Flautist Austin Lee is a medical student performing in the NSW Doctors Orchestra concert on May 15th, which raises funds for the NSW Doctors Orchestra Sydney Eisteddfod Instrumental Scholarship and the Save Sight Institute.
Mr Lee talked to the Sydney Eisteddfod about his love of music, how young players can become better performers and the therapeutic uses of music in the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. He is a student at the University of NSW continuing his degree at St Vincent’s Hospital.
When did you start playing the flute? How did it come about?
When I was 8. I started playing the flute when I saw a flautist busking on a street! I also loved the fact that it is very small and light!
Why do you enjoy playing this instrument?
The sound of a flute seems to have a magical effect on me - it relieves stress, helps me focus, and makes me smile.
How do you prepare for a performance?
Consistent practice (e.g. 30 minutes every day) with a metronome and strong attention to details
You also teach the flute. What are some of the ‘pearls of wisdom’ you’ve acquired over the years that you pass on to your students?
Practise positively! This has two meanings: Focus on as many details as possible while you practise to avoid reinforcing bad habits (i.e. negative practice). And practise with a positive attitude - imagine how much better you will sound and how many extra people you will please next time you play.
How did your involvement with Musicus Medicus come about?
I firstly thought Musicus Medicus was just for doctors, but one of my colleagues told me last year that medical students could also join! I then registered immediately.
What have been some of the highlights of your instrumentalist career?
Solo performance with the UNSW Symphony Orchestra , masterclasses with internationally renowned flautists such as Jane Rutter, Alexa Still and Geoffrey Collins, completing my Licentiate level flute exam (LTCL) with distinction, and joining the Musicus Medicus with huge piccolo solos for me play in the upcoming concert!
You have an interest in neurology, in particular the use of music therapy to treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Can you elaborate on how music therapy is helpful?
The power of music to unleash memories and induce positive emotions in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's has been observed in numerous studies and is currently regarded as one of the greatest findings in clinical neurology. However, the scientific validation of this neuropsychological phenomenon has always been an issue due to the controversial analytical tools and frameworks used in various studies. I would love to participate in this complicated yet fascinating research field and potentially discover an effective treatment strategy that can help cure neurodegenerative disorders.
Are you looking forward to graduating in two years time?
Yes! 2016 is my 6th year out of the 7-year Arts/Medicine combined program (majoring in music for the Arts component, of course!) and although it has been a fantastic journey/learning experience so far, I think 7 years of studies is more than enough.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
My ultimate goal is to become a neurologist and a flautist with a balanced lifestyle; or "a medical flautist who cures, teaches, performs and does research".