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Supporting the Art of Medicine

Music soothes the soul, but it also powerfully impacts the mind — acting as a source of happiness, stimulant of focus, and a relief from stress. Stephen C. Peiper, M.D., (Med, ‘77) recognized the impact of music throughout his years at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, thanks to the influence of his mother, Gwendolyn Peiper. 

A student playing a piano and the first annual music in medicine memorial event

“When I was in medical school, my mother commissioned a harpsichord from a prominent maker,” Peiper said. “I would play the harpsichord, eat, go to sleep and wake up in the middle of the night to study. I realized that it was a stress reduction process for me.” 

Following Gwendolyn’s passing, Peiper and his wife, Zi-Xuan “Zoe” Wang, Ph.D., wanted to honor her legacy as a beloved piano teacher in the St. Louis area. This led to their gift of multiple pianos to the SLU community and an established endowment for a yearly piano concert called the Gwendolyn Peiper Music in Medicine Program. 

This past September, the program hosted its first piano concert in the Pitlyk Auditorium for students and the SLU Medical School community. Nine students performed during the concert and said they played the pianos frequently for practice, pleasure, and stress relief.

The program offers opportunities to showcase music talents, relieve tension, and foster an overall appreciation for music among medical students and the greater SLU community. Additionally, greater collaboration between the School of Medicine and the music program will inspire and benefit the broader SLU community.

“Partnerships between music programs and medical schools are few and far between,” said Aaron Johnson, D.M.A, associate professor and director of the SLU music program. “We are giving students the opportunity to explore and practice something deeply meaningful to them — showing there is room for the arts in STEM education.” 

Since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the need for wellness programs within medical education has only grown. Lauren Schwarz, Ph.D., assistant dean of student affairs, explained that having adequate resources for mental health rivals the importance of a student’s education. Programs like this show our support for students’ lives outside of the classroom and recognize that listening and practicing music is a major aspect of well-being. 

“By showing students that we care for them as people, we demonstrate care for their minds, bodies, and spirits,” Schwarz said. “We want them to know that for themselves so they can model it for their peers and, ultimately, their patients.” 

Through this and other existing wellness initiatives, Peiper believes we will produce more humane, creative and compassionate physicians. 

Stephen C. Peiper, and his wife Zi-Xuan "Zoe" Wang, Ph.D. in front of a pciture of Gwendolyn Peiper
Stephen C. Peiper, and his wife Zi-Xuan "Zoe" Wang, Ph.D. in front of a picture of Gwendolyn Peiper

"If you foster creativity, it won't be limited to creativity in a musical instrument or art,” Peiper said. “It will enrich the whole spectrum of an individual's capacity. The things that make us more creative will make us smarter.”