Chancellor’s Concert Series Threatened

The future of medicine is prevention. And yet, like so many organizations so excited about measurable outcomes that they’ve forgotten the purpose of medicine and public health policy — to heal and help self and community resilience — UCSF is considering axing its 19-years-running Chancellor’s Concert Series. Citing lackluster attendance and other priorities, organizers announced a possible end to the series during the March 2 concert at Cole Hall. The office of Campus Life Services is missing the forest of health through the trees of short-term thinking.

The healing power of music has long been clinically demonstrated. But what we don’t know is how many lives have been saved, suicides averted, and myocardial infarctions postponed as a result of these concerts.

Regular attendees may be receiving similar benefits as going to physical therapy, psychiatric treatment, and other expensive, time-consuming, and potentially less effective interventions. Live classical music is one of the last bastions of culture and refinement in a profit-driven education systems.

UCSF has never been richer. Not a week goes by it seems when my inbox isn’t inundated with information about how we received the most public grant money of any medical school and secured our biggest private gift ever.

This is great news. In conjunction with cutting the Chancellor’s Concert Series, however, and the known benefits of music, such incongruent efforts might give the unsuspecting person the impression that the point of a medical school is to make money, instead of to treat the harmed and to prevent disease.

Music is part of preventative disease, and as prevention gains ground in the coming decades, somatic therapies will be increasingly on the rise as the peer-reviewed studies roll in.

It’s easy to forget the purpose of our institution living so close to Silicon Valley — the bigger, better, faster motto of a corporation might be the wrong model if you’re actually trying to deal with the toxic effects of externalized business practices, environmental effluent, alienation, social fragmentation, income inequality and many of the other systematic causes of disease.

Talking with my colleagues, consensus is that if the concerts were better advertised with emails going out with other campus events and listservs, attendance would increase. The free food that the series offers, while the quality could be higher, is a pleasant plus that draws students.

Let’s make sure that this semester’s concerts aren’t the last in this 19-year-long series. Contacting Campus Life Services @ (415) 476-5997 is a good place to start.

Amidst the hoopla of self-congratulation and champagne events, UCSF should do everything in its power to encourage people to find soothing not just in expensive counseling or degenerating drugs, but in the simple yet profound healing pleasures of music.

That the concert series is also graced by homeless people and the elderly should be a plus — an indication that UCSF is successfully helping the community with this positive externality — not misinterpreted as an indicator of excess or superfluity.

A classical concert series is the mark of a great university. Plus, Stanford has one.