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Medicine will meet music in program on Tourette Syndrome

January 29, 2016
by Christopher Gardner

Medicine and music will intersect February 26 when Yale University and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra collaborate on a program about Tourette Syndrome (TS).

The morning-long seminar will feature lectures by leading researchers from the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Yale Child Study Center. They will speak about TS, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and sounds called tics.

Between lectures, musicians with TS will perform and discuss how the disorder has impacted, and, in some cases, inspired their work.

The seminar will begin at 8:45 am at Yale’s Davenport College, 248 York St. It is open to the public, and admission is free, although a $20 donation is suggested.

The seminar will be preceded the night before, on February 25, by a performance by the symphony at 7:30 pm at Yale’s Woolsey Hall, 500 College St. The concert, “Beethoven & Brahms,” will include Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor,” and Brahms Symphony No. 2.

It will feature pianist Nick van Bloss, an internationally renowned musician who was diagnosed with TS when he was 21.

Tickets for the concert cost $15 to $74, and may be purchased online at the New Haven Symphony Orchestra website.

Van Bloss will speak about his experience with TS at the seminar at Davenport College. He will be joined by musicians Jason Duika, a tenor, and composer Tobias Picker. Both have TS.

Researchers who will speak about their work with the disorder include Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and in the Child Study Center; Robert A. King, MD, professor in the Child Study Center; and James F. Leckman, MD, PhD, Neison Harris Professor in the Child Study Center and professor of pediatrics.

Pittenger directs the Yale Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Research Clinic. He has studied OCD and related disorders, including TS, to understand “what is going on in the brain with the ultimate goal of treatment.”

People with TS generally begin to exhibit symptoms in childhood. Some examples of physical tics include rapid eye and head movement, and facial grimaces. People with vocal tics may frequently clear their throat, grunt, or repeat words or phrases out loud.

Pittenger said he will discuss how TS impacts the brain, then speculate how some musicians use their TS as a source of creativity.

“You don’t have to think about it always (as an impediment),” said Elaine Carroll, executive director of the symphony. “Here are all these talented people. Part of the reason why they may be so talented is because they have this syndrome.”

Pittenger said he was contacted by William Boughton, music director and principal conductor of the symphony, to discuss how to marry music and medicine into a program that would educate and entertain.

Carroll said Boughton heard van Bloss perform, and was aware he had TS. He asked him to play with the symphony in conjunction with the seminar program organized by Pittenger.

“I think the idea that music has a healing capability for the mind has intrigued (Boughton) for a long time,” Carroll said.

Pittenger said he looks forward to presenting to a heterogeneous audience of scientists, musicians, and people from the community who want to learn more about TS and its relationship with music.

Seminar Schedule

8:45 am: Welcome by Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD

9:00 am: Introduction to Tourette Syndrome by Robert A. King, MD

9:30 am: Making Music with Tourette by Jason Duika, tenor

10:00 am: Making Music with Tourette by Tobias Picker, composer

11:00 am: The Effects of Tourette Syndrome by Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD

11:30 am: Making Music with Tourette by Nick van Bloss, piano

12:00 pm: Round Table Discussion and Q&A by James F. Leckman, MD, PhD, moderator

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on January 29, 2016