Music and medicine have always gone hand in hand, said Lisa Wong, M.D., during her “Medicine and Music” lecture at the School of Medicine on June 5.
“In fact, Apollo was not only the god of sun, truth and healing, but he was also a musician,” she said.
The Sirridge Office of Medical Humanities and Bioethics invited Wong, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a pediatrician with Milton Pediatrics in Boston, to share her experience with the healing power of music. A trained musician since age 4, Wong is the author
of Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine, which tells the story of the volunteer musicians from the Boston medical community who comprise the Longwood Symphony Orchestra.
Wong grew up in Hawaii and attended Punahou School for kindergarten through twelfth grade. Punahou boasts graduates who are musically inclined and have gone on to win Tony awards and to be the president of the United States, Barrack Obama. After graduating from Harvard, Wong attended NYU Medical School where she found colleagues who were also artists. Since then, she has been able to incorporate music into her daily life and career and was president of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra for 20 years.
During her interactive lecture, Wong discussed the power of music and its role in medicine and healing.
“Learning music is similar to medical training,” she said. “Is it music or medicine when you’re evaluating data, looking at a piece of music or a lab sheet – looking for patterns.”
She has traveled the world with various volunteer efforts, including El Sistema, a music-for-social-change program in Venezuela.
“I always knew I wanted to take care of children through music,” Wong said.
Wong met her husband, Lynn Chang, professor at the Boston Conservatory and world renown violinist, while an undergraduate student at Harvard. Chang told the School of Medicine audience his story of performing during the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and played “Jasmine Flower,” which he performed at the ceremony honoring Liu Xiaobo. He also explained the power music can have for a community. At the time of the 2010 ceremony, the Chinese government did not allow any Chinese citizens to attend the ceremony.
Xiaobo was an advocate of political reform and human rights in China and was publically critical of the Chinese communist regime. He was a prominent figure during the Tiananmen Square protests, calling for peaceful negotiations between students and the government. Xiaobo was famously absent for the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, as he was still imprisoned by the Chinese government, and his medal and diploma were displayed on an empty chair.
In the past, “Jasmine Flower” served as an anthem for the Chinese people, Chang said, and after he played it at the ceremony, it was banned for three years in China. But, Chang said, it had a profound effect on those who learned it was played for Xiaobo, bringing the sense of camaraderie back among the people.
Music is used in many ways. At each Nobel Prize ceremony, music is played to highlight its significance. Wong said the best kind of music is that played from the heart. The Longwood Symphony Orchestra is full of those, she said, who play with compassion.
“There aren’t a lot of business orchestras or law orchestras,” she said. “But there’s something about music and medicine that brings us together.”