Dr. Ben Levy is a physician; he's also an accomplished cellist. He merges both the medical and musical facets of his life, using music to promote public health.
It was Queen and Elton John's joint AIDS-awareness concerts that first inspired Levy to blend the two. "They helped define the way we build health education campaigns, [and make them] bold, entertaining, and fun," said Levy, the Division Head of Gastroenterology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Levy's first effort was the six-city "Music Inspires Health" concert tour, which he created while still in medical school at Emory University. Before their performance, the musicians would impart health information to the young adult attendees.
Today, Levy is using a similar approach with his online "Concerts & Cocktails" series on Sunday evenings, to spread information about COVID-19.
The 90- minute events intersperse presentations from frontline doctors between musical performances. There will be an event on Sunday, September 13, at 6:00 p.m.
One benefit to the series is that audience members can interact with various medical professionals instantly, sharing medical knowledge and insights on the psychological effects of the quarantine. "And unlike on the news, the public doesn't get the medical perspective from the same doctors over and over," Levy noted.
At his TEDx talk in June--now on YouTube, titled "Motivating Health Education with Music"--Levy first dedicated a cello rendition of Yom Kippur's
prayer to those who died of COVID-19 and those who are still fighting it.
He then outlined six pointers for using music to promote public health. These run from realizing that every sort of expertise-- in both arts and sciences-- can be used to share public-health information, to finding out what the audience wants to know, and empowering them to make informed decisions. The video can be found here:
Growing up in Savannah, Georgia, Levy took up the cello in fifth grade. His family, he said, was instrumental in Savannah Jewish life. "My family helped found Congregation Mickve Israel-- the third-oldest Jewish congregation in America-- there in 1733." Levy said. "They also brought over the two oldest Torahs in the country."
Levy eventually earned a Fulbright fellowship to study music in Paris; his topic was Nazi-suppressed music. By then, he had already earned earned Hillel International's Elie Wiesel Award for the conference he created on that topic while still in college.
Today, Levy co-chairs the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Overture Council for its young professionals. When the council's events were canceled due to the pandemic, Levy began brainstorming alternative concert ideas-- and landed upon leveraging musicians to create a COVID-19 information campaign.
Concerts & Cocktails, which launched in May, has featured music ranging from classical to hip-hop to country. Many of the featured musicians are Jewish: members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Civic Orchestra; the Jacobsen brothers, members of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble; Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ari Hest; and singer-director Jacob Feldman, who has performed both
Fiddler on the Roof
Pirates of Penzance
in Yiddish. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine also performed for the series.
The series is a win-win for all parties. "The musicians have a venue to play, and a way to thank medical professionals," Levy said. "The healthcare workers get to share information free from media or political interference, directly to the public. And the audience is informed and entertained, while being able to socialize with each other and interact with the doctors and the artists."
To learn more about the Concerts & Cocktails series, check out their Facebook page.
Sinai Health System is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.