Stacie Lin

Music and Medicine in Boston: The Journey of Stacie Lin

10/20/2023
By Erika T. Minetti

In Boston, a city renowned for both medical excellence and musical talent, Stacie Lin stands out as a young leader in both fields. She is not only an MD/PhD candidate in the Harvard/MIT dual degree program, but she is also the concertmaster of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO), a group sometimes referred to as Boston’s medical orchestra. Indeed, 66% of LSO musicians work in the biomedical field, and each concert is a fundraiser for medical-related organizations that help underserved communities in the area.

Music therapists and researchers have long pointed to connections between music and health (both mental and physical). Lin, as a physician-scientist in training and as a talented violinist, has personally experienced the harmony between music and medicine. She uses her position as concertmaster to help lead the orchestra and to advance its core values.

Becoming Concertmaster

Prior to moving to Boston, Lin served as principal second violinist of the New Hampshire Philharmonic. She became interested in the LSO after reading the book Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine: The Story of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra by Lisa Wong and Robert Viagas. She earned her role as LSO’s concertmaster in 2016, when she was still a sophomore in college, and she has continued her leadership ever since.

inset of Stacie Lin in a photo of the orchestra she plays in
Photo by © Steve Lipofsky www.lipofskyphoto.com

After earning this orchestral position, Lin suddenly found herself in an environment where doctors and health-care workers of the highest caliber get together to perform in high quality concerts. She recalls that “standing in front of all these very impressive scientists and physicians [as their concertmaster] was definitely intimidating.” However, conductor Ronald Feldman saw her potential as a leader of the LSO and helped her grow and meet the demands of this unique position.

Lin describes her concertmaster role as one in which she connects the conductor with the rest of the orchestra, particularly with the first violin section and other string players. However, in the unique community and service context that the LSO values, she leverages her experience in both music and medicine to connect with audience members who are not only interested in the music but also in the orchestra’s mission. “I’m able to talk to donors or people who are interested in the mission of the orchestra outside of just the musical aspect,” she notes. She also recently joined the LSO board of directors as a student representative, and her role is to help meet the current interests of a wider audience and to ensure that classical music continues to play a part in people’s lives. She is also passionate about recruiting a diverse group of musicians to join the orchestra.

Although orchestras used to be male-dominated environments, they are now part of a musical landscape that increasingly values diversity and equality. As Lin says, “LSO is at the forefront of this change. Diversity is something that we are very conscious and intentional [about] prioritizing.” Her own efforts to help broaden the range of both musicians and audience members are themselves valuable in making LSO more inclusive. In addition, the organizations that LSO decides to support are a clear indicator that this orchestra is at the forefront of advancing diversity and of shattering social barriers within the realms of music and medicine (the latter apparent in the LSO’s philanthropic work to support medical organizations in underserved communities).

Commitment to Diversity

LSO’s executive director, Bridget Brazeau, describes how the orchestra champions inclusion and diversity. She explains, “In classical music especially, Black and Latinx communities are not seen on stage in the way that they should be.” This year LSO partnered with Project STEP (String Training Education Program), a program founded in 1982 that brings free, intensive musical training to underrepresented minorities. Although Project STEP is not a medical-related organization, its partnership with the LSO demonstrates the latter’s diversity mission.

The LSO also supports Sphinx, another organization that aims to support Black and Latinx individuals throughout their careers in the arts. Sphinx specifically works to enable underrepresented minorities to obtain auditions and master class opportunities that can bring them to the forefront of the musical landscape and boost their careers. Titius Underwood, one of three recipients of the 2021 Sphinx Medal of Excellence, will be featured as a soloist alongside LSO next March, when he will perform Spirit of the Wild: Concerto for Oboe by Australian composer Nigel Westlake. LSO’s efforts to improve diversity in music are reflected not only in the organizations that they support but also in the musicians whom they feature, and this mission echoes recent efforts to improve diversity and representation in health-care and biomedical sciences.

As a leader in an orchestra that values social justice, Lin has found her purpose among musicians who seek to heal the community through music. “I view music, especially in the LSO, as something that we all come together to do because we love doing it, and it is somewhat of a more level playing field that has allowed me to rise up to the occasion,” she says. Lin uses her medical and musical expertise to lead the orchestra and to help the organization grow, but she acknowledges that playing alongside other accomplished individuals who have pursued both music and medicine has “been really instrumental in helping [her] solidify that [she does] want to continue doing music despite the really strenuous timelines of a career in medicine.” Brazeau echoes this sentiment and explains that “everyone is there because they want not only to be great musicians, but to be great musicians as part of a group.” Music and medicine are both fields that require countless hours of dedication, and perhaps this similarity is a driver that pulls multitalented individuals toward both these fields simultaneously.

Research and Mentorship

Tackling music or medicine is a challenging feat, and as someone who does both, Lin recognizes the importance of mentorship. Currently, she is in the fifth year of the eight-year Harvard/MIT program. After two years at Harvard Medical School (HMS), she is currently pursuing her PhD through Harvard’s Immunology Program, where she is investigating a mouse model of autoimmune lupus with a focus on neurological outcomes. In Michael Carroll’s Lab located in the Longwood Medical Area, Lin is studying inflammatory factors like interferons, which may trigger pathologies in the brain. She explains that patients with lupus often display neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, so understanding the molecular changes that occur in the brain will help better guide neurological treatments in lupus. After her PhD training, Lin will return to medical school to complete her final two years.

photo of orchestra

Lin also mentors students in her MD/PhD program. She is active in the Big/ Little Sib program, which supports students through challenges that are faced during their 8+ years at HMS, such as transitioning from medical school to PhD work. She recognizes that mentorship is an essential part of the process that will boost confidence and help students move forward.

Mentorship has, in fact, been a core aspect of both music and medicine that Lin has valued in her own journey. She has many LSO role models whom she looks up to when she thinks of her future as a physician-scientist and musician. She is particularly fond of Dr. Terry Buchmiller, a fellow violinist in the LSO, who has shown her what it means to be a woman balancing commitments in orchestra and in medicine. One memory that Lin holds dear involves running into Dr. Buchmiller in the hallway at Boston Children’s Hospital during a medical school rotation and getting the opportunity to see her mentor work in a professional setting outside of rehearsal. Another member of the orchestra who inspires Lin is Dr. Lisa Wong, who is the coauthor of the book that Lin read when she was in New Hampshire, Scales to Scalpels. Dr. Wong is also deeply involved in both music and medicine and has supported Lin through her journey. In addition, Lin feels supported by the LSO violin principal stand, which are all women, and she is grateful to work alongside Brazeau, “who is a great representation of what [we] can achieve.”

Mentorship, diversity, and social justice tie together music and medicine for the musicians of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra. Lin’s advice is “to surround yourself with people who have gone through similar things and who are able to lift you up; and to look back and see the things that you have accomplished.”

Erika MinettiErika Minetti was born and raised in Milan, Italy and moved to Boston in 2015 to pursue a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Boston University with a minor in music performance. She recently completed her MS in the Boston University Graduate Medical Sciences Program and is currently doing research on vascular endothelial health.

 

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.