Articles and Case Studies

What I Learnt from Music

01 Jun 2017

Dr Lily Vrtik

by Dr Lily Vrtik


I remember feeling confused as a 17-year-old when my parents told me to apply for medicine and to forget about my beloved music scholarship.

So now, recalling the tears, tantrums and sacrifices I had made for music during my childhood, I recently asked my mother, “So why did you spend all that money and effort on my musical education?” She simply smiled and said, “Where would you be today, if you hadn’t learnt music?”

“Music has taught me discipline, humility, diligence, insight, initiative, integrity and perspective.
I'm sure it's no coincidence that I was drawn to a career in plastic and reconstructive surgery, a creative and artistic specialty.”

Practice, theory and more practice

It all began when I started on the piano at the age of six. Practice was the last thing I wanted to do. But after multiple tantrums and spending half of my piano lessons in the naughty corner, I learnt that sometimes there were things I had to do even if I didn’t feel like it.

Before my fourth grade flute exam, I was told to learn my music theory about the pieces I was presenting. With the conceit of a nine-year-old, I decided my playing would speak for itself and demonstrate my immense musical talent! Needless to say, the report taught me that the difference between a distinction and a credit was in knowing the musical principles and basic foundations.

A lesson in humility

The biggest catastrophe happened when I was 12 and invited to play in a recital. As I had performed these pieces many times by memory, I left my music book at home. Midway through my performance, I looked down at the keyboard and, suddenly, I just could not recall what notes came next. The music came to a dead stop. I paid for my arrogance that day, as I stood up in the middle of a Bach Fugue, bowed to a silent audience and walked off the stage.

To make matters worse, I was also due to perform in the second half of the concert. My piano teacher found me curled up in a corner backstage, willing myself to be invisible. She gave me the option of leaving the concert. She also told me that if I didn’t have the courage to stand up in front of those people again, I might as well retire from my performance career at the grand old age of 12. So I walked back on stage and played a complete Mozart Sonata from start to finish, without music. It was my first standing ovation.

Learning to accept criticism

As a belligerent 14-year-old, I was introduced to a public piano masterclass with a world-renowned pianist from Europe who was infamous for his bad temper. I was frustrated with him stopping me every few notes to correct what I considered to be minor points. The masterclass ended with me slamming the piano lid, and Albert announcing to the observers that he had never heard anyone massacre Chopin as brutally as I did. Two weeks later, I learnt that my piano teacher had called in favours to get me into the masterclass, and my shameful behaviour reflected badly on her as a teacher. Also, listening to my mother’s recording of the session, I realised all the little changes he made me do completely transformed my performance.

Nothing beats hard work

At 16, as part of a national competition, I had to perform music by Rachmaninov – a composer famous for his abnormally large hands. For my size 6 surgical-glove hands, playing his music was physically impossible. That’s when I discovered that “impossible” could be overcome by finding alternative ways to play eight notes concurrently over four octaves. And that the only way to perfect a technique was with hours of practice. In the end, nothing else but hard work, determination and tenacity got me the dream scholarship I thought was out of my reach.

Connecting the dots between music and medicine

Growing up with music was more than just reading black dots on lines. It has taught me discipline, humility, diligence, insight, initiative, integrity, and perspective – to name just a few. These are qualities that have guided me throughout my surgical training and career, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that I was drawn to plastic and reconstructive surgery, a creative and artistic specialty.

Mother was right. I would not be where I am today, if I hadn’t learnt music.

Dr Lily Vrtik (MDA National Member)
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon
Brisbane, Queensland

Dr Lily Vrtik

Dr Lily Vrtik is a flautist in the Queensland Medical Orchestra (QMO). She is also QMO’s Marketing Manager.

Doctors Health and Wellbeing, Employment Essentials, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME


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