Music & Healing

On a cold icy night in New York in January 2005, Shapira was attacked by 7 or 8 assailants. He suffered a head trauma and spent a night in the hospital, then resumed his concert schedule. Initially he had no recall of what had happened to him. Snippets of memory surfaced when he began to experience short piercing headaches that he said were like electric shocks. The sharp pain was accompanied by some sounds. Being a musician, he wanted to capture the sounds and put notes to them. “The neural response was fascinating; he saw a brief internal snapshot of himself falling on the ice. As the composition unfolded, so did the memories.” And the combination had a therapeutic effect. It took two years, but by 2007 he “pieced together the fragments of his experience” and completed “Concierto Latino,” a three-part work: Attack, Lament, Party.

In 2008 Shapira was attacked again during a late night walk in New York. This time he tried to fight back, telling us with a smile that as a child of eight he was “a silver medalist in Judo!” He did not lose consciousness, but he sustained some broken bones in his bow hand. Once again there was no disruption of his concert schedule; but in order for his hand to heal properly, he had to rest it between performances, meaning no practicing.

Not being able to practice several hours daily left him feeling unsettled but also curious to understand what it was about practicing that contributed to a state of well being. And that wonderment led to more reading and more conferring with others about how our minds process material. He speculated that what meditation provides for some, practice provides for the musician and described one of his violin exercises as very much like a meditation: play one note, imagine the next note and hold the silence for 30 seconds, then return to the previous note. Repeat with different notes, trying to increase the length of the silence.

Shapira continued to study the impact of trauma and the role that music had played in his recovery. And he continued to reach out to professionals in other fields to learn more about trauma and the repression and recovery of memory. His interest in how music can be of help to others has led him to participate in music therapy sessions at the Bronx Institute of Neurological Function, the late Oliver Sacks’s professional home. He described to us how he played short melodies in slow tempos and watched one patient’s screaming be subdued and another patient begin to dance in her chair. “Music regulates dopamine flow,” explained Shapira. He has such a large capacity to envision the role music can play in healing individuals and communities. Music crosses borders, and music is his way to think and communicate. His compositions cover a wide range of subjects and causes.

We provide you with five projects below, all targeted to different audiences.

The few projects presented here are only a start. Shapiro is always thinking about “how music can make a tangible difference in people’s lives”; and in the years to come, there will be many more compositions and collaborations for this musical giant.