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TED Talk – Robert Gupta

“Between music and medicine” is a talk about the power of music to heal when conventional medicine fails.

Robert Gupta opens playing the violin.

A few weeks ago he watched a Youtube video of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the early stages of recovery from being shot, in speech therapy. She was struggling and broke down, but after a few minutes she and the therapist started to sing together “let it shine”. The power of music to speak where words fail.

Gottfried Schlaug found that stroke victims who were aphasic could still sing the words to a song. After giving them 70 hours of intensive music lessons, the pathways in the brain were being rewired.

Musicians have different brain structures. Music lights up the whole brain. It can help people with autism, Parkinson’s, late stage dementia.

Gupta’s ulterior motive for first visiting Schlaug was around a choice between music and medicine. He wanted to be a neurosurgeon or a doctor without borders. But he had played the violin his entire life, and music was an obsession. Schlaug had also had to make that decision, and opted for medicine. Yet he told Gupta that medical school could wait, but the violin could not. So Gupta auditioned for and got a position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Later, he met another Juilliard student, Nathaniel, a double bassist who had suffered a series of psychotic episodes. His story was that of “The Soloist” book and film. Music was able to bring him back from his darkest moments. Music was now about communication. But what about all those on Skid Row, who didn’t have that? Nathaniel showed him that music can make the connection.

So he started Street Symphony for the people on Skid Row. After one event, a women with a palsy told him that hearing the music was like hearing the sun shine, and her shaking stopped. The musicians are a conduit to bringing healing to people who wouldn’t otherwise have received it.

Music compels us to remember our shared humanity and our empathic consciousness. And for those living in dehumanised conditions of sickness or incarceration, music can help them to transcend the world around them, and it brings them hope. That’s the first thing that has to be remembered when choosing between music and medicine. Keats wrote: “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty”.

He closes with another beautiful violin piece.

View the TED Talk

“Between music and medicine”

Another of Robert Gupta’s TED Talks: “Music is medicine, music is sanity”

Robert Gupta’s biography on TED