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The events that led up to The Mind's Eye


'I have no excuse not to practise the piano!'
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Here I am, basically having... having taken up music... taken up piano again at the age of 75, 74... 75 and I think Faine is a marvellous teacher. She’s really too... too good for me. I’m just not musical enough and not pianistic enough or, at least, I feel I’m not, but she somehow feels I am. And the only time she gets upset with me is if I don’t practice and if I say, 'I'm sorry, I was lazy, I was feeling depressed’, she... she says, 'It’s unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable!'  She said you must practice whatever your mood is and however you’re feeling. And the... she allowed me to not practice for a while and fairly recently I... I had a wrist injury, but... but otherwise there are no excuses. And my neighbour here won’t tolerate piano playing after nine at night, but I usually try and play between eight and nine and also to have a little practice period in the morning. So, music has added to my life very much. It was always part of my life. I grew up in a musical household. My father was immensely musical and so was one of my brothers. Indeed, there are some compositions here by David Sacks my brother, who I think, had he not become a doctor, would’ve become a professional musician. He was a wonderful jazz pianist and facile in the best sense, a gifted improviser in almost any idiom. He was deeply at home in music, and all the scales, and all the modes in a way which, alas, I am not.

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: David Sacks, Faine Wright

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012