Ergonomic chairs for musicians could help improve performance
By Paul Ridden
June 14, 2012
Much of today's modern workforce has been touched by the helping hand of ergonomic science. In a former professional life, I remember colleagues regularly disappearing on day trips to specialist furniture suppliers arranged by the Health and Safety department to be measured and fitted for a new office chair. Professional musicians, on the other hand, are often required to make do with whatever seating is provided by the concert hall or theater, as if all instruments and players had exactly the same requirements. After spending 18 months studying the needs of various players, David Brothers has now designed an adjustable three-legged seating solution to help promote good playing posture and correct breathing techniques.
After spending countless hours rehearsing using whatever chairs happen to be available, the seasoned orchestral or ensemble professional is then faced with having to deliver a perfect performance on a one-model-fits-all plastic or folding monstrosity or, if they're lucky, something equally unsuitable but with cushions. Brothers has spent the last 18 months interviewing and surveying professional musicians, and observing orchestras and ensembles, and has noted that string, brass and woodwind players all appeared to be issued with the same seating despite having very different physical requirements.
"It's well established among musicians that a good understanding of proper posture and breathing improve sound quality and are directly linked to exceptional instrument control and mastery," said the assistant professor of interior design at NJIT's School of Art + Design. "What is less understood is the influence of chair design on the ability to achieve these goals. There are equally significant questions to address for the health and performance of people whose 'office' happens to be practice rooms and performance halls and whose sitting requirements, though distinctly different, are just as physically demanding as the contemporary knowledge worker."
His solution takes the shape of a three-legged chair made from strong but lightweight carbon fiber. The chair can be adjusted to accommodate different needs and playing styles, benefiting from variable seat height, backrests for lumbar support and can be tilted forward using a telescopic rear leg "to reduce the strain of the backward pelvic rotation."
Although Brothers has also given his ergonomic chair an eye-pleasing, modern aesthetic, his many conversations with players did reveal that few musicians gave much thought to what their seating actually looked like.
He sees the study leading to the development and production of a series of specialized seating solutions for working musicians, tailored specifically to both the player and type of instrument used.
He's already presented a paper on the subject at the Tenth Annual Hawaii International Conference on Arts & Humanities in January 2012 and been named a finalist in the International 2012 Spark Awards program. His work was also featured at the Society for the Arts in Healthcare Annual Conference in Detroit at the beginning of May.
Photos courtesy of NJIT