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Loving my father's job as a doctor


'The house was full of music'
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The house was... was full of music. There were... there were two pianos there, an upright and a... and a grand piano. They were both Bechsteins.

My older brothers were to practice and play on the grand piano and I and Michael did a little tinkling on the upright piano. Marcus played the clarinet, David played the flute. We sometimes had chamber music concerts in which my father would play the piano and string players and others would come in. My mother was, in a way, rather unmusical or perhaps... no, I’m putting it the wrong way around. My father was intensely musical. He would come back from concerts and play everything by ear and play around with it. He’d play a popular song as if Bach had written it or as if Bartók had written it. He had a very, very good ear and he... he always had loose pockets containing miniature orchestral scores, and when he had a minute to spare, he would... he would look at these.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Johann Sebastian Bach, Béla Bartók

Duration: 1 minute, 29 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012