Doctor Dispenses a Dose of Music

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media , July 13, 2011
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Each week, a small audience gathers in the lobby of Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. Some are waiting to hear news about a loved one. Others are awaiting checkups, test results, or critical health decisions. Though most healthcare waiting areas have TVs and magazines for distraction, at Lahey, melodies from the 1920s and ’30s played on a Steinway grand piano by rheumatologist David L. Freeman, MD, help reduce anxiety. For more than a decade, Freeman has performed mini concerts on his lunch break during the week to soothe patients and himself.

On patient experience: The music I play is the music I’ve developed over the years for this location—it is quiet and soothing. What I’ve found unique here is that one of the greatest pleasures in music comes from memory. I mostly play to a group of people in their 60s and 80s; they recognize the songs and walk out of Lahey humming them. I play songs that will appeal to different ethnic groups. With music in front of me, I can play French, Italian, or Latin music.

On music and healing: The connection of music and healing is as old as history. The ancient Greeks and healers in the middle ages played to help heal people. My son, who plays rock, shows how you can excite people when you play. Music is language going from my soul to their soul. It makes people less anxious.

On physician stress: Doctors’ schedules are jam-packed; you have to make time for [playing the piano]. I’m here at seven and get my paperwork done and I stay a little bit late. What does it do for me? I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5 years old; it’s a form of relaxation. It certainly calms me down after a session in the morning. Relaxation is an important part of health. There’s no question that tranquility is helpful. If I go downstairs and I relax through music, then people around me will become calm. The people around me tell me how pleasant it is.

Advice for amateur musicians: One percent of musicians go on to play professionally and 99% drop out or stop playing. My advice is that if you like music, get back to it and play music that you love yourself—then you can find audiences. You don’t need to be playing in a symphony hall; you can play in a church, in a small restaurant, and you don’t have to be a recognized musician to do it. 

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Anna Webster, Online Content Coordinator for HealthLeaders Media, can be reached at
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