Music: Sometimes, It’s the Best Medicine

David Esensoy '19 learned to read music before he learned to read words. He took to the piano at age four, and his instructor taught him to read the notes by assigning each piano key a different color.

"Music was basically my first language," Esensoy said. "I worked hard because I loved it."

Nearly two decades later, Esensoy is a premedicine and Hispanic Studies major and still plays the piano. Though seemingly disparate interests, music and medicine overlap in some key ways: both pose intellectual challenges, both require active listening, and above all, both can heal, Esensoy said.

Family Influence

Esensoy grew up in a home he describes as a "melting pot of culture," with a Chilean mother and a Turkish father, and he shares interests with both parents. He honors his mother's heritage and expresses his love for Spanish music through concert pieces and red additions to his performance tuxedos, and he is pursuing medicine with the hope of becoming a pediatrician like his father.

While in high school, Esensoy assisted at his father's medical practice and developed a love for pediatrics. Ever since, he has looked forward to the day when he can work with his own patients at the family business.

Driven to Succeed

Esensoy chose Davidson because he knew he could nurture his passion for medicine as well as his passion for music, carrying with him the words of his childhood mentor, elementary school teacher Otis Lambert: After a special concert Esensoy performed for Lambert's retirement, "he looked at me so seriously and said, ‘David, make me a promise: Promise me you'll never stop playing,'" Esensoy remembers. "I promised and left, and that was the last thing I ever said to him because he passed away about a month later."

Of his future office, Esensoy said, "You better believe there's going to be a piano in the waiting room."

But first, he needs to successfully complete the requirements for medical school.

"The premed track at Davidson is the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Davidson was my biggest reach school, and I did not do very well in the premed track my first year," he said. "Other kids might have started looking at different career goals. But there's absolutely nothing that will stop me... I don't want to become a doctor, I will become a doctor."

Finding Balance

Music contributed to that iron-clad work ethic–as an adolescent, Esensoy practiced the piano for hours each day in preparation for competitions and shows.

"Music only connects with people if it doesn't cut off in the middle of a piece. If there's a mistake, you just completely lose all connection you've built up throughout the song," he said. "It will ruin the emotional response of your audience."

Although Esensoy focuses primarily on piano, he plays five other instruments and is eager to learn a sixth. The French horn, trumpet, baritone, euphonium and harmonica are all part of his repertoire. The accordion is next on his list.

"I'm hugely influenced by Spanish music because of my mom's background, and you can play some incredible tangoes on the accordion," he said.

While music helped develop Esensoy's work ethic, it now serves as a welcome break from his demanding academic commitments, and helps his maintain balance in his life–the importance of which he learned in a health psychology course at Davidson.

Students in the course practiced a behavioral change every day for 21 consecutive days–for Esensoy, that meant practicing piano. He says he rediscovered an emotional outlet through the forced rehearsal time.

He now shares his newfound wisdom with other students who might be struggling. Just as a piano piece relies on the right and left hands working together to create a whole piece, students must find ways to nurture multiple interests, Esensoy said. If they do, "after Davidson, you're going to be prepared for anything."

More Info

See Esensoy perform two of his favorite pieces:

Charlotte Kaufmann '18