Split Personalities: Music for the Psychiatrist's Soul

Publication
Article
MDNG PsychiatryJune 2008
Volume 9
Issue 3

W. Vaughn McCall, MD, MS, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, spends his days practicing psychiatry and his nights playing in a rock band.

W. Vaughn McCall, MD, MS, professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, spends his days practicing psychiatry and his nights playing in a rock band. We spoke with Dr. McCall about the band and how playing helps him to relieve the stress of practicing medicine.

What is the name of your band? What kind of music do you play?

We’re The Pedestrians, and we’re primarily a cover band, playing mostly classic rock and electric blues. Our guitarist is an anesthesiologist, the drummer works as a strategic planner at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the singer is a project manager in the psychiatry department, and I play the electric bass guitar.

Do you find it difficult to get together to practice and play with everyone’s schedules?

It is diffi cult. What helps is that three out of the four of us have been playing together since 1993—1994; about 14 years. Sunday nights are our practice night. We try to protect that time so we can all make the practices together. Th e truth is that we don’t make it every Sunday. It’s great if we can get together two or three times a month.

How often does the band play gigs?

It’s been increasing lately. Ten years ago, if we played three times a year, that would have been a lot. Since late last summer, we’ve been playing about once a month. One of the reasons that we’ve been playing more is because we’ve started to play at 50-year-olds’ birthday parties. Most of our audience is about our age, and they appreciate our song selection—music from the 60s and 70s. We created a MySpace page, which allows us to post up to four songs for free.

How has playing in the band helped you as a psychiatrist?

It’s a great stress reliever. If you’re playing in a band and are trying to hold up your responsibility for your instrument, it means that you’re entirely concentrating on playing your instrument at that moment, and if you’re concentrating on playing the instrument, it means that you can’t be thinking about tomorrow’s case load. It’s almost impossible to properly do your job as a musician and simultaneously be worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s a way to completely let go of everything else.

Some other benefi ts of playing in a band include meeting people who you might otherwise not have ever had the chance to meet, and you have to make compromises in music selection and taste, so your band members will introduce you to new artists and styles of music that you might not have known.

How do you find time to play music and practice medicine?What helps is the fact that we’ve all played our instruments for a long time. I got my first electric bass guitar when I was 14, and I’m now almost 50. Thirty-six years of experience with your instrument puts you at an advantage. If I get my hands on my instrument once or twice a week, that’s about all I really need to be at least minimally proficient. The other thing that helps is that because we’re a bunch of old farts playing old music, a lot of the music that we play at birthday parties is the same that we played in high school and college—we’re still playing the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. That doesn’t mean we never pick up new material; we do. We’re always adding new songs here and there. Some of the material is just stuff that we grew up with. There’s not a lot of memorization, because it’s so ingrained in our brains. It’s just part of who we are.

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