I'm a history buff and a music lover . . . so when I first heard about James Markert's latest novel, A White Wind Blew, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the author! Set in the late 1920s in TB-ridden Louisville, Kentucky, A White Wind Blew follows Wolfgang Pike, a doctor-musician-almost priest, through his journey of healing and self-discovery. Below, the Markert elaborates on the "musical medicine" thread—music therapy was not a formal profession in the 1920s—woven throughout his story.

Question: Where did you come up with the concept of “musical medicine”?


James Markert:

My sister-in-law is a music therapist, so that was certainly part of it.  But during the tuberculosis epidemic there was no cure.  They relied on good food, fresh air, plenty of rest, and experimental procedures that were often barbaric, like removing ribs, collapsing lungs, removing portions of lungs.  Even in the heart of winter they wheeled the patients out on the solarium porches so that they could breathe in the air.  They were desperate.  I wanted my main character, Dr. Wolfgang Pike, to be a pioneer.  I wanted him to help heal with something unique, something that would boost morale, and if he couldn’t find a medical cure he’d create an atmosphere where the mind could be at peace.  Waverly is high on a wooded hillside, where I imagined music would really carry.  I imagined him making rounds, taking requests, playing music.  Instead of carrying medical tools in his bag, he carried instruments.  And since music therapy wasn’t technically a profession yet, he referred to it as “musical medicine”.  Amadeus was one of my favorite movies in high school, and I’ve always wanted to write something moving and historical and musical, and hopefully I’ve done that with A White Wind Blew.

Q: In your novel, you touch on several therapeutic effects music can have both on an individual and a group level, e.g. physical, emotional, and social effects. How did you research this? Did you draw on personal experience? Consult an expert? Both?

JM: I did talk to my sister-in-law about it, and she’s an expert, but I really drew most of it from personal experience, not so much with music therapy but with the power of music in general.  I knew how music made me feel.  How music naturally makes kids dance and it makes people smile.  Music brings back memories.  It revs us up.  It calms us down.  And honestly, because Wolfgang is a pioneer for a profession that had yet to be fully realized, I didn’t want to research “modern music therapy” too much.  I didn’t want to mix the modern techniques with the historic backdrop.  I wanted Wolfgang to feel his way through it, blaze his own path.

Q: Another idea you draw out is the resistance some people have towards a non “traditional” treatment approach. This resistance is something that, as a music therapist, I often have to address or work with. How did this idea come about for your story?

JM: Well, in any good story there needs to be tension.  What Wolfgang was doing at Waverly was certainly non-traditional, so I needed the establishment to go against it, and Dr. Barker was the perfect choice.  Medicine is not the only answer to healing.  In some cases, of course, it has to be, but for anyone to say that music therapy is not “medical” is missing the boat.  Take the typical human and dredge them through five gray and rainy days in a row and see how much their spirits lift on the day the sun comes out.  Music can be the same.  It can be that sunshine on a rainy day.  That song that makes us remember our youth, that song that brings a smile to a face that may have forgotten how to, that song that makes us want to fight another day.

Q: At one point, music seems to work as a buffer against prejudice. What was your inspiration for that storyline?

JM: I just think that music, by nature, brings people together.  It lifts spirits, brightens days, regardless of creed, color, or religion.  The music in A White Wind Blew just made it seem natural to bring the main sanatorium together with the “colored” sanatorium down the hillside.  There’s a line in the novel that says, “Bullets don’t care what color the skin is.” And I don’t think music cares either.  The blacks and whites in the story may have been in different buildings, but they were ALL suffering from the same disease.  As one of the chapters begins: “Tuberculosis doesn’t discriminate.”  The musicians, differences aside, will unite against a common foe.

Q: For those who read A White Wind Blew and are interested in more, what can we look forward to next from you?

JM: I’m 360 pages into my next book, The Strange Case of Isaac Crawley, and it will be similar in tone and scope to A White Wind Blew.  It takes place in the late 1800s and instead of music and a tuberculosis sanatorium it involves the theatre scene and a lunatic asylum, as well as a love story, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a lunatic dance, and a slew of sculptures.  Quite a cast of characters, I promise.  I love the arts, and I like to put those themes in anything I write.  At some point I’d love to write something musically themed again.  Maybe I can continue Wolfgang into WWII…  I’m also working on a historical fiction series about ghosts, the arts, and art history.  The first book is The Book of Jonah (I’ve already written draft one, Jonah is a painter who died in 1939).  The second book is The Book of Julia (she makes mosaics in Pompeii, and died when Mount Vesuvius erupted).  It’ll be a long series, and all the books will be linked.  But I’m really proud of A White Wind Blew, and I hope it stays relevant for a long time to come.  Fingers crossed on it becoming a movie!

About James Markert

James Markert is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and tennis professional from Louisville, KY. His first movie, a romantic comedy called 2nd Serve starring Josh Hopkins, Guillermo Diaz, Cameron Monoghan, and Kevin Sussman, will be released nationally late this summer. Learn more about A White Wind Blew here.

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website, www.MusicTherapyMaven.com, for additional information, resources, and strategies.

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