A Psychiatrist May Have Made Musical History


Frank Clark, MD, may have made history this weekend with an epic musical and poetry performance.




It is Black History Month and some history may have been made by the Black psychiatrist Frank Clark, MD. You may recognize or recall Dr Clark from his experience as a psychiatrist in South Carolina, from his involvement in redressing racism in the American Psychiatric Association, and for his poetry and other contributions to Psychiatric TimesTM.

In addition, our editor, Heidi Anne Duerr, MPH, interviewed Dr Clark for an article posted January 7, 2022. This revelatory interview, titled “The Creative Side: A Psychiatrist’s Tale,” provides the background for his interest in poetry, psychiatry, and the arts, as well as what led up to the world premiere concert on February 5th by the South Carolina Philharmonic, which performed a piece of music that incorporated 3 of Dr Clarks’s poems.

As far as I know, there has never been any poems by a psychiatrist incorporated into a classical music piece. In listening to Dr Clark’s poems in the context of composer and jazz legend Dick Goodwin’s “Three Songs for Tenor and Orchestra,” with the words sung so movingly and beautifully by Johnnie Felder, we can hear the benefit of how music can amplify and convey nonverbal emotional resonance. As the section about his daughter, titled “Infant Memories,” was playing, my wife went by and said how she loved the drollness of the music. I was almost overwhelmed by the last sung notes of the last song, which was about Dr Clark’s father.

Frankly, I’ve found Dr Clark’s poems to be an emotionally explosive and intellectually challenging condensation of personal, cultural, and professional issues of importance. As such, common words may not suffice, so if you have an ordinary vocabulary like myself, a bonus is learning about the unusual and less-known words that he often incorporates. Rather than confounding the reader, looking up their meaning can provide a pause to process the meaning of the poems.

This piece and its performance needs to be repeated widely in the country, and hopefully on a recording. Dr Clark is well on his way to help bring back the arts into psychiatry and further psychiatry’s contribution to the arts. We all cannot help but benefit from that.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.

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