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    Sunday, October 17, 2004

    Calming the Savage Breast: Is it wrong for musicians to use beta-blockers?

    The little secret in the classical music world - dirty or not - is that the drugs have become nearly ubiquitous. So ubiquitous, in fact, that their use is starting to become a source of worry. Are the drugs a godsend or a crutch? Is there something artificial about the music they help produce? Isn't anxiety a natural part of performance? And could classical music someday join the Olympics and other athletic organizations in scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs?

    Goodness, there's nothing wrong with using a beta-blocker to quell stage-fright. If someone plays beautifully in the privacy of their own home, shouldn't they be able to share that beauty with the rest of the world, even if they are terribly shy? It isn't like taking steroids to grow stronger muscles. They don't even change one's mental state, the way valium does. All that beta-blockers do is prevent those fright/flight hormones of the sympathetic nervous system from working their mischief.

    And by the way, why was the music teacher fired for suggesting her nervous students ask their doctors about beta-blockers for performance anxiety? Public school teachers don't get fired for suggesting parents ask their kids' doctors about Ritalin. And taking a beta-blocker an hour or two before a performance is much more benign than taking an amphetamine every day.

    UPDATE: Another point of view:

    Think carefully about your comments regarding how benign you think it is to offer beta blockers for school-age musicians. Is giving a beta blocker to a music student prior to an audition or a competition that much different from giving athletes performance-enhancing drugs? Beta blockers may be more benign pharmacologically than anabolic steroids, but the message is the same. Should we be giving young people the message that drugs are the answer? As far as teachers being fired for suggesting Ritalin, I think some of them should!

    I agree I wouldn't recommend beta-blockers for children, but the teacher in the article was a college teacher. And I have to respectfully disagree about the difference between steroids and beta-blockers. Steroids enhance the performance no matter where it's done. They alter the natural ability to perform. Beta-blockers don't. They only allow a performer to overcome stage fright, letting their true talent shine.

    posted by Sydney on 10/17/2004 09:28:00 PM 0 comments


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