I met Dr. Lisa Wong at the airport in Dallas, returning from the 2012 League of American Orchestras conference. At the check-in counter, I discovered that she was flying to Boston on the same plane, so I asked her which orchestra she was with. When I learned that she played with the Longwood Symphony, I mentioned that I had heard that someone in her orchestra had written a book about it, and could she put me in touch with the author. She unzipped her suitcase and pulled out a copy of her book, “Scales to Scalpels.” And it turns out that she lives quite close to my mother – she and her husband, Lynn Chang, dropped me off, saving me a late-night trolley ride. What an interesting set of coincidences!
Lisa’s book is a fascinating account of the formation and work of the Longwood Symphony, her own passage through music and medicine, and lots of information about the powerful healing aspects of music. She discusses her trips to Venezuela with her daughter as part of her experiences with El Sistema, and gives us lots of information about how the ear works and how the brain processes information and music.
But most importantly, she tells us stories that inspire: about Ruth, who was awakened from a catatonic state by a therapist’s turning on the local classical music station; about the children at the burn center who were so inspired by the famous violinist who himself had survived a terrible fire as a child; about the medical musicians, all with relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s, who were amazed at the reaction to their playing for a group of Alzheimer’s patients. Lisa’s book will truly reinforce your perceptions of the power of music to heal.
Lisa came to Hartford recently to give a presentation at the Medical Society of Hartford about her book and to talk about the many connections between music and medicine. She played a few movements from the Third Bach Suite on her viola during her presentation. The doctors in attendance were rapt, both to listen to her music and to hear her words. I’ve adapted passages from her book, her remarks in Hartford, and our subsequent conversation into an interview about the Longwood Symphony.
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