In Faculty and Staff, School of Music

Professor Jason Bergman and student Neal Hillam hope that others in the brass community benefit from their experience with Hillam’s metal allergy

Neal Hillam with trumpet professor Jason Bergman. (Courtesy of Jason Bergman)

An observant and invested professor can change a student’s life. For trumpet performance major Neal Hillam, the mentorship of professor Jason Bergman meant the difference between thriving in the School of Music and putting aside a longtime dream — possibly forever.

It’s difficult for Hillam to pinpoint an exact moment when playing the trumpet became a physically painful experience for him. 

“I’ve played the trumpet for most of my life, so I think I was just kind of used to it,” said Hillam. “I would feel this tingling or stinging when I put the metal mouthpiece up to my face, but I played through it because it always felt like that. It was really during the last two years when I started to feel serious pain, where it hurt to play or even touch my face after I’d been playing.”

By the time Bergman joined the BYU music faculty last August, Hillam was already developing compensation injuries, including muscle and nerve damage in his face.

“Imagine if you were a runner and had a sore ankle. You might run a little bit differently and consequently tweak your back, or your hip might start to hurt,” explained Bergman. “We spent our first time together trying to problem-solve the secondary issues that came from Neal compensating for that initial pain.”

With no explanation or solution for the root cause, Hillam’s future in the School of Music was in question. He finally reached a point during winter semester where he physically couldn’t continue, and Bergman told him to take a break and work on recovering while they assessed his options.

Then it hit Bergman: Hillam could have a metal allergy.

Read the full story at the School of Music website.

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