Educator Tailors Career Around Love of Music, Therapy

Last Updated on June 06, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published June 06, 2017

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

Nancy Taylor grew up in El Paso around music and musicians. Her instrument was the trumpet, and from a very young age she wanted to be a performer like Doc Severinsen, the pop and jazz trumpeter who led “The Tonight Show" band for 25 years.

Trumpet player
Everyday activities could put undue stress on the parts of their bodies that could be used to play a musical instrument. Nancy Taylor, a UTEP music educator and licensed therapist, recently wrote a book that promotes wellness for musicians and music educators. Photo by JR Hernandez / UTEP Communications

Taylor, a senior lecturer of trumpet in UTEP’s music department, boasts an impressive resume as a performer, but she is equally proud of her abilities as a tutor and educator, especially when it comes to helping musicians understand why they get their aches and pains and how to alleviate them.

While living in Alabama, she was introduced to occupational therapy (OT), a form of therapy where activities tied to daily life are used to help people deal with disabilities or recover from injuries. Taylor was so interested in the field that she enrolled in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Master of Occupational Therapy program. She joined UTEP’s music faculty at the same time. It was through her OT coursework that she began to understand how the body functioned and how everyday activities could exacerbate the aches and pains felt by musicians.

She combined her worlds of art and science in “Teaching Healthy Musicianship: The Music Educator’s Guide to Injury Prevention and Wellness,” which was published in 2016 by Oxford University Press. Each chapter cites situations and offers solutions.

“Things we do in everyday life impact our ability to play an instrument,” Taylor said during an interview in her second floor office in the Fox Fine Arts Center. As she spoke, orchestral theme music from “Star Wars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” wafted in from a nearby practice studio. “It could be how we sit, how we handle a (computer) mouse or how we drive a car that aggravates a part of the body and causes pain.”

Among her fans is Frank Tracz, Ph.D., director of bands and professor of music at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. He recently hosted Taylor during a four-day visit where she performed and conducted clinics. He lauded her abilities as a world-class trumpeter and a licensed therapist whose message was helpful, practical and important. 


Nancy Taylor, a senior lecturer of trumpet, is in demand nationally as much for her ability to perform as for her expertise as a speaker about healthy musicianship. Photo by Laura Trejo  / UTEP Communications

“Our audiences learned so much from her,” said Tracz, who has known Taylor for 10 years. They serve as music clinicians at the annual Conn-Selmer Institute in Mishawaka, Indiana. “Our students now know how to better take care of themselves and will prepare more efficiently and effectively for their performances.”

Taylor said her interest in education and science came later in life. Growing up in a musical family, she just wanted to perform. The Coronado High School alumna earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in music performance from Arizona State University and Indiana University, respectively, before being selected to join “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band, the nation’s premier service orchestra. The former gunnery sergeant performed with them for most of the 1990s and at the same time began to offer trumpet instruction to high school students on the side.

After her return to El Paso in 2008, she began to play with local groups to include the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. She met a violinist with a tender elbow and, because of her OT training, suggested ways to relieve the pain and exercises to strengthen her wrist. Soon other musicians – students and professionals – began to seek out Taylor.

“That’s when I started to realize that I could make a difference in this field,” said the educator, who eventually offered UTEP students annual healthy musicianship clinics.

Among the musicians she helped through the years was Jesus Diaz, a former percussionist with the El Paso Wind Symphony and orchestra teacher at Col. John O. Ensor Middle School in far east El Paso. He remembered experiencing sharp pain in the muscle in front of his elbow for about 10 days in spring 2014, and it was getting worse. He met with Taylor during a wind symphony rehearsal and described the problem.

“She jammed her thumbs into the pain area and rubbed for 10-15 seconds and the pain began to go away,” Diaz said. Taylor also showed him stretches and relaxation techniques. “When the pain started again, I just repeated what Nancy showed me. The pain was gone in a few days.”

Diaz, a UTEP graduate who earned a bachelor’s in music education in 2009 and a master’s in music performance two years later, said Taylor has made her healthy musicianship presentation to Socorro Independent School District music teachers. He said it was enjoyable and informative.

“It was kind of funny to hear the groans from the teachers as they were doing the stretches that Nancy demonstrated,” Diaz said. “Everyone wants to have her back.”

He said Taylor influenced him to take a more active role in pain management among his students. Before, he often assumed that a whining student wanted to get out of practice, but now he requires the student to stop playing the instrument until they can figure out the cause of the discomfort.

Taylor said she was glad her findings, which are based on anatomy and ergonomics, the study of people’s efficiency in their work environments, have resonated with musicians, educators and students in her presentations and her book.

“This is a book for music educators that will help them take care of themselves so they can survive 40 years of teaching without back pain and without hearing loss,” Taylor said.