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Ted Talk: Robert Gupta

Updated: Mar 3, 2023

TOPIC: Between music and medicine

Violinist Robert Gupta joined the LA Philharmonic at the age of 19 – and maintains a passionate parallel interest in neurobiology and mental issues. He is a TED Senior Fellow.


"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." John Keats

Talking about how his intense interest in music and medicine shaped his career, Gupta had to make a decision about his passion for the violin, which he protected throughout his life, while he was a research assistant studying in the laboratory of Dennis Selkoe, who studied Parkinson's disease at Harvard. He visited the laboratory of Dr. Gottrfried Schlaug, one of the leading neuroscientist at Harvard who studies music and brain and is a proponent of a therapy called Melodic Intonation Therapy, which has become very popular and they had a conversation about the choice made by Schlaug of giving up his passion for music to pursue a medical career.

Dr. Schlaug in fact had found out that after 70 hours of singing lessons, aphasia patients who had a stroke and were unable to form sentences of even 3-4 words were suddenly able to rewire their brains, since a speech center could be created in the right hemisphere to compensate for the damage of the left hemisphere, thus proving that music could be used to treat many diseases (dementia, Parkinson, autism, anxiety, stress etc.) . For this reason he advised Gupta to not give up on music. Following this, Gupta who entered the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, crossed with Nathaniel Ayers, a musician trained at Julliard, and with psychosis for years and started living homeless on Skid Row. Nathaniel's story has become a beacon for homelessness and mental health advocacy throughout the United States, as told through the book and the movie "The Soloist".

Inspired by Ayers' resistance to his illness with music, Gupta wanted to touch many homeless people like Ayers on Skid Row by transcending words and started an organization of musicians called Street Symphony, bringing the light of music into the very darkest places, performing for the homeless and mentally ill at shelters and clinics on Skid Row, for combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and for the incarcerated and those labeled as criminally insane.

You can click here to access more details through the Ted Talks about this inspiring story of combination between music and medicine.

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