March 24, 2005

Performance enhancing

Most people in North America will have heard about the current Major League Baseball scandal regarding players taking steroids for faster strength-building and faster injury-healing. Even though baseball had no official rules banning steroid use, players who may have been “juiced” in years past are being subjected congressional hearings and reputation-wrecking scrutiny.

Barry Bonds, maybe the greatest (stats-wise, anyway) baseball player in history, is suspected the most, since he’s added about 50 pounds of muscle as he’s grown older – something that just doesn’t happen without some chemical assistance.

What does all of this have to do with piping and drumming? A recent Poll on P&D Online suggests that about 15 per cent of pipers and drummers have taken beta-blockers to curb their performance anxiety. Golfers and snooker players, to name a few professionals, have been known to take this medication, typically used as a treatment for heart conditions. It appears to be common practice with recitalists on classical music stages.

After speaking with my doctor to make sure that there were no serious risks, I tried a beta-blocker once before a solo contest to see what would happen. The biggest impact seemed to be a feeling of nonchalence about the whole thing. I didn’t really care much about the result or whether I “got through it” or not. The contest was just sort of unexciting. I can’t remember if I played any better or not, and no listeners or judge said anything was extra-good or particularly bad. (But that’s usual anway, I suppose.)

How do pipers and drummers feel about competitors taking drugs to calm their nerves? Are beta-blockers fair game? How does that medication differ from the traditional dram before stepping onto the boards? Does taking beta-blockers break some unofficial code of conduct?

If the piping world’s equivalent to Barry Bonds or the New York Yankees admitted to taking beta-blockers for years, would his/her/their record and reputation be tarnished in a similar way?





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