Accessibility statement

Health and wellness for musicians in the Department of Music

As professional and pre-professional musicians it is important to be aware of the physical, psychological, social, financial, and occupational hazards and complications that participation in musical activities can have on your health and wellness and that of others around you. Individuals have the primary responsibility to care for and protect their health and safety, but we strive to help people develop their capability and motivation to be healthy within an environment that promotes healthy practices and cultures. Through workshops and other educational opportunities, the department aims to help students learn more about how to promote their health, wellness, and performance as well as finding support and appropriate treatment for physical and mental health concerns arising from musical activities.

Open Door and the Student Wellbeing Officers for Music

Open door have expanded their team from a previous central team and evening team of mental health practitioners based in the Sally Baldwin building. Open Door now includes a new team embedded within academic departments. This is made up of 3 open door practitioners, one assigned to each faculty, and 11 Student Wellbeing Officers (SWOs) which allows for an SWO to be assigned to several departments within each faculty: Sarah Thompson is the Open Door Practitioner for Music and Ali Burton is our SWO (see below to find out more about Sarh and Ali). 

What’s the difference between SWOs and an Open Door Practitioner? Open Door Practitioners are registered/accredited mental health practitioners and are able to provide specialist support for students experiencing psychological or mental health difficulties. SWOs can offer short-term support for general wellbeing issues relating to the university experience. They are part of the Open Door Team but work within departments alongside academic and support staff. The SWOs are not mental health practitioners, but they will listen to your concerns, find out what is going on and how things are affecting you. They will talk through your options and may direct you to specialist services across the university as well as the support available locally. You can talk to SWOs about academic or personal issues, or a combination of both as we all know that things are never straightforward.  Perhaps you’re struggling with motivation, finding it difficult to manage your time, missing home or feeling isolated.  You may be experiencing friendship/relationship issues or feeling anxious about your workload.  Talking to somebody who can listen and give a different, independent perspective can be helpful. 

How can I access support? All you need to do is complete an Open Door and Disability online referral form, which you can find on the Open Door webpage.  All referrals are checked daily and, depending on the content of your referral, it will be assigned to either a Practitioner or a  SWO. Alternatively, you can ask your Academic Supervisor, or any member of the staff in your department to pass your details directly to us on your behalf.  In both cases, we aim to contact you within two working days to arrange a meeting. If you are in crisis now please call 999 for emergency services or call 01904 32 3333 for trained security services if you are on the University of York campus.

Meet the team

Learn more about this team and how they can support you in your studies:

Alison Burton

 Ali has worked in a number of student-facing roles so has a wealth of knowledge and experience.  As a people-orientated and caring person, she enjoys interacting with students in a friendly and warm manner.  University can be an exciting opportunity, but it can also be very confusing and challenging. It’s therefore really important to her that everyone is treated with kindness and understanding.  Ali is “owned” by her cat and enjoys cooking, walking and reading.  

Sarah Thompson

Sarah is the Open Door practitioner for the Arts and Humanities Faculty. She has worked in the central Open Door team since April 2017.  Her background is in mental health nursing, which she qualified in 2008 here at the University of York, going on to complete a degree in psychosociology interventions.  She has experience working in NHS community mental health before coming to the university.  Outside of work she loves going for long walks with her two French bulldogs.


Mental health first aid

Most members of staff in the Department have completed a half-day session on Mental Health First Aid. In addition, the individuals listed below have completed the full two-day course equipping them as Mental Health First Aiders:

  • Catherine Duncan (Department Manager)
  • Dr Liz Haddon (Programme Leader: MA Music Education: Instrumental and Vocal Teaching)
  • Dr Naomi Norton (Musicians’ Health and Wellness Coordinator)
  • Ángel Cataño Flores (Facilities and Equipment Assistant)
  • Mimi O’Neill (Student Mental Health Representative)

If you would like to speak to someone from outside the Department who is qualified as a Mental Health First Aider this Mental Health First Contact Network can help you find an appropriate person.

Department of Music Wellbeing and Mental Health Scheme

A group of students have volunteered to be advocates within the Department for wellbeing and mental health, acting as points of contact to voice anything you want with those who have mental health training, and an interest in supporting musicians’ mental health and wellness. The reps are here to listen and signpost further options, whether you just need a chat or have bigger concerns. 

Wellness Wednesdays

Follow @MusicAtYork on Instagram for Wellness Wednesdays tips to care for your health and wellness.

Department of Music Contact System

To help welcome and integrate incoming freshers to the workings of both the university and department the Music Department operates a Contact System. This system sees small groups of incoming music students put into contact with an existing undergraduate student, who can help the new students settle in and act as a ‘go to’ person for answering questions about life in the department and university. As all contacts are undergraduate students themselves, they understand the concerns and queries that the incoming freshers will have and are a friendly face to welcome them as they arrive into the department. The Contact System is overseen by Isobel Stearn, the Music Department representative with YUSU, and a small number of other third year undergraduate students who are there to make sure the Contacts have been in touch with the freshers and are a point of contact if there is an immediate problem with any of the pairings. If you have any questions about the Music Department Contact System please email Isobel.

Life Coaching and Alexander Technique

Julie Parker is an ILM Level 7 equivalent Accredited Coach (with Distinction) and qualified teacher of the Alexander Technique with over 27 years’ experience. She has taken the University of York Mental Health First Aid short course. Julie worked for three years as part of primary healthcare in the NHS and now works with students at the University of York.

Making music is a matter of the whole person - body, mind, and emotions. When those are all in harmony, they contribute to performing with ease, flow and joy. When any of those are out of kilter, it disrupts the entire process. There is a myriad of stimuli at this time that create disruption and prevent us from optimal performance - both in our music and everyday life.

Part of the support we offer in the Department is a free Alexander Technique/Coaching session with Julie Parker to help you clarify your goals and uncover the ways of thinking and acting which prevent optimal performance and enjoyment of your music making. Due to budgetary constraints, ongoing sessions cannot be covered by the Department, but are subsidised. 

To take advantage of your free session, please text Julie on 0784 171 2942. If you wish to have an in-person session, you will need to sign a form confirming that you do not have any Covid-19 symptoms and that you have not knowingly been in contact with anyone who has symptoms, or who has tested positive, within the last 14 days.

Please ensure you have a mask for the session, and if you are a singer or a wind instrumentalist, wrap up warm, as we will have a window open! Please also ensure you follow guidelines for sanitising and social distancing. Below are videos from two students letting you know what value they received from ‘hands off’ sessions.

Curriculum time

Across courses and modules, staff members are available to provide informal support to students as well as regular formal tutorials during the year. In addition, there are specified sessions within curriculum time ensuring that students have access to vital information about how to promote and protect their own health and wellness, as well as that of other musicians.

  • Undergraduate 20-credit module entitled ‘Musicians’ Health and Wellness’ (Spring Term 2020-21): see the module catalogue for more information.
  • Studio induction for users of the Department studios that includes basic coverage of physiology and anatomy of the human auditory system, and audiology and guidance on other aspects of safe studio working (e.g. electrical safety and trip hazards).
  • Seminars within the MA Music Education: Instrumental and Vocal Teaching course focusing on introducing students to health and wellness in their dual roles as learners and teachers (led by Dr Naomi Norton and other colleagues within the Department).
  • Seminars within the MA Music Psychology pathway focusing on hearing protection and music performance anxiety (led by Dr Hauke Egermann).
  • IPC pre-sessional guest lecture for Arts and Humanities students entitled ‘Studying (Music) Healthily’ (led by Dr Naomi Norton) to introduce students to the support and advice on offer within the Department and University more broadly.

Performance classes and other events

In previous academic years, the Department of Music has run weekly performance classes open to all students, teachers, and staff members that included sessions focusing on topics relating to musicians’ health and wellness. (For more information please visit the Performance Class webpage).

Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department is not able to run this series during the Autumn Term of the 2020/21 academic year but will review the situation as the year progresses and resume classes as and when possible. 

Previous health and wellness-related sessions as part of the Performance Class series have included: 

  • Introduction to musicians’ health and wellness (Naomi Norton)
  • Performing with greater ease (Julie Parker)
  • Introduction to Alexander Technique (Julie Parker)
  • Warm-up exercises for singers (Yvonne Seymour)
  • You are not inadequate: mental health workshop (Enya Doyle)
  • Hearing health (Finola Ryan from BAPAM)

Wellbeing spaces

You might like to consider developing a personal wellbeing space where you live: this might involve putting up some fairy lights, bringing a plant into the area, maybe having some incense or candles (though pay attention to fire safety!), and not bringing electronic devices into the area to help you switch off.

Creating spaces where you can get away from work and go to feel safe and calm is really important, especially in shared accommodation, and while we are living within a global pandemic and more restricted than normal.