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Harmonic Prescription : Doctors Find That Making Music Is Therapeutic

December 11, 1986|DAVID WHARTON | Wharton is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Dean Dobbins knows how tough it is to make it in the music business. He sings in "Writers and Pickers":

Nobody said that it wouldn't be hard,

but you can't give up, you can't get downhearted .

... you may take a lickin' but you keep on tickin' .

You can't be chicken if you plan on stickin' in the music game.

"I know I have some talent," he muses, "but I'm no Paul Simon and I'm no Stevie Wonder."

In fact, he isn't even Dean Dobbins. His real name is Arthur Schlosser, and he's a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Panorama City.

"It's bizarre," the 41-year-old Northridge man said of his double life. "I think of myself as a songwriter more than anything else. But sometimes when I stand up on stage, I feel like I should have a stethoscope around my neck instead of a guitar."

Down the hall in the pediatrics ward, Dr. Alvin Miller doesn't take music quite as seriously. But every Tuesday night for the last 30 years, Miller has brought his violin to Beverly Hills High School where he practices with the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra.

"I've been to rehearsal after I've lost a patient at the hospital and it's a great peace-making thing," Miller said.

Schlosser has the long hair and beard of a musician. He speaks in phrases like: "the turmoil in my own head" and "expressing my individuality."

At rehearsal for the orchestra, the musicians look and act like physicians. They are dead-pan. They wear starched shirts and ties. Everyone wears a beeper.

Still, Miller thinks the spirit is probably the same whether it's a concerto or a two-step.

"You can trace the relationship of music and medicine way back," the 60-year-old Encino neo-natalogist said. "What did the medicine man do? He danced around and jangled his cymbals and sang."

2 Professions Linked

"Are doctors, by virtue of their profession, attracted to the study of music?" asked Dr. Rueben Straus, in a 1970 address to the Barlow Society for the History of Medicine, reprinted in The Bulletin, a L.A. County Medical Assn. publication.

The Greeks recognized Apollo as both the god of music and the god of medicine, notes Straus, a now-retired Los Angeles pathologist. Homer told of how the sound of music stopped the blood flowing from Ulysses' wounds.

Primitive man attempted to heal the sick with religious rites that included "rhythmic sound, dancing, chanting, singing, playing music," Straus said. The Wallawalla Indians prescribed that their sick sing several hours a day as treatment for illness.

Leopold Auenbrugger, a doctor in Vienna in the late 1700s, wrote the libretto for Salieri's "Der Rauchfangkehrar" and developed a method for percussion of the chest that is still used for physical diagnosis. More recently, Dr. F. William Sunderman, a noted Philadelphia pathologist, graduated from the Coombs Conservatory and is credentialed by the American String Teachers Assn.

Miller thinks music is a natural pastime for doctors in that it is exacting and disciplined, yet relaxing.

"You can bury yourself in your music and forget what you've been doing all day," he said. "It's cheaper than a psychiatrist."

A short, balding man with an intense demeanor, Miller was forced to study violin as a child. He continued to play through college but had given it up as a young doctor until he found the Doctors Symphony Orchestra. That was in 1956, the year the orchestra was formed.

"There's camaraderie," he said of the group, which performs at special functions several times a year. "You share music. You share interesting medical cases."

Ruben Gurevich, a professional conductor, is paid to lead the orchestra. He said the doctors practice diligently. But, music is not of utmost importance in this group. During rehearsal a beeper goes off in the brass section and all heads turn.

"In the larger scope, it's not as important if you play out of tune as it is if you cut off the wrong leg," Gurevich conceded. "We don't pretend to be the L.A. Philharmonic, but it is a high level of music making."

Has Regular Club Dates

For Dobbins, music is far more consuming and not so relaxing. The time he has left after putting in 50 to 60 hours a week as Dr. Schlosser is devoted to writing songs, recording music or trying to get club dates for his band. Dobbins appears regularly at the Palomino and Rawhide country-western clubs.

These two lives must also allow time for his wife, Charlotte, a former X-ray technician who writes music with him, two daughters and seven Bichon Frise dogs that bark constantly and scamper around the pool behind the family's split-level home.

Schlosser learned several instruments as a child and later played saxophone in the Cornell University Marching Band. He began writing songs for enjoyment. He had never listened to country music much but it seemed to fit the music he wrote.

Hobby Became Passion

At some point in 1971, the hobby became a passion. Dean Dobbins sounded a lot more like the name of a country-western singer than did Arthur Schlosser.

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