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  • (Music)

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you very much. (Applause)

  • Thank you. It's a distinct privilege to be here.

  • A few weeks ago, I saw a video on YouTube

  • of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

  • at the early stages of her recovery

  • from one of those awful bullets.

  • This one entered her left hemisphere, and

  • knocked out her Broca's area, the speech center of her brain.

  • And in this session, Gabby's working with a speech therapist,

  • and she's struggling to produce

  • some of the most basic words, and you can see her

  • growing more and more devastated, until she ultimately

  • breaks down into sobbing tears, and she starts sobbing

  • wordlessly into the arms of her therapist.

  • And after a few moments, her therapist tries a new tack,

  • and they start singing together,

  • and Gabby starts to sing through her tears,

  • and you can hear her clearly able to enunciate

  • the words to a song that describe the way she feels,

  • and she sings, in one descending scale, she sings,

  • "Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."

  • And it's a very powerful and poignant reminder of how

  • the beauty of music has the ability to speak

  • where words fail, in this case literally speak.

  • Seeing this video of Gabby Giffords reminded me

  • of the work of Dr. Gottfried Schlaug,

  • one of the preeminent neuroscientists studying music and the brain at Harvard,

  • and Schlaug is a proponent of a therapy called

  • Melodic Intonation Therapy, which has become very popular in music therapy now.

  • Schlaug found that his stroke victims who were aphasic,

  • could not form sentences of three- or four-word sentences,

  • but they could still sing the lyrics to a song,

  • whether it was "Happy Birthday To You"

  • or their favorite song by the Eagles or the Rolling Stones.

  • And after 70 hours of intensive singing lessons,

  • he found that the music was able to literally rewire

  • the brains of his patients and create a homologous

  • speech center in their right hemisphere

  • to compensate for the left hemisphere's damage.

  • When I was 17, I visited Dr. Schlaug's lab, and in one afternoon

  • he walked me through some of the leading research

  • on music and the brain -- how musicians had

  • fundamentally different brain structure than non-musicians,

  • how music, and listening to music,

  • could just light up the entire brain, from

  • our prefrontal cortex all the way back to our cerebellum,

  • how music was becoming a neuropsychiatric modality

  • to help children with autism, to help people struggling

  • with stress and anxiety and depression,

  • how deeply Parkinsonian patients would find that their tremor

  • and their gait would steady when they listened to music,

  • and how late-stage Alzheimer's patients, whose dementia

  • was so far progressed that they could no longer recognize

  • their family, could still pick out a tune by Chopin

  • at the piano that they had learned when they were children.

  • But I had an ulterior motive of visiting Gottfried Schlaug,

  • and it was this: that I was at a crossroads in my life,

  • trying to choose between music and medicine.

  • I had just completed my undergraduate, and I was working

  • as a research assistant at the lab of Dennis Selkoe,

  • studying Parkinson's disease at Harvard, and I had fallen

  • in love with neuroscience. I wanted to become a surgeon.

  • I wanted to become a doctor like Paul Farmer or Rick Hodes,

  • these kind of fearless men who go into places like Haiti or Ethiopia

  • and work with AIDS patients with multidrug-resistant

  • tuberculosis, or with children with disfiguring cancers.

  • I wanted to become that kind of Red Cross doctor,

  • that doctor without borders.

  • On the other hand, I had played the violin my entire life.

  • Music for me was more than a passion. It was obsession.

  • It was oxygen. I was lucky enough to have studied

  • at the Juilliard School in Manhattan, and to have played

  • my debut with Zubin Mehta and the Israeli philharmonic orchestra in Tel Aviv,

  • and it turned out that Gottfried Schlaug

  • had studied as an organist at the Vienna Conservatory,

  • but had given up his love for music to pursue a career

  • in medicine. And that afternoon, I had to ask him,

  • "How was it for you making that decision?"

  • And he said that there were still times when he wished

  • he could go back and play the organ the way he used to,

  • and that for me, medical school could wait,

  • but that the violin simply would not.

  • And after two more years of studying music, I decided

  • to shoot for the impossible before taking the MCAT

  • and applying to medical school like a good Indian son

  • to become the next Dr. Gupta. (Laughter)

  • And I decided to shoot for the impossible and I took

  • an audition for the esteemed Los Angeles Philharmonic.

  • It was my first audition, and after three days of playing

  • behind a screen in a trial week, I was offered the position.

  • And it was a dream. It was a wild dream to perform

  • in an orchestra, to perform in the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall

  • in an orchestra conducted now by the famous Gustavo Dudamel,

  • but much more importantly to me to be surrounded

  • by musicians and mentors that became my new family,

  • my new musical home.

  • But a year later, I met another musician who had also

  • studied at Juilliard, one who profoundly helped me

  • find my voice and shaped my identity as a musician.

  • Nathaniel Ayers was a double bassist at Juilliard, but

  • he suffered a series of psychotic episodes in his early 20s,

  • was treated with thorazine at Bellevue,

  • and ended up living homeless on the streets of Skid Row

  • in downtown Los Angeles 30 years later.

  • Nathaniel's story has become a beacon for homelessness

  • and mental health advocacy throughout the United States,

  • as told through the book and the movie "The Soloist,"

  • but I became his friend, and I became his violin teacher,

  • and I told him that wherever he had his violin,

  • and wherever I had mine, I would play a lesson with him.

  • And on the many times I saw Nathaniel on Skid Row,

  • I witnessed how music was able to bring him back

  • from his very darkest moments, from what seemed to me

  • in my untrained eye to be

  • the beginnings of a schizophrenic episode.

  • Playing for Nathaniel, the music took on a deeper meaning,

  • because now it was about communication,

  • a communication where words failed, a communication

  • of a message that went deeper than words, that registered

  • at a fundamentally primal level in Nathaniel's psyche,

  • yet came as a true musical offering from me.

  • I found myself growing outraged that someone

  • like Nathaniel could have ever been homeless on Skid Row

  • because of his mental illness, yet how many tens of thousands

  • of others there were out there on Skid Row alone

  • who had stories as tragic as his, but were never going to have a book or a movie

  • made about them that got them off the streets?

  • And at the very core of this crisis of mine, I felt somehow

  • the life of music had chosen me, where somehow,

  • perhaps possibly in a very naive sense, I felt what Skid Row

  • really needed was somebody like Paul Farmer

  • and not another classical musician playing on Bunker Hill.

  • But in the end, it was Nathaniel who showed me

  • that if I was truly passionate about change,

  • if I wanted to make a difference, I already had the perfect instrument to do it,

  • that music was the bridge that connected my world and his.

  • There's a beautiful quote

  • by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann,

  • who said, "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts,

  • such is the duty of the artist."

  • And this is a particularly poignant quote

  • because Schumann himself suffered from schizophrenia

  • and died in asylum.

  • And inspired by what I learned from Nathaniel,

  • I started an organization on Skid Row of musicians

  • called Street Symphony, bringing the light of music

  • into the very darkest places, performing

  • for the homeless and mentally ill at shelters and clinics

  • on Skid Row, performing for combat veterans

  • with post-traumatic stress disorder, and for the incarcerated

  • and those labeled as criminally insane.

  • After one of our events at the Patton State Hospital

  • in San Bernardino, a woman walked up to us

  • and she had tears streaming down her face,

  • and she had a palsy, she was shaking,

  • and she had this gorgeous smile, and she said

  • that she had never heard classical music before,

  • she didn't think she was going to like it, she had never

  • heard a violin before, but that hearing this music was like hearing the sunshine,

  • and that nobody ever came to visit them, and that for the first time in six years,

  • when she heard us play, she stopped shaking without medication.

  • Suddenly, what we're finding with these concerts,

  • away from the stage, away from the footlights, out

  • of the tuxedo tails, the musicians become the conduit

  • for delivering the tremendous therapeutic benefits

  • of music on the brain to an audience that would never

  • have access to this room,

  • would never have access to the kind of music that we make.

  • Just as medicine serves to heal more

  • than the building blocks of the body alone,

  • the power and beauty of music transcends the "E"

  • in the middle of our beloved acronym.

  • Music transcends the aesthetic beauty alone.

  • The synchrony of emotions that we experience when we

  • hear an opera by Wagner, or a symphony by Brahms,

  • or chamber music by Beethoven, compels us to remember

  • our shared, common humanity, the deeply communal

  • connected consciousness, the empathic consciousness

  • that neuropsychiatrist Iain McGilchrist says is hard-wired

  • into our brain's right hemisphere.

  • And for those living in the most dehumanizing conditions

  • of mental illness within homelessness

  • and incarceration, the music and the beauty of music

  • offers a chance for them to transcend the world around them,

  • to remember that they still have the capacity to experience

  • something beautiful and that humanity has not forgotten them.

  • And the spark of that beauty, the spark of that humanity

  • transforms into hope,

  • and we know, whether we choose the path of music

  • or of medicine, that's the very first thing we must instill

  • within our communities, within our audiences,

  • if we want to inspire healing from within.

  • I'd like to end with a quote by John Keats,

  • the Romantic English poet,

  • a very famous quote that I'm sure all of you know.

  • Keats himself had also given up a career in medicine

  • to pursue poetry, but he died when he was a year older than me.

  • And Keats said, "Beauty is truth, and truth beauty.

  • That is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know."

  • (Music)

  • (Applause)

(Music)

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B1 TED music nathaniel skid violin medicine

【TED】Robert Gupta: Between music and medicine (Robert Gupta: Between music and medicine)

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    VoiceTube posted on 2013/03/10
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