June 21, 2019

World’s best string quartets teach medical students the art of nonverbal communication

A physician in front of a patient is akin to a musician in front an audience. An interdisciplinary care team is akin to a musical group. In both scenarios, the physician must employ nonverbal communication to set the mood in the room and convey intention.

Levine with Emerson
Department of Internal Medicine Vice Chair of Education Diane Levine, M.D., introduces the Emerson String Quartet to School of Medicine students.

Nine-time Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet and relative newcomers Thalea String Quartet visited the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Scott Hall on June 17 to teach a cohort of third-year medical students how they use breathing, facial expressions, physical gestures and oral communication to better their relationships as musicians, and their performance.

The quartets are performing at the 26th season of the Great Lakes Chamber Musical Festival, happening now through June 30 in several venues in Detroit, Bloomfield Hills, Beverly Hills, Ann Arbor and Windsor.

The concept is a natural one, said Emerson String Quartet cellist Paul Watkins.

“In the musical world, there is nothing as tightly knit as the string quartet,” he said.

Thalea String Quartet Violist Luis Bellorin shares his approach to nonverbal communication.

The performers walked the students through their approach to determining the tone of the musical piece, showed them how the mood of the audience can be affected simply by the way they walk on stage, how they “talk” to each other with facial gestures and physical posture during each performance and more.

After the performance, School of Medicine faculty led an interactive discussion with students on how to apply what was observed and learned to physician patient and interprofessional communication.

Maury Okun, president of Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings and ArtOps, and president and chief executive of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, contacted Michael Cher, M.D., chair of the WSU Department of Urology and the Jaffar Endowed Professor of Urology, and faculty advisor to the Detroit Medical Orchestra, about developing this program. Dr. Cher seized the opportunity and formed a workgroup.

The final program and assessments were developed under the leadership of Diane Levine  M.D., clerkship director and vice chair for Education in the Department of Internal Medicine; Simone Brennen Ph.D, learning skills specialist for the Office of Learning and Teaching; Heidi Kromrei Ph.D., assistant dean of Learning and Teaching in the Office of Medical Education;  and medical students Leo Hall and Georgiana Marusca.

Emerson playing
The Emerson String Quartet rehearses in front of medical students as part of a seminar on nonverbal communication.

“We want to bring this to the doctor-patient relationship and the interprofessional team. We don’t practice communicating,” Dr. Levine said.

The Thalea Quartet, one of three quartets selected as part of the Catherine Filene Shouse Chamber Music Institute at the festival, first led an interactive workshop with the medical students about how musicians communicate non-verbally. Following the workshop, the world famous Emerson Quartet held a rehearsal and answered questions.

The seminar was made possible through the support of Maurice Binkow and a generous grant from the Gershenson Trust, and was held during the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival.

The Emerson String Quartet of Eugene Drucker, violin; Philip Setzer, violin; Lawrence Dutton, viola; and Paul Watkins, cello, has maintained its stature as one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles for more than four decades.

The quartet has made more than 30 acclaimed recordings and won nine Grammys (including two for Best Classical Album), three Gramophone Awards, the Avery Fisher Prize and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year” Award.

Formed in 1976 and based in New York City, the Emerson was one of the first quartets whose violinists alternated in the first chair position. The quartet, which took its name from the American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, balances busy performing careers with a commitment to teaching and serves as Quartet-in-Residence at Stony Brook University in New York.

The Thalea String Quartet (Christopher Whitley, violin; Kumiko Sakamoto, violin; Luis Bellorín, viola; and Titilayo Ayangade, cello) formed in 2014 at the Zephyr International Chamber Music Festival in Courmayeur, Italy.

They were named the Young Professional String Quartet at the University of Texas Butler School of Music, under the mentorship of the highly acclaimed Miró Quartet, and serve as Associated Artists at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium, under the mentorship of the Artemis Quartet.

The quartet were top prize winners at both the 2018 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition and the 2018 Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition, and were Ensemble-in-Residence at the Bear Valley Music Festival for the summers of 2018 and 2019.

For information on the festival, go to https://greatlakeschambermusic.org/performances/.

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