Masayuki Amagai Dean, Keio University School of Medicine (Title at that time)
Professor, Department of Dermatology
Yoichi Kitayama Guest Professor (Part-time), Faculty of Environment and Information Studies,
Yohko Watanabe Professor, Keio University Art Center
Vice Director, Keio Museum Commons
(Names listed in alphabetical order by last name)
Kitayama: In the past, music and science were seen as incompatible, but in the 1990s, a trend emerged to study music from the perspective and framework of science. The x-Music Laboratory, launched at Shonan Fujisawa Campus (SFC), is just one example. The power of medicine is necessary to study music, and I would like to use our strengths as a comprehensive university to connect music with medicine.
Amagai: I think it's terrific that Keio University has an appreciation for art as a comprehensive university. I believe it is the power of a university to provide a place where people can witness the chemistry between art and science and how that interplay influences young people.
Hospitals are inherently sterile environments, as their top priority is medical safety and avoiding the risk of infection. But that sterility can have an adverse effect on the way we feel. Illness and emotion are linked, so, as medical professionals, an inability to feel would risk not saving the people who need saving. How can art and medicine collaborate in the future?
Kitayama: I'm interested in the medical mechanism of how people perceive the same music in different ways, not to mention whether they like it or not. I’m also interested in synchronicity. I'd like to know more about the reaction mechanisms when people emit sounds together, such as singing along to a rhythm.
I also think that musicians, when collaborating on a piece of music, often have the skill to respect one other while expressing their own views. Good music doesn’t come from simply conforming to what other people think. Training to create music also fosters a person's social skills, which may link up with the education of medical professionals. That’s one reason I’d like to make this a research topic for myself.
Since being asked to participate in this interview, I have been thinking about how I can contribute to people on the frontlines in medicine. I wonder what I can do to help since they all have different genres of music and art that they like.
Watanabe: COVID-19 has been suffocating in many ways, causing our lives to become more monotonous as they become more and more sterile to avoid risk by process of elimination. I think music and art can provide a break from the usual routine. Amid the anxieties of avoiding infection, exposure to songs and images can guarantee a moment of respite where we can feel something different.
I heard about people in Italy singing on their balconies to thank frontline medical workers. By singing out loud, they must have felt liberated as well. In a monotonous world fraught with the coronavirus, music may be the vent that lets people blow off some steam.
Kitayama: Hearing that is like déjà vu... When the earthquake hit, it took me a long time before I finally went to the disaster area to sing. I wondered if it might be violent to hurl music at the people whose houses were still covered in mud and who were suffering from the disaster. I even wondered if it was okay to sing or if there was any point in making music. However, I was asked by someone who knew from experience that it would be very helpful to bring music to the volunteers working in the disaster area, and I was able to work with them on several occasions. In fact, there were times when hardworking volunteers came back to the volunteer center and burst into tears when they heard our music.
I was so worried about how difficult it was to find a way to fit music into the anxiety of frontline medicine, but after hearing your ideas, I think that relaxing, light background music might be the best option.
Watanabe: I exhibited works that had a deep connection to the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011 at the Art Center on April 7, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. After the state of emergency was declared, the university closed down, so we knew we couldn't realistically open the exhibition that day, but the entire staff felt that we really had to keep it open. Now that I think about it, I think I just wanted the exhibition to exist. I didn’t want to lose to the pandemic.
After that, I continued to share information in every possible way, including videos of installing the exhibition. I have been involved in art exhibitions for almost 30 years, but this was the first time I was unable to open an exhibition. It was such a relief to visit the exhibition space once a week to see how it was doing. Part of me wanted to let people know that the exhibition “existed,” but now that I look back, I think that I was the one who was saved by its existence.
Amagai: Having an exhibition to beat the virus must have been a huge motivation amid the surge of COVID-19. Something very similar happened to us at the School of Medicine. When COVID-19 started to spread in 2020, medical professionals engaged on the frontlines were focused on providing the best medical care to patients. But among the basic medical scientists who had less direct contact with COVID-19 patients, there was a spontaneous movement in early April to ask ourselves what we could do to beat the virus.
For example, researchers who had previously only done human genetic analysis started genetic analysis on viruses. We all started to think about what we could do with our skills.
Shibasaburo Kitasato, the first dean of the School of Medicine, was the first person in the world to discover the plague bacillus in a trying time when plague broke out in the 1890s. His spirit of perseverance seems to have been passed on to our school today, and there was tremendous energy with everyone united in the fight against COVID-19. It was also an opportunity for me to realize what I could do in my current position.
The coronavirus pandemic has made me question my values. I couldn't go to conferences or go on overseas business trips because of the virus, but I think that time has helped me reevaluate my career and become more grounded.
Lastly, may I have your comments about what good you have seen come out of the coronavirus pandemic and how you will draw on these lessons in a post-pandemic world?
Amagai: What you've just suggested really hits home for me. There are so many people at the School of Medicine who enjoy art and music, so wouldn’t it be nice if we could tie them together.
In 2020, I was scheduled to preside over the annual meeting of the Japanese Dermatological Association at the Kyoto International Conference Center. The Dermato Orchestra, an orchestra formed by dermatologists from all over Japan, was even slated to perform Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9.” They practiced all year, but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to get together and perform. But it showed me that where there’s a will, there’s a way, so I really hope we can create more chances for collaboration between medicine and art.
Watanabe: One of the best things that happened to me during the pandemic was that it changed the way I teach. Under the circumstances, we had to move classes entirely online, so I wanted to make them something that would leave a lasting impression and hit upon the idea for a class called “Considering the Unseen Exhibition.” Like the art center exhibition we held when the university was closed, we held classes on demand and asked students to write around ten essays on how to communicate when an exhibition is on but not open. I gave a hearty response of around 100 characters to every essay, so there was a sense of one-on-one interaction and intensive communication despite the lack of face time.
While they may seem worlds apart, there are many links between them, and you never know what can come out of partnerships between them. I think we can look forward to the prospect of future collaborations.