Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Schweitzer in America; Longwood Symphony Orchestra and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship

When I hear a baby's cry of pain change into a normal cry of hunger, to my ears, that is the most beautiful music.

--Dr. Albert Schweitzer

by Lisa M. Wong, M.D.

In 1991, an important and lasting relationship was forged between the Longwood Symphony and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship (ASF). Dr. Lachlan Forrow, Judge Mark Wolf, and I got together to consider the work of Albert Schweitzer and its relevance to the city of Boston. Lachlan had been a Schweitzer Fellow in the hospital in Lambarene, Gabon while still a medical student in the 1980s. He had returned to Boston inspired by his work there and committed himself to champion Dr. Schweitzer's ideals; Schweitzer's sense of community, empathy and compassion permanently affected the way Dr. Forrow practices medicine--and lives his life..

Dr. Albert Schweitzer was a musician, theologian, and finally a physician. He wove all of these parts into his life's journey. Today, the members of the LSO are traveling along Schweitzer's path. Music is the first influence in their lives, followed by a desire to make a difference, and a sense of compassion, leading to a career in caregiving.

In October 1991, LSO and ASF put on a two-day symposium that reflected on the life and ideals of Albert Schweitzer. Community leaders gathered to consider the health care needs and the health care disparities in Boston. We utilized as many public spaces in the city as we could find. Organized by Lachlan Forrow, the days were filled with lectures and brown bag lunches with young people, field workers, and experts on the topics of AIDS, Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Children's health care, Bach and Reverence for Life.

The event had lasting effects on everyone in the community. ASF launched its now-national Schweitzer Fellowship that has guided thousands of young health care students to create and participate in health-related community service projects. LSO has committed itself to community engagement throught music through its Healing Art of Music Program.

Albert Schweitzer Portrait: When Longwood Symphony was awarded the 2007 MetLife Award for Excellence in Community Engagement by the League of American Orchestras, conductor Jonathan McPhee and I traveled to Nashville to accept the award. While there, we met the remarkable Thurston Moore, a man of passion, vision, and devotion to the work of Albert Schweitzer.

Thurston Moore spoke of his dream to create a new work, Albert Schweitzer Portrait for narrator and orchestra, inspired by Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait. He envisioned a work with such universal appeal that it would be played across the country, both in its orchestral version and in an even more accessible organ version that could be performed in churches throughout the country. The work would celebrate the 60th anniversary of Schweitzer's 1949 visit to the United States when he visited Boston, Chicago, Aspen, and New York.

The music that is the DNA of the new work is a set of songs by American composer and songwriter Gene Scheer. One such song, Gene's American Anthem has been played at Presidential Inaugurations and is a central musical idea running through filmmaker Ken Burns' series "The War."

Copland's Influence

The next step was to find the narrator. What voice do we choose to bring Schweitzer's words to life? Someone who is also on the journey of medicine and service. Former Surgeon Genera, Dr, David Satcher was invted to are the words of Schweitzer at the world premiere performance. He has devoted his life to advocating for America's most vulnerable and medically underserved.

Future Journey On May 9, 2009, Albert Schweitzer Portrait will begin its musical journey with a performance by the Longwood Symphony and Dr. David Satcher at NEC's Jordan Hall in Boston ( . This will be followed by the World Premiere of the organ arrangement of Albert Schweitzer Portrait at the University of Chicago. Plans are underway for the work to also be performed in Aspen and New York. This would complete the same journey that Schweitzer himself traced in America sixty years ago.

One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have found a way to serve. --Albert Schweitzer