She was all of 5 when she began together with her Indian classical music coaching. Two years later, she held the Saraswati Veena in her tiny fingers. She went on to be taught as a lot as she may about music — even acting at a number of festivals. But Dr Tara Rajendran had one different calling. She in the end acquired twin levels — one in medication, and the different in music — marrying the two most essential features of her life, thereby changing into a ‘physician-musician’, a rarity.
In dialog with indianexpress.com, Dr Rajendran spoke about her journey, the significance of music in medical remedy, why she thinks India doesn’t have a recognised physique for medical music remedy, and why she believes it is essential to have a cross-disciplinary intersection of music and medical science.
“I used to perform a lot, but once I joined medical school, I did not have a lot of time. I did my bachelors and masters in fine arts — in ‘Veena’ — from the Annamalai University. In medicine, I had a special interest in oncology,” she shared.
When Rajendran was 4 years outdated, her maternal grandmother succumbed to cancer. Later, when she grew to become a medical pupil, the e-book ‘The Emperor of All Maladies — A Story of Cancer‘ by Siddhartha Mukherjee roused her interest. “I grew up wondering how my grandmother would feel a tad relieved from anxiety and pain whenever my parents would play Carnatic music. She was suffering from leukemia. My parents revered classical music, and after my grandmother’s passing, they put me into Carnatic vocal courses.”
The seven strings of the instrument enchanted her younger thoughts. She was taken by the sound that is created “when you pluck the second string (anusarani) followed by the first (sarani)”. “My seven-year-old mind associated it with the ‘break of dawn’. Two decades later, I still cannot find a better analogy!” she advised this outlet.
During the course of her medical analysis in oncology/hematology, Rajendran obtained grants from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), together with a chance to go to the US for 9 months of medical rotation. “At Harvard, my mentor saw my passion for music and oncology separately. He encouraged me to explore the intersection,” she mentioned, including, the two mentioned how music may assist most cancers patients and their caregivers cope with emotional turmoil and anxiousness.
She went to examine music remedy and upon her return to India, her professors instructed she take up ‘randomized controlled trials’, “which are research techniques wherein out of two groups of cancer patients, only one group would be given musical intervention”.
Rajendran was given a chance to go to Stanford University throughout her remaining 12 months of medical faculty for 2 months. “I had this patient who asked me what instrument I play. When I told her about the Veena and even played it for her, she was fascinated.” It was a second of epiphany for her, which led to a ‘lecture concert’.
Dr Rajendran based the first-ever lecture live performance collection for Indian classical music in palliative oncology. It was a small session, whereby she invited the oncologists who taught her, her colleagues and different healthcare workers.
Expounding the uniqueness of the collection, she mentioned: “The target market is oncologists, ache and palliative care physicians, and medical college students. They may collectively create proof for musical interventions particular to Indian society by way of randomized managed trials. In the lecture, I illustrate the newest worldwide medical trial outcomes from the peer-reviewed medical literature, the neuro-psycho-endocrinology of music, the six main musical interventions, and the idea of melody/raga in Indian classical music.
“If the audience is predominantly medical students, I would explain the steps of randomized controlled trial and the sources of research funding. This is followed by a Saraswati Veena recital/demonstrating the emotions evoked by ragas. There is a Q&A at the end of each session.”
The physician has named her collection ‘Oncology and Strings‘.
But, it was solely when she returned to India, did Dr Rajendran realise there is a “sharp distinction between music and music therapy interventions”.
“According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music remedy is the medical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualised objectives inside a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed skilled, who has accomplished an authorised music remedy program. India has two substantial voids — first one is the lack of evidence-based music interventions. Blinded randomized managed trials amongst a big cohort of patients carried out in phases are the gold commonplace of scientific research as they’ve restricted bias.
“The existing approved musical interventions are neither the studies performed on a large number of Indian patients, nor the interventions are the music tailored to Indian population. The second challenge is that the National Medical Council (NMC) has not assigned a physician-physician musician-musician fraternity to design an academic music therapy training curriculum and board certification guidelines,” she defined.
The physician shared she “confronted severe physician-burnout” throughout her remaining 12 months of medical faculty “as I rotated through labor room-obstetrics and gynecology, and playing the Veena for a few minutes every day was cathartic”. “While I was rotating at Harvard, Stanford and Cornell, I walked into hospital receptions at 7 am and there was soothing live cello music. I left the hospital at 8 pm with the piano playing in the corridor. I lamented that India has a vast repertoire of indigenous music, yet we have neither explored its potential academically and clinically, nor ingrained it into our health care infrastructure.”
While the US lately celebrated 60 years of introducing music remedy into their tutorial curriculum, regardless of having two indigenous classical music traditions — Hindustani and Carnatic — “which are among the world’s most ancient music forms, India is nowhere near this”.
“Besides classical music, India houses a plethora of musical genres: folk, cinema playback tracks, independent albums, cultural and religious music, and hundreds of musical instruments. In a day, around a thousand cancer patients visit a regional cancer center; imagine if we play therapeutic music therapy, live or recorded, how many patients and families in a year will have the impact? Annually, we also have thousands of young skilled classical music students graduating from prestigious universities. If we could use their prowess — either for passive live music sessions in the hospitals (therapeutic music therapy) or for clinical music therapy after their board certification from NMC-accredited training programs,” she instructed.
The physician — who herself listens to Raga Brindavani, Megh Malhar, Hameer Kalyani, Nattai, Saraswati, Hamsanadam, and Shudh Sarang, and is additionally “bewitched by the ingenuity of Chopin C minor Nocturne and Mozart’s Moonlight sonata” — went on to say that burnout is poisonous for patients and physicians as a result of “it is related to loss of empathy and increased medical errors”. “Several students put their artistic skills on the back-burner to focus on medical training. A few oncologists I know have started taking music lessons in their 40s to cope with the stress. Getting back to the creative outlets is imperative.”
But is there concrete proof that classical music/some other style of music will help heal patients?
“There is heterogeneity in the research methods of randomized controlled trials conducted worldwide over the years; all of them conclude music therapy reduces anxiety and stress in patients. Music has a significant positive impact on memory and orientation among Alzheimer’s patients. Music may improve social interaction and verbal communication among autism spectrum disorders. It was found to help reduce mood disturbance among autologous stem cell transplant patients. There have been researches that showed music was effective in reducing preoperative anxiety in cancer surgeries. Some studies conclude music has been effectively used for gait improvement and symptom alleviation in Parkinson’s disease,” Rajendran concluded.