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Feature: Doctors and Music

19/01/2019

What is it with doctors and music? They seem to be drawn to it like casualties to A & E. A recent straw poll has revealed that musical doctors make up around 6% of all amateur orchestral players. No other profession comes anywhere near this.

For example, the Havant Symphony Orchestra has three doctors and an anaesthetist. The Meon Valley Orchestra has three doctors. And so it goes on. Local choirs have their fair sprinkling of medical people too.

Further afield, the European Doctors Orchestra is made up entirely of medical men and women who must be at least Grade 8. Most sections are oversubscribed and there’s a long waiting list to join. In recent years it has performed concerts, mainly for medical charities, in London, Coventry, Gateshead and Newcastle, Belfast and Birmingham as well as on the Continent.

Many local players and singers are in the younger age group. As the active musical population ages, this bodes well for ensembles successfully continuing into the future. Dermatologist Alice Plant, surgeon Lulu Tanno from Japan and junior doctor Sally Won from Korea are all young, talented and play among the first violins in local orchestras.

Nearly all of these musicians learnt to play at an early age. But as the burden of medical studies and pressure of work increased, they had to put their instruments to one side. Once they’d qualified and life was a bit easier many began playing again.

One violin and viola player and paediatrician interviewed firmly believed that doctors have above average intelligence. They are used to hard work and disciplined studying so they persevere to master their instruments.

Once doctors have time to spare, they seem to turn eagerly to ensemble playing or just listening to music as a relief form the hurly-burly of work. They know, more than most, that stress is a killer.

This allure of music is hardly surprising. Recent research by Doctor Michael Miller of the University of Maryland has shown that calming music not only makes us feel good but also affects the heart rate and blood pressure. It improves cardiac performance and increases the flow of blood through the brachial artery cleaning the vascular system. Be that as it may, the slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto is enough to relax even the most tensed-up listener.

All this research backs up what the Restoration poet and playwright William Congreve wrote in 1697, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks and bend a knotted oak.” Is he suggesting it’s good for arthritis too?

Pictured on the left: Alice Plant, a dermatologist from Portsmouth, and Lulu Tanno from Japan who is a surgeon in Southampton, who are both in the first violins of the Havant Symphony Orchestra. Pictured on the right: Sally Won from Korea. She is a grade 8 violinist with the Portsmouth Light Orchestra and a junior doctor working in a General Practice in Portsmouth.

Stuart Reed

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