Massive complications following surgery in July 2009 left me clinically dead for a few minutes. After being resuscitated, I was put into a medically induced coma. No one thought I’d survive. It was my wife’s insight to play music for me via my iPod at a critical moment in the coma that saved my life. When I recovered, I knew I had to give back. The best way to do that was to return to that same Surgical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as a musician to play healing music to others. I’ve been there ever since.
The entirety of my life experience prepared me for this work. In a major urban hospital, you are playing music for people from all over the world. The following story helped me to understand prejudice, much needed if you want to help the “other”.
In July 1988, I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a young classical guitarist about to record his debut CD on the Centaur Records label. Victor Sachse, co-owner of the label, met me at the airport. He would be the Producer/Engineer for the recording. We got into his car and, within a few minutes, I had sized him up as a Neo-Nazi. The German last name, the blonde hair and blue-eyed Nordic features, the laconic Southern drawl, his not looking me in the eye while saying things that were easy to interpret in dark ways, all added up. My well-honed Nazi radar told me whom I was dealing with.
However, we had a job to do. Still, I was very careful with everything I said. It took a lot of effort not to be tense while working with someone that I was certain harbored hostile feelings toward me because of who I was. Finally, after two days of intense effort, we had created something that I was very proud of, my first recording – The Baroque Style – my arrangements for 8-string guitar of music by Bach, Scarlatti, Handel and other masters of the Baroque period. I felt especially good about what I’d accomplished considering the circumstances.
The next morning, waiting for the ride to the airport, I began practicing a few lines from the Book of Isaiah, the first of the Latter Prophets in the Old Testament. I would be chanting them at a memorial service for my father a few days later back home in New York. Thinking I was alone and out of earshot, my voice rang out at full volume. Without my realizing it, Victor the Nazi had managed to slip silently into my room.
I sensed something, turned, saw him, and was so startled, I abruptly stopped what I was doing. He walked slowly toward me, eyes narrowing, and then, just a few feet away, he stopped, tilted his head back, and broke into a sardonic grin. I knew he was going to say something cutting, maybe cruel. In that slow Southern drawl the words came: “I didn’t know you could leyn a haftarah.”
Startled by his sudden appearance and now this completely unexpected sentence, I hesitated, in total confusion, and finally said, “How do YOU know about leyning haftarahs?”
Victor the Nazi, smiling ever more deeply, then said, “I know about leyning haftorahs because my father, my uncle, and my grandfather are Rabbis!”
There I stood, shocked, looking directly into the eyes of a bigot. For right in front of me, reflected in the highly polished lenses of Victor’s eyeglasses, were my eyes. The eyes of a bigot. In that moment my life was changed − forever.