08 August 2012

Piano Sonata No. 16 in C Major, K. 545

In a secluded room on the top floor of our medical school is a piano by a window. I consider this spot my little birds' nest. Although I only remember how to play a handful of songs, every once in a while I dart upstairs and tap out a tune while overlooking the world below.

Recently, a surprise awaited me atop the piano. Someone had left a book of classical sheet music. I quickly set to work on a lovely Mozart piano sonata that I had always wanted to learn (performed by a professional musician in the video below).


Some academic pursuits directly involve the act of creation. Art students create sculptures, computer science students write programs, creative writing students compose stories, and doctoral students craft theses.

Medical school, by comparison, does not demand that we create. It demands that we accumulate and regurgitate knowledge, in the hope that it might help us someday assist patients. The fruits of our labors will come years down the line, in nebulous and intangible ways. I recently read an article about the ethics of harvesting the eggs from a brain-dead patient and then using them for in-vitro fertilization. Will it ever make a difference that I spent those 10 minutes reading that article instead of watching TV? It's hard to say. I doubt I'll ever know. When I go to lecture or read a textbook chapter, it's not immediately clear what I am accomplishing, if anything. Our quest for medical knowledge often lacks a human element. Our examinations are entirely multiple-choice. Selecting from one of five given answers precludes individuality, emotion, and expression.

And so, I find my respite in playing the piano. I hit a key, and instantly it sounds. Sometimes my fingers effortlessly flit across the keyboard: it's as though my hands already know how to play the tune, and my brain's job is simply to sit back and enjoy. There is the technical challenge of obeying the sheet music and getting my hands in position for the notes still to come. Then comes the artistic exercise of making the music have feeling. The payoff is gratifyingly fast. Each time I play the sonata, it sounds better. Not only am I creating, but I am creating something beautiful.