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Soul Medicine
For nearly three decades, the Office of Cultural Affairs has merged medicine with the arts

The Vesalius Quartet, with Ed McCarthy, following a performance in Hurd Hall.

On a November evening in 1978, Ed McCarthy sprinted to Hurd Hall. Few seats were left; hordes pushed through the heavy doors. The topic of the symposium was “Music and Medicine.” Cultural historian and Nobel laureate Jacques Barzun spoke passionately about the therapeutic effects of music.

“It was one of the most remarkable, stimulating events I remember in Hopkins history,” recalls McCarthy, a professor of pathology and orthopedic surgery. A cellist, he is himself writing a book on music and medicine.

The event was one of the first for the newly created Office of Cultural Affairs. Over the years, the offerings have changed. Last spring, for example, crowds turned out at Mountcastle Auditorium to see a film series retrospective by acclaimed Taiwanese director Ang Lee. Yet the mission of the University and Hopkins Hospital-sponsored OCA remains the same: to engage the medical community in cultural arts.

The challenge today, says OCA director Shannon Dunn, is to stay relevant and appeal to a busy and increasingly diffuse workforce. Back in 1977, when the program debuted, most employees were on one campus. Today, they’re scattered across town. New demands on their time have lowered attendance.

“It’s true that we’re all much busier these days,” says Dunn, OCA’s only full- time staff member, “but everyone can turn off the computer for a little while and listen to some music. I think it makes us better people.”

Now pushing 30, Cultural Affairs was the brainchild of George Udvarhelyi (OOD-var-hi), retired professor of neurosurgery. He successfully made the case that exposure to the arts enriches lives and prevents cultural isolation. As head of OCA’s advisory board, Udvarhelyi makes recommendations to OCA co-chairmen and JHU faculty members Randall Packard and Richard Macksey, ensuring that the group benefits from national and local endowments, which have been reduced in recent years.

The idea is not original. Almost every medical school has an arts program. But Hopkins was among the first and has the most comprehensive and best realized in the country, according to an informal survey of 29 medical schools.

Events range from the purely entertaining (film and dance festivals) to highly intellectual (lectures and panel discussions). Tuesday noon concerts in Hurd Hall feature jazz, classical or folk music. Members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra and Peabody occasionally headline performances.

But OCA isn’t just for spectators. Employees participate in the OCA-sponsored JHMI Choral Society and Chamber Music Society, groups that are open to faculty, students and house staff, patients and the public.

On the literary front, in 2005, Dunn helped medical students launch a magazine called meme. The annual collection of stories, poetry, art and photography has sparked more interest in literary outlets, which Dunn hopes to expand, possibly online.

Still, music rules. One of OCA’s featured groups has been the Vesalius Quartet, named after the 16th century Belgian anatomist and founded in 2001 by McCarthy, who had picked up his cello again after putting it aside for years. Performing string quartets of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn, medical students and faculty have been part of the quartet.

“It’s nice to see so much talent among our own,” says McCarthy. “There’s something in the arts that makes us better at caring for people. Without it, medicine becomes hugely impersonal.”

—Judy Minkove

Fall OCA Events

Sept. 12, 2006
First meeting of the JHMI Choral Society
All voices welcome—and needed
5:15 p.m., Hurd Hall

Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006
Midday Performance
Soprano Lesley Craigie, accompanied by pianist Jonathan Moyer, presents art songs by composers Strauss, Berlioz and Britten
Noon, Hurd Hall

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2006
Midday performance
Opera Vivente presents selections from the upcoming performance of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte
Noon, Hurd Hall

Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006
2006 George B. Udvarhelyi Lecture
Speaker: Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Gallery, on “Graceland as Locus Sanctus.” 5:30 p.m., Mountcastle Auditorium

Info: for updated event information and directions



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