Music is not one of the topics that I expect to find in my Columbia University Alumni Magazine, but this spring they published an article on music and the medical students at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia’s famous medical school. Amazingly, the medical school has a first-rate orchestra. It also runs a concert series where students perform. It even is reported to have Rachmaninoff’s grand piano.
Last year, 7,800 students applied to Columbia’s medical school; 160 were accepted. Of those, over one-third were musicians! The article pondered whether playing an instrument was important because it fostered discipline and ambition. Did listening to music mean that these young people would be better doctors because they listened more closely, both the music and what their patients were saying.
The article is inspirational, but the greatest value of playing an instrument, I find, is the cultivation of delayed gratification. In an age where we all want everything now this is a skill that is in short supply. Want to know who was the 23rd president of the United States? Google it now on your phone. Want to know how to get to Charlottesville, VA, go to Mapquest. Want to hear some music? Open Pandora. A friend recently noted that we no longer have the dinner table conversations where someone wants to know who wrote a book, for example, and people discuss who they thought it might be. Now, someone inevitably Googles the answer.
How many ways are there for us to teach our children that a little work every day is far more powerful than the all-nighter? All too often, the all-nighter may work, or at least works until the task gets difficult, but then it may be too late to teach that kind of self-discipline, the kind of self-discipline that can get you into medical school.
How many opportunities do our children have to work closely in a team. One medical student wrote:
Being on a medical team is like being on a musical team. The string quartet is a conversation between instruments, Ying wrote, and for an elegant conversation to take place, one must have a full understanding of the language. In this case we had to control our instruments as if they were bodily extensions and play together in a concert . . . This teambuilding exercise prepares me well for physician consultations and the intricate dance in the surgery room.
Read the article. The Hippocratic Overture. I think that you will be inspired.
-Bonnie Ward Simon