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City Doctors Form New Music and Medicine Chorus and Orchestra

By Amy Zimmer | October 2, 2012 9:42am

MANHATTAN — Jenna Devare, a member of Weill Cornell Medical College’s class of 2014 who has been playing violin since the age of three, did not want to give up her instrument when she started med school.

Not only did she find an environment that supported her musical talents, she also found many like-minded — and gifted — peers and faculty, and many of them have formed the backbone of the new Music and Medicine Chorus and Orchestra, which includes more than 90 doctors, faculty and med students from various city institutions skilled in the art of medicine and music.

Along with nearly two-dozen of her colleagues as well as professors at Weill Cornell, Devare’s playing will be joined by medical professionals from such institutions as New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, Hospital for Special Surgery, playing their first concert — Mozart’s “Requiem” — on Oct. 7 at St. Bartholomew’s Church.

The performance — a fundraiser for the student-led Weill Cornell Community Clinic that provides health care for uninsured patients — will also feature 11 musicians from Julliard — which has deep ties to the med school’s Music and Medicine Initiative, which allows musically-inclined med students the chance to continue their musical endeavors. The program offers quiet rehearsal spaces, mentors from Juilliard and the chance to play at graduation — at none other than Carnegie Hall.

“It's important to make time for a few personal pursuits to continue throughout medical training,” said Devare, 25, who intends to specialize in head and neck surgery and has been making time each week to play with the New York Repertory Orchestra besides working with this new group of medical musicians.

“For some people, this may be training for marathons, or raising children,” she said. “For me right now, it's music. So yes, it can be hectic at times, but it's important enough to me that I can usually find a way to fit it in.”

Dr. David Shapiro, a clinical professor of psychiatry who founded the Music and Medicine Initiative a few years ago, likes to tell prospective med students that the best way to get to Carnegie Hall isn’t as the famous adage says — “Practice, practice, practice” — but by attending Weill Cornell Medical College.

“It doesn’t get any better than that in American medicine,” said Shapiro, who, as a member of the admissions committee, noticed an overwhelming number of applicants were also accomplished musicians.

When Shapiro told one prospective student about the possibility of playing at graduation held at the famed music hall, the student replied that he had already played there.

“We created what is now the most musician-friendly medical school in the country,” Shapiro said.

The Music and Medicine Initiative, which is a collaboration between Shapiro and Dr. Richard Kogan — a distinguished concert pianist and clinical professor of psychiatry— carved out a special niche where students play for hospital patients, do research involving music and have salons with Juilliard musicians.

Several of the program’s talented med students had been clamoring for an even bigger challenge, which is why they took the step to form the new orchestra and play Mozart’s difficult “Requiem.”

Devare pointed out some similarities between her dual medical and artistic endeavors.

“Both require an intense amount of dedication, practice and focus,” she said. “There is a technical side to both, yet both musicians and physicians must balance this technicality with art and emotion.”

Kogan — who was a roommate of famed cellist Yo Yo Ma at Harvard and still plays with him — said that music and medicine have been long intertwined in his professional life.

“These two threads very much inform each other,” said Kogan, the artistic director of the Music and Medicine Initiative. “Music and medicine are both fundamentally about healing."

Music can improve mood, reduce pain and reduce anxiety, he said. “As we become more specialized in medicine, I think it’s important to keep sight of music’s extraordinary properties.”

As a prelude to the Requiem performance, on Oct. 4 at Weill Cornell Medical College, Kogan will be participating in a mini-symposium called “Music, Medicine and Mozart,” where he will perform piano concertos from the great composer and speculate from a psychiatric perspective, the nature of genius.

“The entire medical school has been galvanized by this project,” Kogan said of Sunday’s concert. “Because medical school is so intense, unfortunately many people have to put music aside. We really want to allow music to be part of their medical careers.”

Mini-Symposium: "Music, Medicine, & Mozart,  Oct. 4, 5 - 7:30 p.m., Weill Cornell Medical College, Uris Auditorium, 1300 York Ave. at East 69th Street.

Weill Cornell Music and Medicine Initiative presents a special benefit concert of Mozart’s Requiem by the Music and Medicine Orchestra and Chorus, Oct. 7, 6:30 p.m., St. Bartholomew’s Church, 325 Park Ave. at 50th Street.