Tag Archives: Meymandi Symphony Hall

Onward, the NC Symphony

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 22, 2014

Volume IV, No, 37/137


(Editor’s Note:  The North Carolina Symphony is 82 years old.  We are pleased to observe the auspicious occasion by reprinting the News & Observer’s deputy editorial page editor, Mr. Jim Jenkins’ September 18, 2014 column.)

NC Symphony Plays a Rising Tune

By Jim Jenkins

As the North Carolina Symphony opens another classical season this week, the musicians will be elegantly attired and their instruments polished and tuned to perfection. Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh will welcome the city’s prominent swells to the opening shows, and Grant Llewellyn, the magnetic Welshman who is the orchestra’s music director and public face, will again lead the symphony in musical triumph, no doubt.

Some will listen from up high in boxes, others will be in the orchestra level. My noble friend Dr. Assad Meymandi, the Raleigh physician who gave $2 million toward the concert hall named for his parents, will lean in intensely as he always does, taking in every note from his box. But all through the hall, in the boxes and above the floor, the spirits of more than 80 seasons past will be drifting and applauding in the hall.

One, of course, will belong to Maxine Swalin, for over 30 years the symphony’s impassioned advocate. Her husband, conductor Ben Swalin, another spirit in attendance, certainly helped bring the orchestra to prominence, saved it some would say, but it was Maxine Swalin who managed things, who went to classrooms all over North Carolina, when that wasn’t easy to do, and helped demonstrate for awestruck students the sounds of different instruments.

She saw in those faces, in all those hundreds or thousands of classes, eyes widen and mouths open at sounds the children had never heard before. Some would remember those sounds all their lives and develop, from that one visit, a passion for music. Yes, lives would be changed.

The symphony, this spectacular symphony, has come far since Maxine and Ben Swalin retired more than 40 years ago, but the nation’s first state-sponsored orchestra had its course well-charted by them and their successors, those other spirits you’ll feel in the hall this season.

It was never meant to be, since its infancy in 1932, a staid and stationary group. In 1943, improbably in a Southern state with rural roots, still with far to go on educating its people, and thousands of miles of unpaved roads, state lawmakers provided money for the orchestra, hardly enough to keep it going but an important symbol nonetheless.

And so Ben Swalin and his successors stayed true to the mission of bringing the symphony to the people, traveling statewide as a whole or in part, to bring classical music (and other forms) to the hamlets and hollows and cities and towns. It is in the memories of the children in those places, tens of thousands of them by now, for the tradition continues, that is found the heart of the North Carolina symphony.

In the memory of the kid from Shelby the sound of the cello offered some kind of inspiration that carried him through hard days at home. In the memory of a fifth grader from Moore County is that unmistakable timpani that brings a smile when she needs it. In the memory of one kid from Rock Ridge was his mother’s encouraging him to play violin after hearing the symphony. Jim Hunt served four terms as governor, but even now can call forth clear memories of his Mama and that violin.

Lives change even if those who hear the symphony as children never gain skills on an instrument, but learn to love music of any kind.

The symphony still goes to the people, still guided by the spirits and by extraordinary leaders who have followed them and some musicians with a dedication to their art that only those with music inside them, rising from their very souls, can have.

Meymandi Concert Hall, state of the art, made a big difference. So did conductors who followed Swalin and each, in his own way, advanced the musicianship. And so did those who are today parents themselves and remember when the symphony came to their town and the musicians came to their school, and now see their own kids inspired and entertained by this next generation of symphony players.

The pioneers paid it forward. But institutions such as this must never be taken for granted, though it’s easy to do that. Without the symphony, or the Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural Sciences or other magnificent institutions that honor and enlighten the people and especially the young people of the state, the color would be drained from this place.

So, Maestro Llewellyn, raise the baton and strike it up, if you please. There still are lives to be changed.


*The editor is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life member, American Medical Association; Life member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).

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Remembering Mother’s Day

Monday Musings for Monday May 6, 2013

Volume III, No.17/120


Happy Mother’s Day

By: Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


(Editor’s Note: this year Mother’s Day, May 12, falls on the birth of Richard Wagner, the anti-Semite genius whose character as a person was as loathsome as his music was admirable, if not transcendental.  We have opted to dedicate today’s MM to honor Mother’s Day, and write about Richard next Monday.)

Mothers have a special place in the construction and fiber of every society- western, Eastern, Northern, Southern. Way before the prophets of the old testament, Avesta, the Zoroastrian Bible, recorded the “lofty status of mothers before the shrine of Ahoura-Mazda . . .” In the writings of Cyrus the Great, the liberator of Jews from Babylon, who reigned nearly 2600 years ago, he repeatedly insisted that “The wisdom and love of mothers should be employed in all ranks and posts of the government…”

Mothers indeed were more than slaves who cooked and kept the children clean. In the court of Cyrus the Great, there were many mothers as high functionaries and Viziers (ministers).  In the personal notes of Benjamin Franklin, credited for founding US Postal Services, he refers to Cyrus the Great the inventor of the postal service, and his first Postmaster General who was a woman by the name of Mithra.

In biological terms, the relationship between a mother and her fetus is unique and unparalleled. This is the ultimate in intimacy: fusion of two human beings, loving, protecting and nurturing of one person, the fetus, who is in the process of becoming, by another person, the mother. A pregnant woman- prospective mother- offers such an in depth and stirring example of “giving-of-one’s-self-totally-to-another” (altruism) that no psychiatrist or behavioral scientist has ever been able to fathom and explain. Freud has written much about women’s penis envy. I am afraid cannot have that ultimate form of intimacy in a relationship that women have. Only in recent years we have been looking at, and talking about, this form of ubiquitous pervasive envy that men unconsciously that he was blind to the fact that many men have womb (uterus) envy, because they hold for women. Frankly, a pregnant woman is angelic in sight. The rich hormones estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and oodles of other cortico- steroids make her soft, loving, lovable and pure. The mere appearance of a pregnant woman stirs all kinds of noble and altruistic feelings in others. We want to reach out and help, carry their baggage, compulsively ask about how far along they are, and many other brotherly and platonic gestures of love and compassion. Frankly, I don’t know of any other sight that evokes more noble and altruistic feelings in mankind than the sight of a mother-to-be.

Mothers Are Saints. Have you noticed that at the time of extreme stress, even the most powerful people immediately think of their mothers. This is almost a reflex reaction as commonplace as the knee jerk. When Napoleon Bonaparte was captured in Russia, he cried vociferously, “ou es tu, maman? . . .” “Mother, where are you?” In our own era when the late former President Nixon was forced out of office, while almost crying, he spoke of “my mother was a saint …”, while 100 million people watched on TV. Much attention has been paid to this fairly inappropriate remark. However, it was most appropriate; because at the time of stress we tend to call on our most intimate and powerful friends. One’s mother, at the time of total impotence and distress is indeed the most intimate powerful and rescuing force.

Being a mother is the most important job on earth. It is also the least rewarded and the least recognized job by the western societies. It takes the nurturing, the selflessness, the staying up all night, the love and care of a mother to raise a child. No creature, under any circumstance, gives so much, so unselfishly, so constantly as does a mother.

My own mother, with whom I share the same birthday died in 1994 at the age 101. Kobra, who was always called Janbibi- means BiBi or Lady of the world- never ever anyone called her by her given name, Kobra, which would have been blasphemous- loved life. She loved music, dance, poetry, singing, chansons, and parties.  And yes, she loved to travel.  Like her parents, she, too, fed the poor and there were regular intervals that they made rice and lamb and served them in huge copper trays to the masses that would come to their vast court yard. Our mother was equally serious about knowledge, learning, education and studying. She had us all memorize Hafez, Saadi, Rumi and of course, the Holy Quor’an. Right up to the last days of her life, when I would talk to her on the phone, after the preliminary exchange of greetings she wanted to know “What did you learn today?” or “What are you reading today?”…

A Personal Note

One of the myriad of things my mother has done for me is to sharpen my sense of observation and awareness. Often when climbing stairs together, when we reached the top of the stairs, she would say “Ageh gufti tchand ta pelleh? Can you tell me how many steps?  We travelled together much and she counted the steps in all places- we climbed the 898 steps to the top of the Washington monument; we climbed the 710 steps of Eiffel Tower in Paris, not only once, but several times; we climbed the 354 steps to the crown of the Statues of Liberty in NY, not to mention the 463 steps going up to the top of Duomo in Florence, Italy and the 285 steps separating the upper hilly Buda and the lower Pest, in Budapest, Hungary, just to name a few adventures…

Well, my mother’s gift, in addition to the gift of medical education which puts extremely high value on observation and encourages paying attention to detail of what one sees, as well as memorizing facts, have made me a quite aware human being. We have all read the Holy Quor’an over and over.  Do we know how many times the name Allah has been invoked in the 114 Surahs 2,698 times.  How many times the name Buddha is invoked in Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book?  Do we know how many words are in the 66 books of the Old and the New Testament, especially in the 1611 King James translation? In the Old Testament there are 593,493 words and 181,253 in the New Testament giving a total of 774,746 words in the 66 books. I know many members of our families have travelled extensively. Well, in celebrating my heritage, I have set out to count the number of times the names of the Kings of Persia are invoked in the 66 books of the Bible. The result is astounding. Isaiah is the best press for the Old Persian kings. For example, Isaiah 45 is almost singularly devoted to the doings of King of Persia whom they called Messiah. Isaiah is pure PR and good press for the liberator King of Persia…In the book of Esther 3, Haman, assistant or Vizier to King of Persia, Ahashuerus, who hated Mordecai, shows how the wise king handled the dispute…At any rate according to my count there are dozens of references to the Kings of Persia in the Bible. The origins of the Persian months starting with Nisan (see my Monday Musings for Norooz, March 21, 2012 which lists all the months of the Old Persian calendar) are all recorded in the Old Testament.

Today, as I recall my mother, and with intoxication and spiritual élan, I celebrate that lady’s birthday. I wish all to be infused with love of knowledge, love of wisdom, love of sensitivity to the needs of others with beneficence and altruism. That would satisfy Kobra Meymandi, our Janbibi, and our Lady of The World. She was a magnificent teacher and learner. Right up to the last moment, she sang and wrote poetry. She had faith in herself, in her God and in her children.

Salute to all mothers.

Kobra Hanjari Meymandi died in 1994 at age 101. The Raleigh Concert Hall, home to the North Carolina Symphony which opened on February 21, 2001, was named for her.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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Humanism and the Gift of Giving- a Brief Biography

Monday Musings for Monday December 31, 2012

Volume II, No. 52/104


Dear Readers: 



Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA

Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association 
Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry
UNC School of Medicine at Chapel Hill
3320 Wake Forest Rd., Suite 460
Raleigh, NC, 27609




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Funding a Mental Health Program and Developing a City Park

Monday Musings for Monday Dec 3, 2012


Volume II, No.39/91 

Funding a Mental Health Program and Developing a City Park

Have your cake and eat it too!

Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


It is unfortunate to see a rift between the good people who advocate for the mentally ill and those who are supporting transfer of the Dorothea Dix Hospital land into a city park.  We should avoid this split at all cost.  We can fund the state mental health program and have the city park too.

Here are some reflections: funding programs for mentally ill is NC’s covenant with its citizens enshrined in its constitution.  Shirking that sacred duty and promise as we have done for the past 30 years is ethically unacceptable and morally bankrupt.  In the meantime, passing up the opportunity to turn DDH land into a world class park, like New York City’s Central Park, would be another unforgivable travesty that North Carolinians should not accept.  We need the park to turn Raleigh into a destination where children can play, visitors bring their families and yes, developers can enjoy building attractive buildings around the park, just as the developers did in 1870 after New York’s Central Park was completed.  The city park would give Raleigh the soul it so badly needs.  It will give Raleigh an identity as an attractive city.  Cities are like people.  They can be caring, altruistic and beneficent to their citizens, or ugly and narcissistic and self serving.  With the construction of this city park, Raleigh has an opportunity to become an altruistic city for all its citizens, young and old.  My thoughts are to develop a comprehensive plan for the space between DDH and WakeMed to involve development of southeast Raleigh. This would include Shaw and Saint Augustine Universities.  It would involve housing and commercial establishments to give that region a booming economy.  Since 1961, I have heard about developing Southeast Raleigh. Yet there has been very little done.  This is a good opportunity to advance that goal and offer the citizens of Southeast Raleigh the break they have needed and asked for in the past 45 years. And here is my proposal to funding of the state mental health program.

Going against the eleventh commandment of the Republican party, “Thou shall not raise taxes”, I am proposing that  the State tax the rich to support its mental health program.  California has succeeded in passing proposition 63, which will impose a tax surcharge of one percent on  taxable personal income above one million dollars to pay for services offered through the state’s existing mental health system.  To pass such a law much leg work needs to be done, an infra-structure laid down, and coalitions developed.  I have been closely watching and following the development of proposition 63 in California since August 2004.  A huge mixture of powerful alphabet soup lobby, consisting of the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI), California Psychiatric Association District Branch (CPA), California’s six major unions, AARP-California, The California Teachers’ Association (CTA), along with American Medical Association, and American Psychiatric Association, just to name a few, participated in forming the Campaign for Mental Health (CMA).  The initial initiative will raise $700 million dollars this year.  I submit that we start such a campaign today.  I am willing to pay my share today.

*The writer is a Distinguished Life Fellow American Psychiatric Association, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill.  He is the Founding Editor and Editor in chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012)

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