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On Martin Luther…and Music

“Monday Musings” November 11, 2013

Volume III, No. 44/138


Martin Luther, A Formidable Child of God Worth Emulating

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

Yesterday November 10, was the natal anniversary of one of the most formidable children of God, Martin Luther of Eisleben, Germany. He was born 520 years ago, nine years before Christopher Columbus discovered America, and 21 years after the birth of Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Martin Luther was not a rip-roaring revolutionary. He did not set out to usher Protestantism in Europe and challenge the well-established Catholic Church and  the papacy. He was a scholar, a rather reclusive and obscure Augustinian monk and a university professor. In 1517, he posted 95 questions on the door of the church, a common practice when disputation (discussion, exegesis, and examination) was routinely used to clarify a philosophical or theological issue. He innocently posed 95 questions of the established church. The questions caught on fire and from that humble beginning, by 1521 he was catapulted to such prominence that even most peasants would recognize his name. Indeed, he was feared by the Pope and the Catholic establishment. He was openly defying the papacy and the Emperor. 1521 was the year Protestantism and the Lutheran Church were established.  Martin Luther’s argument was simply the issues of corruption in the Catholic Church– selling grace, selling salvation, and implementing other slanderous devices to raise money to build Saint Peter’s Basilica. Being an Augustinian monk and well grounded in Augustinian theology of grace, Martin Luther insisted that grace is given freely– It is not sold…Martin Luther maintained his steadfast Augustinian stand “sola fide, sola scriptura” which means by faith and scripture alone (not by purchase of redemption and grace) one may find the pathway to salvation. He wrote about a quarter million words about faith. He concluded that faith must be “living”, expressed in concrete actions of altruism and love for one’s fellow humans. To exercise faith requires discipline, vigilance and sacrifice

History of Protestantism

1.   Before Martin Luther, many “protestors” had questioned the practice of selling grace by the Catholic Church. Among these protestors was John Huss (1369-1415), the Czech theologian, and founder the Hussite Church. Papal Inquisition which was a common practice of the 15th and 16th century condemned Huss as a heretic. He was burned at the stake. He is recorded in history books as the first martyr of the Hussite Church. Meantime, the air of dissatisfaction and malaise generated by the Catholic Church was prevalent among European peasants which constituted the vast majority of the European population. There was no middle class. The societal structure consisted of a few super rich land owners, those who worked in the government, and those secure in the hierarchy of the church and priesthood. The remaining 95% of the population were poor farmers and peasants. Historical demography suggests these people suffered illiteracy and servitude with no hope for advancement or opportunity to break loose from the shackles of slavery.

2.   Another factor which complicated matters was the general public had not recovered from the devastation of bubonic plague, 1347-1350.  The plague wiped out three forth of Europe’s population, while the papacy to protect itself against the plague moved from Rome to Avignon, southern France, a safer territory.  The public felt abandoned and neglected by the church, breeding much anger.  The European public continued to carry for some 70 years its pent up hostility against the Catholic Church.  All these factors helped ignite and sustain the fire of protestant reform.  From 1240 on, there were many voices raised in protest of the church practices but often, if not always, silenced by the force of organized papal inquisitions with the ultimate punishment of death by hanging or burning at the stake.  But in 1521 the reform succeeded

The influence of non-theological forces

3.   In addition to the lingering effect of Black death seventy years earlier, other social injustices generated immense pent up anger in the vast majority of peasants. The unequal distribution of wealth, where 93% of wealth was controlled by less than 10% of the people, helped the maturation of the notion of Protestantism. Other factors included high infant mortality which in Central Europe was between 15 to 35%, with another 10 to 20 percent of children dying before age 10 years, helped inflame the public dissatisfaction and anger. Other forces were exposure to famine, epidemic diseases and the ravages of wars. These factors collectively made people lose faith in the authority of the government, the church and priests. The people were numbed by societal injustice.  And finally by the time Martin Luther started publishing his theses, thanks to Guttenberg, the magical printing press became available enabling Martin Luther to disseminate his work widely through throughout northern Europe. All these forces pushed our birthday hero to pursue answers to his original 95 questions, setting the world on fire of protestation.

Martin Luther, a musician and polymath

4.   Besides his theological and philosophical contributions and writings (his collected work exceeds five million words), Martin Luther was a hymnologist and an accomplished musician.  The number of hymns the authorship of which is contributed to Martin Luther is in the hundreds. He encouraged return of music to church services. Martin Luther was a polymath.  He was trained in law (he did not finish law school as his father wanted him because he found studying law to be boring!), theology, philosophy, epistemology, rhetoric, linguistics, political organization and music. He was the formidable author of more than five millions words, among them some 3000 letters he wrote to friends, colleagues, students, fellow Augustinian monks, and fellow parishioners. I view Martin Luther as a representation of God and a role model in achieving one’s maximum potential. Happy Birthday Brother Luther!

 Olli Mustonen, A Superb Omen

These days under the leadership of Sandi MacDonald, President and CEO, and Grant Llewellyn, Music Director, NC Symphony is producing magic. Recently, we had pianist conductor Jeffrey Kahane leading the symphony in Beethoven Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op 36, and Mozart Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major for piano and Orchestra, K482. We were happy to see Maestro Kahane back at the podium, this time both conducting the orchestra and playing solo piano.   For decades, going back to 80’s, Kahane has been a welcome NCS guest artist/pianist. He was one of 11 auditioned when NCS was selecting a new conductor in 200-2001, a position that went to Maestro Grant Llewellyn. So, those with NCS institutional memory were happy to see the lovable and hugely talented Maestro Kahane back. As an aside, the 3rd movement of Mozart’s piece, if one listens carefully mimics the tune of festive fraternal song “For he is a Jolly Good fellow, nobody can deny.”  The whimsical insertion has to do with Mozart’s exposure and indoctrination to Masonic rituals and songs. Free Masonry was established in England in 1717.  Mozart became a Mason along with his librettist friend Schekineder who wrote the libretto, and played the first Papageno for Magic Flute, a 1791 opera devoted to Masonic ritual. It was Mozart’s last opera.

This past weekend, the audience was privileged to watch the brilliant and incomparable Finnish pianist Olli Mustonen, a superb omen, for Raleigh and RTP, playing the technically demanding Johannes Brahms’s Concerto No. 1 in D minor op. 15. The performance was brilliant. Olli took me on a 43 minute journey in the ether of tomorrow. Every note of the complex composition was articulated superbly pushing the listener higher and higher into the stratosphere of transcendence. The height of enjoyment was unforgettable and celestial. At age 81, NCS has matured to a degree to make traveling to NY Philharmonic, Paris Palais Garnier and Vienna unnecessary. Bravo!


*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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Monday Musings for Monday December 24, 2012

Volume II, 42/94


Reflections on Trinity and Christian faith

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The triadic nature of man plays a major role in our lives. We think in threes. The best writings almost always brings in three examples. Bhagavad Gita, the Holy Book of Hindus, speaks of rays of divinity enveloping us in groups of three.   In Quoran Majid, Surah 36,Ya-sin, Allah speaks of his bounties given to his people in bunches of three.  In deutero- Canonical literature to the number three is assigned “holiness” and “purity”. Saint Paul spoke of three most important things in life: Faith, Hope, and Love. Plato wrote extensively, especially in his book of Phaedo, acknowledged as the closest writing about God and Christ by a pagan who lived long before Christ (427-347 BC), about the trinity of the soul, beauty, and perfection of form. The famed Zoroastrian commandments is the triad: Good deed, Good word, and Good thought. The Sermon on the mount, an opus magnum of literature in any language, comes in sentences and pronouncements bunched in threes. The act of Love, the most important contribution of Christianity, “love your neighbor as you love yourself” requires the triad lover, the object, beloved, yourself, and/or your neighbour, and the act of love, all forcefully simulated in Christian theology as God, Son, and the Holy Spirit, three entities in a well integrated one, and not like three peas in a pod. In order to live a meaningful and altruistic life, humans are endowed with the triad of intellect, memory, and will.   In practical realm, there are a minimum of three legs to a tripod, and yes, the Holy Trinity, elaborately expressed in the Nicene Creed, 325 AD, speaks eloquently, elegantly, and definitively, of the nature of Trinity (see, I used three adverbs to describe the Creed).  So, the triadic and Trinitarian model is most relevant to our daily lives.

In our my personal lives, the triadic phenomenon plays a major role and continues its importance: today, December 24, is the natal anniversary of my most beloved friend and wife, Emily.  It is also the eve of the natal anniversary of the Lord.  It coincides with our wedding day which we celebrate every month and call it “Montheversary”.  A perfect and holy triad with its roots deeply fed by the joyful life giving running book of the Holy Trinity.

*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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A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

Monday Musings for Monday December 10, 2012

Volume II. 40/92


A Few Thoughts on Messiah and Maestro Handel

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

NC Symphony and NC Master Chorale recently performed Messiah with authority, power, transcendence and luminosity that the piece deserves.  Here are a few thoughts about Messiah and our beloved octogenarian NCS:

Messiah is special in many ways:

1)     Handel (George Frideric) and Bach (Johann Sebastian) were born in Germany the same year, 1685.  Handel in Halle, and Bach in Eisenach, about fifty miles apart.  They followed different paths, different careers, and different life styles.  Probably never met.  Handel spent a lot of his professional life in England and wrote music for George II, former Elector of Hanover of Germany.  Handel was working for the Elector as a Kapellmeister.  He left Germany for Italy to further his musical education without the Elector’s permission. The Elector, who later became George II, King of England, was not very pleased.  Handel approached George II in London and apologized for abandoning his post.   Handel was forgiven by the king who commissioned the Maestro for many pieces of music, among them The Water Music. George II became very fond of Handel’s music.  It was Handel who composed music for the King’s coronation in 1727.  Obviously by 1727, Handel was well forgiven by his majesty.

2)    It is variously reported that Messiah was written by Handel in fewer than 30 days.  A true miracle.  His knowledge of the Bible was astounding.  His creative genius of musical composition was unparalleled.  Handel was a big man.  He did not mince words.  If he did not like a minion’s behavior, he would let his displeasure be known by beating up the irritant. Wonder if King George II was intimidated by Handel’s heft and bulldog demeanor?

3)    Messiah opened 270 years ago, in 1742.  King George II was in the audience at the performance premiere.  He became so excited by the majesty of the music that he rose during the Alleluia chorus.  Of course everyone else rose.  When the king rises no one stays seated!  The music touched him very deeply.  And that is why, to this day, audiences throughout the world follow what has become the cultural tradition and accepted decorum. We all rise when Alleluia chorus is sung.  Since 1742, Messiah has played continuously without cessation, in war, in peace, in famine and in abundance.  It has been played every year for the past 270 years.

4)    The only other musical lasting and playing continuously is Ibn Khaldoun’s Talavat of Qur’an passages.  Ibn Khaldoun was born in Tunis in 1332.  He was a brilliant Muslim economist, philosopher, theologian, polymath and music lover.  He wanted to bring music back to Islam,  a religion that had banned music.  Khaldoun wrote to the reigning Caliph suggesting and arguing that since it is acceptable to sing the passages of the Holy Quran, by fatwa, the Caliph should allow singing and music in Islamic nations.  The Caliph agreed.  Khaldoun started an annual singing competition for Islamic countries which continues to this day.  It is very much like our Oscars or the Emmys.  All Islamic nations send their best singers to participate in Talavat competition.  I believe Nigeria holds the current championship.  Talavat started in 1355 when Khaldoun was 23 years old. In the history of music, there are no other compositions known to have continuously played.

As an aside: Ibn Khaldoun forwarded the concept of trickledown economics.  One might recall that in 1981, Robert Mundell, Chairman of the late President Reagan’s Board of Economic Advisers, introduced trickledown economics.  He had studied Ibn Khaldoun.  In his writings, Mundell has made numerous references to the 14th century Arab economist.  A Columbia University professor of economics, Mundell conceived and created the Euro.  He is now working on a currency for the Middle East and the Arab world. Any suggestion what it might be called?  Mundell won 1999 Nobel Prize in economics.

Symphony no. 7 by Dmitri Shostakovich, performed by NC Symphony

In its 80th year, the NC Symphony has reached a degree of maturity, predictable excellence, and incredible versatility that is gratifying and admirable.  Recently, the symphony  played back to back the relatively short Mozart ‘s Symphony no 25 in G minor followed by the 75 minute technically demanding and colossal Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 7.  The 104 piece symphony with 26 violins, nine violas, nine cellos, six basses, 13 French Horns, two harps and a complement of piccolos, flutes, oboes, with 10 additional trombones and trumpets housed in the chorale loft of the concert hall, along with an impressive array of percussive instruments, provided a memorable evening.  The music depicted storm of war, softness and tranquility of peace, conflict, and human indignity.  The composition brought to mind synaesthetically, Picasso’s painting the famed Guernica and the tumultuous narrative of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  Guest conductor Carlos Kalmar’s mastery of the music brought Maazelian exactitude and  excellence which allowed for the majesty of the talent of the NCS’s musicians to be fully expressed.

We have professional sports such as football and basketball that get full weekly coverage in the local media.  I wish we would offer equal recognition to our NCS team.

*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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Contemplation On Several Current Topics

“Monday Musings” for Monday October 15, 2012

Volume 2.  No. 37/89

Contemplation On Several Current Topics  

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*


Alcohol and College Sports

While prohibition is often counterproductive, I believe the answer to binging, abuse and unreasonable use of alcohol is education. The answer also lies in curtailing greed and hunger for money. The university leaders ought to cut out advertising of beer from all TV sports. It is sheer greed to have alcohol products sponsoring sports events, and it is sheer hypocrisy for university leaders to tolerate this practice because it produces revenue for their institutions. Ban alcohol ads from all television sports.

Medical Care in America

The fairly comprehensive article “Prescription for Addiction”, WSJ, (Sat/Sun Oct 6-7) was commendable.  Our healthcare establishment is dysfunctional.  American medicine is expensive.  Nearly 20% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on health care.  US medicine is deluged with waste, duplication and overuse.  Patients with no medical home use the most expensive form of medical care, the emergency rooms, and get repeated and often unnecessary scans for every symptoms they present.  I do not blame the emergency room (ER) physicians because they are hounded by malpractice threats.  Over-testing and over-treatment are norms in America.   In my daily practice, I see many patients with brown bags full of medications prescribed by different physicians, ERs, and clinics, each medication prescribed for a symptom, many for treatment of pain.  The patients are often given many other medications that actually cause depression feeding into the pain cycle.  In our culture, we medicalize our social problems and turn to MDs for chemicals for solution which only complicates the problem. We should be aware of iatrogenic addiction, as your article suggests.

On another matter, While my heart goes out to the Kathryn Gullo and her family (news story, N&O, September 11, 2012), I admire her intelligence, intuition and courage to stand up to the healthcare establishment and demand what the additional information the requested MRI would provide to help her baby.  There is no question that American medicine is deluged with waste, duplication and overuse.  Patients with no medical home, use the most expensive form of medicine, emergency rooms,  and get repeated and often unnecessary scans for every symptoms they present.  I do not blame the ER physicians because they are hounded by malpractice threats.  I also, commend the N&O for running another story in the same issue “ Stop testing healthy women for ovarian cancer” which further illustrates over-testing and over-treatment.   Although early detection and prevention are the best form of medical practice, they do not justify overuse and abuse of medical diagnostic tests and procedures.  Kathryn Gullo is right, before you agree to a test, insist upon  knowing what additional information the test provides to help bring solution to

Iatrogenic Addiction

The essay by my learned colleague, Dr. Dan Blazer, “Substance Abuse Disorder in Later Life”, Psychiatric News, August 17, 2012, was most welcome.   I wish to add one more often neglected etiology: iatrogenic.  In their busy practices, colleagues with little time to spend with their patients, seem to prescribe a pill for every symptom.  In my practice, I frequently see patients come in with large brown bags of pills prescribed by one or more physicians.  Often the drug-drug interactions and side effects of prescribed medications go unnoticed.  Addiction to prescribed medications should be addressed seriously in any strategy to combat substance abuse.


The heartwarming story of Royce Jones (June 12) compels me to inform his parents that Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was born prematurely.  Kepler was obsessed with measurement.  His obsession made him calculate his own gestational period to the minute, 224 days, 9 hours, 53 minutes.  So, don’t fret, Royce’s mama may have given birth to a Kepler.

*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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