Neuron Culture

For Claudius Conrad, a 30-year-old surgeon who has played the piano seriously since he was 5, music and medicine are entwined — from the academic realm down to the level of the fine-fingered dexterity required at the piano bench and the operating table.

C.J. Gunther for The New York Times

IN TUNE Dr. Conrad, a pianist and surgeon, says that he works better when he listens to music and that music is helpful to patients.

“If I don’t play for a couple of days,” said Dr. Conrad, a third-year surgical resident at Harvard Medical School who also holds doctorates in stem cell biology and music philosophy, “I cannot feel things as well in surgery. My hands are not as tender with the tissue. They are not as sensitive to the feedback that the tissue gives you.”

Like many surgeons, Dr. Conrad says he works better when he listens to music. And he cites studies, including some of his own, showing that music is helpful to patients as well — bringing relaxation and reducing blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, pain and the need for pain medication.

But to the extent that music heals, how does it heal? The physiological pathways responsible have remained obscure, and the search for an underlying mechanism has moved slowly.

Now Dr. Conrad is trying to change that.
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