicing for eight hours!"
"It breaks my heart because it's all we want to do," she continues. "We want to play. And for me, it was a six-month injury. We're talking about not touching the thing that I love the most for six months. That is just psychologically excruciating, emotionally impactful."
"We don't all have to suffer this way for doing something that is genuinely so pure in heart and thought," Fisk says. "Music is such a gift to humanity and it's such a spiritual thing, and there's nothing more upsetting than your own body getting in the way of you doing something that really brings your heart happiness."
Learn about studying piano at SFCM.