Working@Duke Editor's Note: August/September 2019

By Leanora Minai
August/September, 2019 Issue

The Power of Music

This year, as part of my coursework in Duke's Graduate Liberal Studies program, I took "The Experience of Music: Social, Emotional and Transcendental."

Taught by Thomas Brothers, professor of Music and author of Louis Armstrong's New Orleans, the class exposed me to the work of Armstrong, genres of African-American music and composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Schubert and Claude Debussy.

I loved the class because it sparked within me a new appreciation for music and helped me understand the deeper role music plays in our lives. As you'll learn from our story on page 13, music touches us. It evokes a feeling, an emotion. It can help us feel calm and help us concentrate when we're working on something.

In an article last year for The New York Times, "Yo- Yo Ma Wants Bach to Save the World," Zachary Woolfe points to the power of music. He describes how Yo-Yo Ma's manager finds comfort from Ma's performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's cello suites.

In the article, Woolfe quotes Ma's manager: "It has helped me through challenging times, with a death in the family. It completely calmed me of ridiculous jitters the morning of my wedding. I was more than a little jittery, and I asked my husband to please put it on for me."


Through my graduate school class, I found new music to love and discovered a hobby. I bought a record player. I purchased the analog machine because I want to transport myself through history, perhaps get a little closer to the real thing – pops, dust particles and all.

I now borrow a variety of records from Duke University Libraries. Among the selections are Debussy's Greatest Hits and Don Shirley Plays Gershwin. Some nights, after I return home from work, I place an LP on the turntable, turn up the volume and relax and chat with my wife Heather about the day.

I've also expanded my library on iTunes. I enjoy a variety of playlists and albums, including "Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings" by Aretha Franklin. You'll find a song from that album, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand/You've Got a Friend," on a special Working@Duke playlist we curated just for you on Spotify.

We hope you enjoy the songs; please listen at

*Headshot courtesy of Jenn Chambers, Graduate Liberal Studies classmate.