From surgery to sonata

May 1, 2007

Kenneth Rosenthal, MD, FACS, is a talented pianist and finds satisfaction in mastering a complicated piece of music just as he does in successfully completing a complex surgery.

Key Points

"What did develop was my love of music," he said.

The Great Neck, NY, ophthalmologist wowed his audience that day with his musical skills, adding "talented musician" to his already impressive list of credits.

"I realized that choosing a career in medicine would allow me the luxury of enjoying two pursuits that I love, and that I could continue with music as an avocation," said Dr. Rosenthal. "I have the best of both worlds."

Keeping time

Dr. Rosenthal said he usually plays the piano for an hour each day and continues with semi-weekly lessons. "Sometimes, on the weekends, I play all afternoon," he admitted.

"The demands of my clinical practice and research, including a rigorous schedule of travel to lecture at meetings internationally, makes it a constant challenge to engineer the time I need to play and practice," Dr. Rosenthal said.

He said he performs regularly for family and friends, and also performs publicly from time to time, such as his session at the AAO. He also is planning a benefit concert for an ophthalmic charitable foundation that he founded.

Dr. Rosenthal plays a Baldwin Concert Grand piano at home, which he bought through the artist division at Baldwin. Before he acquired it, the piano was used extensively for performances by the late pianist Jorge Bolet, a renowned expert in Liszt and a former chairman of the piano department at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

"It is a unique and sonorous instrument that enhances my enjoyment of playing and helps me with technical challenges," Dr. Rosenthal said.

Similar skills

Dr. Rosenthal said he believes that many of the skills acquired in learning the piano aid in his surgical performance as well. "Music is relaxation and an emotional outlet for me," he said. "It is a great adjunct for surgical skills. Playing the piano, like surgery, involves doing a number of tasks at once, using hands and feet together. It's a matter of training the mind, timing, and the ability to concentrate. Musicians have been multitasking for years."

The need for careful attention to detail is critical in surgery and in playing classical music.

Physically, playing the piano loosens up the fingers and maintains strength in the hands, and both effects are essential for a surgeon.

But Dr. Rosenthal said he plays to relax. "It's a challenge that results in something pleasing. There is a similar satisfaction in mastering a Beethoven sonata as in completing a successful, complex operation," he said.

A special concert

Dr. Rosenthal, in his first performance at an AAO meeting, played a special piano in Las Vegas, graciously loaned by Bösendorfer of Las Vegas, and chose two of his favorite classical pieces to share: Debussy's "Claire de Lune" and Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu."