Tuberculosis. Prohibition. Segregation. The Great War. The KKK. Faith. Musical medicine.
These are many of the themes interwoven in James Markert’s latest novel, A White Wind Blew. 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. Markert is a talented storyteller. He brought his characters to life and his novel was difficult to set down—a solid indication of an entertaining story.
As a music therapist, what primarily piqued my interest was the “musical medicine” storyline. Although the roots of music therapy as a formal profession in the US did not start until the mid-1940s, the idea of using music for “healing” was first documented in the late 1700s. In the span of those 150 years, there is documentation of music being used in hospital, mental health, and special education-types of settings. To my knowledge, this may be the first fictional portrayal of what that might have looked like and the effect music—or in Dr. Pike’s case, “musical medicine”—had on patients.
What is striking about Markert’s portrayal of musical medicine is how he touches on the diverse ways music can have an effect on us. Without giving the story away, Dr. Pike’s musical medicine has physical, emotional, and social effects on the TB patients and staff at the hospital, Waverly Hills. In addition, the reader gets a sense of the resistance some feel towards a treatment that does not fall in line, in their eyes, with traditional Western medicine. This resistance is something many music therapists continue to feel today.
In conclusion, I recommend reading A White Wind Blew so that you, too, can be carried away by a story of how music changed people and a community through the words of an entertaining storyteller.