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Observations placeholder

Gupta, Robert - TEDtalk Between music and medicine - 03



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Robert Gupta:   Between music and medicine   TEDMED 2012 · 16:27 · Filmed Apr 2012

Nathaniel Ayers was a double bassist at Juilliard, but he suffered a series of psychotic episodes in his early 20s, was treated with thorazine at Bellevue, and ended up living homeless on the streets of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles 30 years later. Nathaniel's story has become a beacon for homelessness and mental health advocacy throughout the United States, as told through the book and the movie "The Soloist," but I became his friend, and I became his violin teacher, and I told him that wherever he had his violin, and wherever I had mine, I would play a lesson with him.

8:14 And on the many times I saw Nathaniel on Skid Row, I witnessed how music was able to bring him back from his very darkest moments, from what seemed to me in my untrained eye to be the beginnings of a schizophrenic episode. Playing for Nathaniel, the music took on a deeper meaning, because now it was about communication, a communication where words failed, a communication of a message that went deeper than words, that registered at a fundamentally primal level in Nathaniel's psyche, yet came as a true musical offering from me. I found myself growing outraged that someone like Nathaniel could have ever been homeless on Skid Row because of his mental illness, yet how many tens of thousands of others there were out there on Skid Row alone who had stories as tragic as his, but were never going to have a book or a movie made about them that got them off the streets? And at the very core of this crisis of mine, I felt somehow the life of music had chosen me, where somehow, perhaps possibly in a very naive sense, I felt what Skid Row really needed was somebody like Paul Farmer and not another classical musician playing on Bunker Hill.

9:28 But in the end, it was Nathaniel who showed me that if I was truly passionate about change, if I wanted to make a difference, I already had the perfect instrument to do it, that music was the bridge that connected my world and his.

9:42 There's a beautiful quote by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann, who said, "To send light into the darkness of men's hearts, such is the duty of the artist." And this is a particularly poignant quote because Schumann himself suffered from schizophrenia and died in asylum. And inspired by what I learned from Nathaniel, I started an organization on Skid Row of musicians called Street Symphony, bringing the light of music into the very darkest places, performing for the homeless and mentally ill at shelters and clinics on Skid Row, performing for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and for the incarcerated and those labeled as criminally insane.

10:25 After one of our events at the Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, a woman walked up to us and she had tears streaming down her face, and she had a palsy, she was shaking, and she had this gorgeous smile, and she said that she had never heard classical music before, she didn't think she was going to like it, she had never heard a violin before, but that hearing this music was like hearing the sunshine, and that nobody ever came to visit them, and that for the first time in six years, when she heard us play, she stopped shaking without medication.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy