Marianna Kapsetaki is a concert pianist, qualified medic and neuroscience PhD student - recently awarded for her research in performing arts medicine
Hailing from the island of Crete, born to Greek and British parents, Dr Marianna Kapsetaki has long harboured twin passions for medicine and music – performing in concert halls around Greece and now the UK as part of a double act with her twin sister Stephanie.
Upon completion of her medical degree at the University of Crete, Marianna decided to combine her interests by taking an MSc in Performing Arts Medicine at UCL. The research dissertation she carried out there was recently recognised with an award from the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM).
She is currently studying for a PhD in neuroscience at Imperial’s Department of Medicine, under the supervision of Dr Paresh Malhotra, for which she has recently attracted scholarship funding from the Greek foundation ‘Estia Neas Smirnis’. We managed to catch-up with Marianna, between her hectic schedule.
You’ve taken an unusual path, how did you get here?
People have always insisted that, at some point, I must choose between music and medicine in terms of career path; that I simply can’t succeed in both forever. When I finished my medical training everybody was asking which branch of medicine I will pursue and where I would like to practice. But I didn’t want to just stop music, so I did some research and found out about the Master’s course in Performing Arts Medicine at UCL – which is pretty unique in the world.
What exactly is performing arts medicine?
It relates to the injuries, psychological problems and all medical issues of performing artists i.e. musicians, dancers, actors and singers. At UCL we were closely allied with the sports medicine department as there are many similarities. For example, stress fractures are common in dancers and also in footballers. There’s the common performance psychology aspect too – although that’s perhaps even more pronounced in performing artists. The course also covers the occupational health element in helping to keep musicians and performing artists healthy. Musicians of all genres can develop many injuries during their careers. Pianists for instance can develop carpal tunnel syndrome or back pain because of bad posture, whilst trombonists tend to get problems with their embouchure (the facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece of woodwind and brass instruments). Performing arts medicine covers the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all of these conditions.
And your own award-winning project was focused on psychology?
That’s right, I demonstrated a high prevalence of eating disorders in musicians. In terms of personality traits, they tend to exhibit perfectionism and also depression, anxiety and stress, which in turn predisposes them to developing disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. There hadn’t been substantial research done on these conditions in musicians before (over 300 musicians participated in my research study), so I think this swayed it for the awarding panel at the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine.
Tell us about the PhD you’ve recently started at Imperial
My PhD is in neuroscience, under the supervision of Dr Paresh Malhotra. I’m still forming my project under the provisional topic of ‘investigating interhemispheric asymmetry in visuo-vestibular interactions’. Basically I’ll be aiming to gather evidence of how music affects the human body and brain and integrating this into my investigations. I’ll be using MRI scanning and the great facilities at the Charing Cross and Hammersmith campuses.
So I’m still at the interface between science and music – but it’s more fundamental, blue skies than the practical nature of performing arts medicine. There are some intriguing research avenues on the effects of music on motion sickness, for example whilst driving cars. Interestingly, research studies have shown that playing an instrument reduces your chance of dementia, and perhaps aids the rehabilitation process in Parkinson’s disease. It’s a new field and there’s limitless scope.
With Christmas fast approaching I’m guessing it’s a busy time for concerts with the Kapsetaki Duo?
We’ll be participating in some international piano competitions soon, then in February we have a four-date UK tour, covering Oxford, London, Cheltenham and Brighton. My sister is also a PhD student in her second year studying Zoology at the University of Oxford so it’s an added pressure organising everything around both our studies. We perform as a duo on two pianos and four hands (both of us on one piano) – but we both also have a wide solo piano repertoire and this adds great variety for our audiences. We enjoy sharing the stage and of course the prizes whenever we’re up against each other in competitions!
How do you find time to practice?
This is always the greatest concern each time I have had to face a change in my location due to studies. Moving to an overwhelmingly scientific institution was particularly worrying so I was delighted to find that Imperial’s Blyth Centre has 10 music practice rooms, with some housing excellent pianos. This has and will be really beneficial in order for me to maintain my standard and prepare for concerts and competitions. As for time, I have always been very organized and from an early age I learnt to make use of every minute. Both music and science are highly demanding subjects in their own right, and a few extra hours each day would be ideal, but I love what I’m doing and find that with careful organization and focusing on each challenge as it comes, twenty four are just about enough!
See concert dates and information on the Kapsetaki Duo here: www.kapsetakisduo.com
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