Department of Music alumnus Andrew Schulman ‘74 believes his time at Stony Brook University led him down a transformational path. “I could easily write a 5,000-word article on how much I loved being a student at Stony Brook,” Andrew says. “The education that developed my career as a musician, and now a medical musician and author, are marked by the importance of those years.”
Andrew’s interest in music started at an early age, beginning with some classical experience that soon fueled an interest in rock and blues. Growing up on Long Island, NY, he decided to attend Stony Brook University, although didn’t declare his major in music until his junior year.
He knew he wanted to be a performer. In fact, Andrew has had an extraordinary career in musical performance, having worked some of the best gigs in New York City including a 20-year steady engagement at Windows on the World (incidentally, his last day would ultimately be the day before 9/11, as the renowned restaurant was destroyed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center). He’s performed as a guitar soloist at Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall in London, the White House, and the Improv comedy club. A resident of New York City, Andrew is also the founder and artistic director of the Abaca String Band.
In his recently published book, Waking the Spirit: A Musician’s Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul Andrew discusses his journey to becoming a medical musician, bringing music to patients in the harsh medical environment of an ICU. In July 2009 he was in a coma at Beth Israel Medical Center when, verified by his doctors, music saved his life. As Andrew was not responding to medical solutions, his wife, Wendy had an inspiration. She knew that his deepest connection to the universe was with music, and so, played his favorite sacred music – Bach’s ‘St. Mathew’s Passion’ – through a pair of headphones placed on his ears. Within hours, Andrew’s body functions had stabilized, and he woke up a few days later. His traditionally trained surgeons agreed that it was the music that turned him around.
“The music was literally the medicine,” Andrew says. “Essentially, it has to be the right music for that person – what they love – and it must be beautifully played at a concert level. You need to find the resonance frequency for each patient to properly affect the brain. It’s a tremendously exciting process, and one that took years to properly develop.”
Once fully recovered and aware of the significance of music on health, Andrew decided to give back. He became the resident musician at the same Surgical Intensive Care Unit where his life was saved and started helping others recover through the power of music.
In Waking the Spirit, Andrew considers new medical theories and discoveries that support his work, and includes firsthand accounts of his own recovery experience and those of patients with whom he worked. He is particularly proud of the way his book influences the discourse and importance of the term “medical musician.” The development of this term (he was recently appointed Medical Musician/Surgery Department at Berkshire Medical Center) is a great example of how Andrew is helping to create and define the landscape of music’s role in medical recovery. Waking the Spirit has been chosen as a finalist in the First Book category for the 21st Annual Books for a Better Life awards, to be held April 17 at the TimesCenter in NYC.
Department of Music Professor Peter Winkler remembers Andrew well, recalling that he was one of the first guitarists to enter the music program. “Andrew was one of those enterprising students who took full advantage of the flexibility and opportunities for initiative that Stony Brook’s music and theater departments offered in their early, formative days,” he says. Winkler, who read Waking the Spirit last summer, was very impressed with Andrew’s compelling tale and his firsthand experience of the healing power of music.
Jerry Willard, Department of Music Artist-in-Residence, shares this appreciation for Andrew’s career as a musician and author, noting his extensive touring internationally as both a soloist and with his own string ensemble. “In many ways, Andrew single-handedly created a new Music & Medicine specialty, ‘Medical Musician’ Willard says. “And I found his writing in Waking the Spirit to be engaging and informative — a real page turner.”
Andrew’s experiences at Stony Brook shaped his life and powerful career in unimaginable ways. He recalls an opera where he played in the orchestra while a student in the Stony Brook music program, describing it as one of the first stimuli that led to the creation of his own ensemble. Andrew recounts this experience as “a stunning sensation for the first time in my life to be surrounded by orchestral sound.” Also, he made his initial connection of music to science while at Stony Brook, recalling a Physics for Humanities class taught by Physics Professor Harold Metcalf. “That was the beginning of my interest in science which became particularly important 40 years later when I began the work I now call medical music.”
His extensive career as a musician is not limited to playing music in the ICU to aid patient recovery. He also sticks to his roots by doing what he refers to as “regular music work” with the Abaca String Band. He sees the similarities between the two areas of performance, being a concert musician and medical musician. “The difference between performing a concert and playing in an ICU is that in a concert no one is on a ventilator. However, at both venues you’ll find a lot of people who are heavily sedated,” he says jokingly.
Today, Andrew’s passion is to help those who are in the same place as he once was. His goal is to bring music to hospitals as a medical modality for healing patients in critical care and critical rehab. In that regard, he has recently co-founded the Medical Musician Initiative with Dr. Marvin McMillen. Co-executive directors of the Initiative are his wife, singer/guitarist Wendy Sayvetz, and classical guitarist and fellow SBU Department of Music BA/MA alum Peter Argondizza. Using his educational background in music from Stony Brook, Andrew is making strides in the medical industry and helping to save lives. “Love is the key,” he says; “Love of music, love of learning, love of the community, love of friends. Love of ‘the bridge to nowhere,’ which was so Stony Brook!”
You can see more of Andrew’s story in the documentary “Andrew and Wendy,” currently available on thirteen.org.
— Rachel Rodriguez