Doctor of Music

January 12, 2007

“Doctor of Music.” Hmm, what does that mean? I have a Ph. D. in Music from Harvard. Students call me “doctor.” That is the same word we use for the person who gives us our physical exam every year, and the person who keeps our teeth healthy, and the person who help us see better, and the mad scientist who created Frankenstein––we are all called “Doctor.” The Oxford-American Dictionary tells us:


I remind my students that musicians have a magical gift. A power that is unique to musicians. We can change the biochemistry, the emotional state, and neurological synapses in people. Music can make us cry, laugh, want to dance, want to sing, want to fight, want to worship. Music provides a legal high for its listener. Music heals. If we are blue, depressed, angry, or in some unsettled state, music can rope us in and take us to a place that is happier.

That happy place can usually only be self-prescribed, meaning, it is the musical equivalent of prescribing medicine for yourself. Only YOU know what music can do to you. Even though I am a musical doctor, just because a piece of music has been exhilarating to me, is no guarantee that it will be so to my “patient.” It might, but no guarantee.

It was this possibility, giving my “patients” musical prescriptions, that set my mind daydreaming this morning. I would have therapy sessions with patients. They would come in complaining of depression. I would tell them to see a medical doctor and/or a licensed therapist for professional advice, but before you do that, I’d like you to put Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony on your iPod and walk down along the ocean front until you have finished listening to it (about an hour). While you are listening, be receptive to the music. Let it take you, shape you, fill you, and evoke the emotions it does. At night, an hour before you go to bed, do stretching exercises in a quiet place and listen to Rachmaninoff’s “Vespers.” Let your stretches all be in slow motion. While you stretch, ride the music. Don’t worry about what they are saying, just go with the music. Close your eyes and breathe with each phrase. The next morning I’d like you to take the same walk, but listen to Steve Reich’s “Six Marimbas.” Then go to work. At night, make dinner and eat while you listen and sing along with Norah Jones. […and so forth]

I think I’ve found a calling for my retirement. Being a musical doctor. Heck, there are a lot of people who want to be told what to listen to. Dying to learn about classical music but are afraid to ask. I’d set up shop, they can come ask me what to begin with, and I’d write them a prescription.

Music changes us, but it is temporary, like food, sleep, oxygen, and health. It behooves both future musical doctors as well as individuals to get to know as much music as possible so that when you self-prescribe, you have a large medicine cabinet.

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