STARRED REVIEW
August 02, 2016

Discovering the healing power of music

By Andrew Schulman
Review by
Following successful surgery that, unexpectedly, sends his body into shock, Andrew Schulman lies in a coma in Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Nothing is helping; death is near. Desperate, his wife Wendy reaches into her bag for her cell phone and instead finds the one thing she hopes might save him: his iPod. Gently placing one earbud in his ear and the other in her own, she plays his favorite, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Terrified it won’t help, or even make things worse, she waits. Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul is the patient’s own astounding account of what happens next.
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Following successful surgery that, unexpectedly, sends his body into shock, Andrew Schulman lies in a coma in Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Nothing is helping; death is near. Desperate, his wife Wendy reaches into her bag for her cell phone and instead finds the one thing she hopes might save him: his iPod. Gently placing one earbud in his ear and the other in her own, she plays his favorite, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Terrified it won’t help, or even make things worse, she waits. Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul is the patient’s own astounding account of what happens next.

Andrew Schulman is a classical guitarist who has played New York’s many venues for years, from restaurants and cabarets to concert halls. In each, he learned to know his audience, and—often from memory—play the music that reaches and touches them. Now, working to recover playing skills and memory damaged by his near-death ordeal, he wants to give something back to those responsible for saving his life. Remembering what the nurses call his own “St. Matthew Miracle,” Schulman returns to the SICU with his guitar and, three times a week for 90 minutes, plays for patients and staff. Amid the constant cacophony of life-support machines, he counters with the likes of Bach, the Beatles, Gershwin and Queen.

While his experiences, and the reactions they inspire, constitute much of the book, there is a lot to learn along the way as well. Music—how it affects the brain, its historical use as therapy and its future promising role in more humane and palliative care—is the true subject here, told by a “medical musician” (a term first used by Pythagoras) who learns firsthand that music can indeed help to heal both player and listener.

 

Priscilla Kipp is a writer in Townsend, Massachusetts.

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Waking the Spirit

Waking the Spirit

By Andrew Schulman
Picador
ISBN 9781250055774

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