By Dr. Jim Ferguson

You may not be aware of it, but Knoxville is in possession of a jewel. No, I’m not referring to the Knoxville Zoo or the University of Tennessee, both great aspects of our community. I’m referring to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.  Recently, my brother and I attended the KSO performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and my soul was filled.

I suspect my love for classical music came from Saturday morning Merry Melody and Looney Tunes cartoons. I was introduced to Rossini by the “Rabbit of Seville” (Bugs Bunny) and to Straus by the Maestro of “Corney-Gie Hall” who couldn’t pronounce Rs (Elmer Fudd). My parents enjoyed music and encouraged my brothers and me even if our exposure to great music was in cartoons. My mom’s three boys weren’t musically gifted; we played sports and later chased girls, but our love of great music, instilled in youth, is still with us today.

I hadn’t attended the Knoxville Symphony since the new Maestro, Aram Demirjian came to lead our outstanding symphonic orchestra. For many years I had season tickets to the Knoxville Opera (another jewel), but my cadre of opera ladies, one by one, wandered away, and I finally did so as well. My wife Becky is a wonderful person, but sitting still for several hours is not her cup of tea.

I was attracted to the program on May 18 featuring Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, one of my favorites. This Symphony is the epitome of the classical era and has the recognizable musical motif (short-short-short-long or “da, da, da, daaa”):     And KSO’s rendition of Maestro Beethoven’s symphony was marvelous, bringing a standing ovation and shouts of “Bravo!” However, there was much more to the program.

The first thing I noticed on entering the beautiful Tennessee Theater was that none of the musicians was wearing a tuxedo, and many of the men were not wearing ties (I’m not being critical because neither was I). And when our new Maestro came on stage, he picked up a microphone and connected with the audience, explaining the music we were to hear. Our new Maestro is not your staid and formal conductor. He is young, hip, energetic and has an engaging stage presence.

Maestro Demirjian informed us that the theme of the evening was “bad boy” nonconformist composers. It’s hard to think of Beethoven as being nonconformist, but his 5th Symphony was radical and a cutting edge work in 1808.

The other half of the program was devoted to more modern bad boys, and included  the Romantic era composer Richard Strauss. Our Maestro explained Stauss’ tone poem as the story of a prankster told through musical themes. Mason Bates’ Mothership (2011) invoked in me memories of music from the first Star Trek movie. Lastly, John Williams Escapades from the movie Catch Me if You Can (2002) featured a virtuoso saxophonist with the symphony. And through it all, the instrumental music was accompanied by computer generated sounds and choreographed with changing colors across the Tennessee Theatre’s Moorish ceiling. The computer “music” made me think of the celesta created for the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the 1892 Nutcracker Ballet by Tchaikovsky.

There is a character in the Seinfeld sitcom known as The Maestro. He conducts a small band, but his opinion of himself is ridiculously larger. Our Maestro deserves the title. His 21st century style and energy are infectious and his gesticulations as he leads the orchestra are a show in themselves. I can see why he is slender. His workouts aren’t done at the gym, but from the conductor’s podium.

I believe doctors are conductors of medical care. I don’t wave a baton like Maestro Demirjian, but I listen, explain and direct my patient’s medical care.

I serve on the editorial board of the Tennessee Medical Journal, and I’m writing an editorial for the next edition. My essay is a retrospective of my era of medicine. I can write this from experience. I graduated from medical school in 1975, and I’ve practiced internal medicine and geriatrics for more than forty years. Bob Dylan once sang, “Oh the times they are a changin.” Yes, they are.

I wonder why politicos don’t ask the opinion of those who have spent a lifetime in the trenches of medicine? But that would be logical and Washington is anything but that. Arguably, why would John McCain or Chuck Schumer even care what I think? It is obvious, they don’t.

Today, I sent records to a patient’s cardiologist after I diagnosed his paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, got another patient’s medication changed to something his insurance would cover, changed another patient’s prescription to hopefully a more effective agent, managed a patient’s post operative pain and obstipation, and refilled medications for another patient moving out of state and out of my care.

These days much of my practice is answering questions, analyzing concerns and being an advocate for my patients. Often, I metaphorically talk patients off the ledge instead of going to the ER by allaying their fears and making symptoms and the arcane understandable. My concierge business card reads, “Advice, Advocacy and Treatment.” My patients contact me directly by phone, text, email, FaceTime or Skype. And I make house calls in my truck. A medical supply company and the Cigna insurance company were shocked when they called my “office” regarding two of my patients, and I picked up the phone. They were used to leaving a message with office personnel and hoping for a reply.

These days, much is being discussed of revisions to Obama-care. Talking heads and self described experts speak of millions covered by Obama’s signature legislation. I believe there is a big difference between having insurance coverage and being able to access medical care. If the deductible is beyond one’s means, who will go for care even if they’re sick? So beware of what you hear from the media, “experts” and Washington.

I am the Maestro for my patients. I take that responsibility as a sacred trust. Make sure your conductor is listening to you and is your advocate. You’re worth it.