Stress can create reactions in the body, and one of them is the release of the hormone cortisol. Even confident professional musicians can suffer from multiple stresses on the day of the concert and release more cortisol.

According to a new study from MedUni Vienna, the enzyme myeloperoxidase, regarded as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, plays a part in the stress reaction in musicians.

The good news is that this effect is lessened by an emotional factor; good moods reduce the stress-induced release of myeloperoxidase.

Stress reactions of the 47 musicians and conductor of the Austrian radio symphony orchestra were investigated at the dress rehearsal and on the following day, the premier, at Vienna’s Musikverein.

Sampling Musicians Stress

Blood and saliva and samples were taken to create a cortisol profile and measure the myeloperoxidase level. Myeloperoxidase plays a major role in inflammatory processes. Samples were taken before and after each performance, in addition to during the concert and rehearsal intervals.

“The result is clear-cut,” said Alexander Pilger from the MedUni’s Institute for Occupational Medicine. “In the acute stress situation on the day of the concert the myeloperoxidase increases just as clearly as does the overall release of cortisol.” In this however – as well as the inherent stress caused by appearing in front of an audience – other factors also play a role: “The musicians in the first violins and the conductor had on average higher myeloperoxidase levels not only at the dress rehearsal but also in the concert than all the other musicians together."

The better the musician’s mood, according to their self-assessment, the lower the stress-related rise in myeloperoxidase.

Bad Moods and Stress

The same effect was seen in reverse. The worse their mood, the higher the myeloperoxidase release in comparison with the rehearsal. That trend was also seen with the hormone cortisol, except in this case the influence of level of excitement played a more significant part.

“The general good mood cannot be explained by the ‘dream job’ of being an orchestral musician,” adds Pilger. “Earlier studies have shown that even musicians suffer from boredom and monotony, comparable with other, less exposed occupations. Furthermore, the social stress caused by the orchestral hierarchy is very great.”


Pilger, H. Haslacher, E. Ponocny-Seliger, T. Perkmann, K. Böhm, A. Budinsky, A. Girard, K. Klien, G. Jordakieva, L. Pezawas, O. Wagner, J. Godnic-Cvar, R. Winker. Affective and inflammatory responses among orchestra musicians in performance situation. Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, December 2013 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi/2013.10.018

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