Friday, September 21, 2007

More on Inderal

Here's a followup to something that I touched upon in a previous post. This article is from 1992.

One of the most controversial approachesand one few musicians will discuss on the record-is the use of beta blockers, prescription drugs developed to lower blood pressure. The beta blocker used by musicians is propranolol, sold under the brand name Inderal. It works by blocking the receptors that trigger the "fight f light" response-the physiological responses that prepare an animal to face a crisis. These responses are familiar to anyone who has performed on an instrument, acted, or spoken in public: sweating, tenseness, pounding heart, trembling, and sometimes a dry mouth (a particular problem for wind players.)

Dr. Gary Gelber, a Juilliard-trained clarinetist and psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco's Program for Performing Artists, says that he experimented with performing on Inderal himself but felt "emotionally cut off from the music" when using it and decided his performance was better without it. He'll sometimes prescribe it to help a patient get through a hurdle, such as an audition or solo concert, but in the long run prefers to help patients learn to perform without it. He stresses that the drug should not be passed around casually and should not be used by people who suffer from heart disease, low blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or a tendency toward depression.

Is the use of Inderal by musicians comparable to the use of steroids by athletes? "The analogy breaks down," says Gelber. "By taking Inderal, someone is not changing him or herself in a fundamental way. They're just blocking something that can interfere with the ability to do on the stage what they can do in the warm-up room."

The recording techniques used to produce today's technically flawless recordings, he says, are a much more artificial process than taking Inderal: "There you're actually cutting and pasting and creating a performance that never existed."

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