Doctors Who Are Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum: Part 2

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]The Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO) in Boston Massachusetts, is a group of physicians who also play together as musicians on the side. They bring free chamber music directly to patients who can no longer attend concerts. The LSO plays in in hospital wards, rehabilitation centers, hospices, and other healthcare facilities throughout the state of  Massachusetts.

In Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine, author and current LSO President Lisa Wong traces its history since its founding in 1982. Biographies of some of her musical and medical colleagues in the LSO are covered. What they all have in common is a belief that playing for the Orchestra has greatly helped them in their relationships with their patients. When these doctors play music, they become  better attuned to their patients’ emotional state of mind.

The LSO has a three-part mission. The first is the concert performances at health and medical facilities across the state of Massachusetts. Wong defines this as “Healing the Community through Music.” The second is “Community Engagement.” Chamber groups of young doctors and medical students are sent to perform in hospitals, hospices, and Alzheimer units. According to Dr. Wong, “studying the impact of chamber music on Alzheimer’s patients and senior citizens, their families, and their caregivers has the potential of changing the way we care for our aging population.” “Educational Work” is the third part, which consists of symposia that draws colleagues from across the country to discuss topics such as “Crossing the Corpus Collusum: Neuroscience, Healing, and Music.” This is an example of one which was hosted by the LSO, in partnership with “The Lab at Harvard University.” Topics that attendees  addressed for this symposium were about how music can help in recovery from neurological disorders, how music shapes the developing brain, and if music can “be the way towards recovering functions for individuals with autism.”

Most promising is a trend of some medical schools in thinking about how to integrate c curriculum of humanities into medical practice. Wong cites Harvard, Stanford and Dalhousie as examples of schools where a professor may encourage a first-year medical student to create art to express feelings about a first encounter with a cadaver.

Below you will find a YouTube video of Dr. Wong elaborating on the purpose of the  LSO and its impact on doctor and patient alike.


Doctors Who Are Marching to the Beat of a Different Drum: Part I

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]Oliver Sachs, a renowned doctor and author, and the physicians making up the Longwood Symphony Orchestra in Boston, Massachusetts, are examples of professionals dispelling negative perceptions about doctors. As Dr. Lisa Wong of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra put it in her book, From Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Musical Medicine, “science, in the forms of innovative technologies, increasingly views the patient as an amalgam of dysfunctional parts, while the arts, since time immemorial, have probed the meaning of being human. The former focuses on curing diseases, the latter aims to heal a human being brimming with uncertainty, discomfort, and dread.”

This impact is part of an increasing trend in the medical profession to recognize an important role music plays in bettering our medical health. As far back as 1914, The Journal of the Medical Association published its first writing on the link between music and health. According to the article, a doctor used a phonograph during surgery for “calming and distracting patients from the horror of the situation.”

Dr. Sachs first became aware of the impact of music on mental health in 1966, when  patients who had been stricken with a sleeping sickness years earlier were suddenly showing active signs of life. In Sacks’s book, Awakenings, he addressed how some of these patients with this sleeping sickness, one form of Parkinson’s Disease, were freed up in their movements after hearing music. One of his case studies described a patient as having movements that were “wooden and mechanical, like a robot or doll. In this state, this statelessness, this timeless irreality she would remain, motionless-helpless, until music came.” As this patient herself described it, “songs, tunes I knew from years ago, catchy tunes, rhythmic tunes, the sort I loved to dance to” had awakened her.

Sachs wrote about a patient suffering from amnesia and the impact of music in another book, Musicophilia. This patient had been in his mid-forties when he was struck with a severe brain infection, which severely affected his memory. His recall span was just a few seconds. According to his wife, “his ability to perceive what he saw and heard was unimpaired. But he did not seem to be able to retain any impression of anything for more than a blink.” However since this patient had been a musician prior to being stricken with amnesia, he was able to recall every part of performing a musical piece. As Dr, Sachs described it, “when we remember a melody, it plays in our mind, it becomes newly alive. There is not a process of recalling, imagining, assembling, recategorizing, recreating, as when one attempts to reconstruct or remember an event or a scene from the past.”

Below you will find a YouTube video in which Dr. Sachs discusses the impact of music on people who suffer strokes.

Musical Missionaries with an Unforgettable Fire of Passion


U2 has shown how popular music can be spiritual without being associated with any one faith. Their activism in causes such as eradicating the AIDS epidemic from Africa is based on the values of many faiths, which is to make the world a better place for all of us to live.

However their first album Boy, was about someone trying to find peace within himself, rather than peace in the world. The unexpected loss of Bono’s mother at the age of 14 began a difficult personal journey. “Walk away, walk away,  I will follow” may be his longing to accompany his mother into the next world she has entered. As someone who lost my own mother at the age of 3, I was powerfully moved when I first heard this song.  The other song on Boy that I powerfully feel is Into the Heart. “Into the heart of a child, I can’t stay awhile” brings back a loss of innocence I felt as a 3 year old angry at the unfairness of losing my protector parent.

The Unforgettable Fire is another album which deeply moves me. Its theme seems to be a memorial to the loss of many innocent people due to differing circumstances. Many of them were young, and had yet to fulfill their potential in life. But they all live on in a state of immortality. The song Bad seems to represent a wish to be able to bring all of these people back to life. “If I could through myself  set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away. I’m wide awake. I’m not sleeping” conveys a sense of immortality to those who have died. Indian Summer Sky, the following song on this album, comes across as an attempt by the living person to follow the same path of someone such as Martin Luther King, the subject of a number of songs on the Unforgettable Fire. “Up for air to swim against the tide, up against the blue sky”, and “wind blow through to my heart, wind blow through to my soul” could be about how people fighting to continue King’s struggle can feel his presence as they fight their own battles for civil rights.

Lastly, four songs, New Years Day, One, Beautiful Day, and Ordinary Love not only rank as favorite U2 songs, but as personal favorites of all time. They individually and collectively send out a spiritual message without being associated with any particular faith. Lyrics such as “a crowd has gathered in black and white, arms entwined, we can break through, though torn in two (New Years Day), “we’re one, but were not the same , we get to carry each other”(One), “what you don’t have you don’t need it now” (Beautiful Day), and “we can’t fall any further if we can’t feel ordinary love, and we can’t reach any higher if you can’t feel ordinary love” (Ordinary Love) are all about the purpose and big picture of what the meaning of life should be all about. If I could summarize the message of these four overarching songs, I would describe them as we are one, but we’re not the same. Recognizing this, resolve to make your own life as a New Years Day to begin again by displaying ordinary love for your fellow human beings. So make New Years Day a beautiful day. Life can be short. So touch me, take me to that other place. Teach me love, I know I’m not a hopeless case.

Below you can access lyric videos of three songs I discussed in this post, Into the Heart, Indian Summer Sky, and Ordinary Love.