by Edward Bride, The Artful Mind, March 2009
But between them, they are a world-renowned pediatrician, a flutist, a preeminent developmental and clinical psychologist, a top-tier Jazz tuba player, a painter, an essayist, two lecturers, two expert witnesses, a pianist, and, well, the picture might be getting clearer: Eli and Carolyn Newberger give new meaning, both individually and collectively, to the term “medical arts.”
To Jazz fans, Eli is perhaps best-known as co-founder and the original pianist, then tuba player, of The Black Eagle Jazz Band; though no longer with the band, he is proud to have been involved in establishing one of the most significant exponents of traditional Jazz in the world.
On the other hand, New Englanders who know Dr. Eli Newberger through his clinical services respect him as an expert in family conflict, violence and child abuse.
To followers of classical music, Carolyn is a flutist and piccolo player, having performed at Tanglewood and other venues in chamber concerts. More recently, her award-winning water-colors have come to the fore.
Almost retired as a psychologist, Carolyn spends more time these days as an artist, as well as a musician. Forced to make a choice of current career, she would probably choose watercolor artist.
But fortunately for them, their fans and their clients, neither has really been forced to choose.
Each at the top of their game when working separately, which is their usual modus operandi, they also seem to relish the opportunity to work together on the occasional research project, as well as in music. An example of the latter would be The Cupcake Philharmonic Orchestra, a chamber group that brings musical programming to school children. Their performances are underwritten by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as part of the BSO’s commitment to education and community. The musicians include Carolyn on flute, Eli on piano; the BSO’s Mike Roylance plays the tuba and Mike’s musician wife plays trumpet. The Cupcakes also supplement their ensemble with other musicians, including Boston Symphony players.
Although it comprises a relatively small portion of their professional lives. The Cupcake Philharmonic’s occasional rendition of Tubby the Tuba represents the intersection of their work with children and music. These concerts deliver happy moments outside the context of their clinical work, where there is so much stress, controversy, and sadness.
Is music an escape from the controversy of family violence? Not exactly, but it represents a good jumping-off point for an interview. But first, some context.
During their careers, Eli and Carolyn Newberger have collaborated on both music and medicine. The two disciplines have been such an integral part of their individual lives, and are so intertwined that it is difficult to choose one starting point. But, if nothing else this article is about choice, so the writer might as well join the fray.
How about areas where they collaborate? Their joint work includes research, writing various articles both for professionals and consumers, on subjects having to do with many issues concerning families: the effects of poverty on family life, malnutrition and its impact on children and their development, the causes of malnutrition from both a social/political sense, as well as a medical/physiological sense. What they may be best-known for, over their years of clinical work, may be the issues that affect children and their families: such difficult problems as child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, where Eli is often an expert witness.
For 28 years, Eli Newberger directed the Family Development clinic at Children’s Hospital in Boston, which evaluated children in the setting of divorce or conflict, particularly when there were issues of abuse of children or women. In fact, judges would often refer children to the clinic when such allegations were involved. Eventually, his expertise became nationally recognized, which brought Dr. Eli Newberger’s face and persona to many a television screen when news reports were seeking independent opinions on matters of family violence.
Still active on the consulting and lecture circuit, and spending less time as a clinician, Eli writes in their Berkshires hideaway near Tanglewood, where Carolyn does her painting and practices her flute and piccolo playing. On the weekend of the interview for this story, Eli was readying a keynote address for a Virginia conference on child mental health, covering the changing nature of the American family, and the implications of this for mental health professionals. When the first draft of this article was being finished, he was lecturing in Cincinnati.
Art isn’t exactly an escape from all this; to describe it so would be to diminish its importance in their lives, their psyches, and their work. Escapism is not the reason why Eli and Carolyn are so deeply ensconced in both fields. She offers that “art has been part of both of our lives since our youths” (even before they met each other in college).
“I gave up art, and came back to it,” choosing —not between art and science, but— between visual art (painting) and performance art, she said. “I have never not been a musician, although 1 may have lapsed a bit at busy times.” Now, she is actively playing again, among other things having teamed-up with Eli and the rest of the Cupcake Philharmonic for a performance of “Tubby the Tuba” at a family concert last summer at Tangle-wood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall.
“The creative juices need to be acted on,” she says. “We have not been driven to this by our work, which although sometimes stressful and difficult, has its own inherent rewards. At the end of the day, I can say, T did something good today’,” she says.
There are a lot of good people in this field, Carolyn notes, and they all find ways to establish a balance. The Newbergers’ outlet, music and the arts, was already in their genes before they turned to medicine.
“Being creative, whether it’s doing a painting or creating music, gives back to us, it’s nourishing,” she commented.
That being said, does playing music put the trials and tribulations of the day aside, so they can depart that troubled work
and just be creative?
For Eli, there does come a point where “if you are deeply in the music, you have at least one foot in another world, and the instrument ceases to exist. There is something deep inside you. The feelings, the emotions that get expressed in sound that you share, and engage with the audience, makes a communication that transcends the boundaries between people.” Eli says that when he is in this part of his work, “it is so richly rewarding that it has the affect of elevating your own experience, and the kind of human transaction that goes on with performance, and attentive musical response.”
He can feel this both in a classical setting as well as Jazz, he says. “But in Jazz, there is a kind of immediacy and spontaneity, where the ideas and feelings as they unfold, especially if you are playing for a sympathetic crowd, are really quite amazing ..-both transcendent and transformational. It changes you “
As co-founder of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band in 1970, he began on piano, switching to tuba in 1971, and has made over 40 recordings and hundreds of concert and festival appearances across the U.S. and Europe.
Prior to setting roots in Jazz, he had an eight-year stint (1958-66) as tubist with the New Haven Symphony, his last serious flirtation with a classical tuba career. His most recent classical foray was in March, 2007, when, with the Boston Classical Orchestra, and Mike Roylance, principal tuba of the Boston Symphony, he gave the premiere of Howard Frazin’s concerto for 2 tubas and chamber orchestra.
With Roylance, he more recently organized the Cupcake Philharmonic to perform children’s classics like ‘Tubby the Tuba ” and similar works.
But mainly, musical audiences are likely to find Eli Newberger in a Jazz environment. Making music together with sympathetic Jazz colleagues is very powerful, he avers. “And, it’s not as simple as an experience of joy as opposed to sadness, or struggle. There is a great deal of discipline involved in playing Jazz, and especially in playing traditional Jazz,1′ where there are very tight improvising rules, and where “a high premium is placed on original expression, within those rules.”
In trad Jazz, Eli continues, there is a real priority given to one’s emotional expression, and less concern about technical display.
Newberger offers an anecdote about how intertwined music and medicine are, for him. “I wish I had had today’s clinical understanding and language back then in 1970, the same year that I organized the child protection team at Children’s Hospital, and when Tommy Sancton, Tony Pringle and I formed the Black Eagle Jazz Band ” he relates. “I was plunged into the trauma area; no one then appreciated what we now call the secondary trauma, on the caregivers, of their exposure to severely injured people, of the psychological impact they suffer For me, in today’s language, in retrospect I think that the music was not only therapeutic, but also enabled me to do the work in a particular and specific way.”
One of the tasks resulting from trauma exposure is to be able to contend with the surges of emotion that the traumatic experience signifies, for both clinicians and victims. “The term of art today, in the trauma field, that for me was a personal task is what is called affect regulation, contending with the strong surges of emotion in response to trauma. Professionals must maintain a positive professional demeanor. For example, you have to avoid -at all costs—expressing rage against someone who has committed horrible acts against a child, because that person typically is isolated, typically needs help. This is an extremely difficult task to accomplish for most professionals, who can unwittingly mete out punishment in the guise of help.
“As I look at it in retrospect, I think it was the music, more than any other artifact of my professional training, or colleagues, or the splendid professional environment that Children’s Hospital made possible, 1 really do think that the music enabled me to give care in a way that I would otherwise not have been able to do.”
A Different Place
Music transports Carolyn to a different place, in a different way, she says. On the one hand, “art is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s harder than graduate school and writing a dissertation. Harder than double-tonguing on piccolo. In art, you’re always trying to bring order out of chaos. And you are creating the order.”
On the other hand, in music “there is a standard. Jazz is a little different, because it has its structure, but there is freedom on top of that structure, and you have to be able to exercise that freedom while still making sense wiihin that structure, i work hard at my music, and hard at my art, so it’s not all transcendent,” Carolyn says.
“A lot of it is standing there at the music stand, getting my double-tonguing up to speed, so that when I’m on stage at Ozawa Hall, with all these BSO players, I can do the routine. You’re totally exposed, and the only way to do it is to practice, and practice, and practice. Work on it. So, I work at it, and a lot is not transcendental; I have to practice.
“Sooner or later, everyone has to face their limitations, and that’s not always easy, as a musician” She figures that other artists can appreciate and understand the “terror of not being able to do something, of not knowing how good they are.”
With visual art. there is not a master recording, a benchmark, to be used for comparison or self-evaluation. “With art. you really arc on your own, you’re creating de novo. You have to have skill, technique; you have to draw from yourself. You never quite know where you’re going.”
This is especially true with watercolor, says Carolyn. “With figure drawing, I have a better idea of what I’m trying to do. Or. with a still life in oil. I also have a better idea. But technically, trying to be a good artist is very difficult. “
“As is being espoused to one.” Eli quips, “especially if they arc trying to make a living at it.”
Carolyn nods agreement, and turning the conversation back to music, she adds. “It’s not all about transcendental or transformational experience. You have to really work hard to get to a point where sometimes that happens. And. sometimes that happens reliably,”
That’s when the transport occurs. She relates that she can pick up her flute or piccolo and play a Telemann Suite for Flute, “and totally be in another world. The music is so sublime. The music and I are seamless, and as Eli has said, the instrument disappears.
‘Those are extraordinary experiences,” she adds.
Pediatrician, Author, Musician
Anyone who says there’s no handbook for raising boys has not met Dr. Eli Newberger. As a pediatrician who practices at the boundary between medicine and psychiatry; Eli has probably published more work in psychiatry than pediatric medicine, not the least important of which is his 1999 book The Men They Will Become. He describes this seminal work as “a guide to guiding character development, and prevention of mental disturbance in males from birth to young adulthood.”
Intended for parents and professionals alike, it is still in print nearly 10 years after publication. This literary longevity attests to the book’s significance, and is a credit to the publisher Da Capo Press, which has sensibly placed it in its Lifelong Books series. While a thorough review is beyond the scope (and available space) for this article, it can be said that the book comprises anecdotes and expert analysis and commentary about the process of raising boys through adolescence. Important work, and as occurs with all his projects, it is done with depth and caring.
There was a point when Eli Newberger had to choose between music and medicine, and the decision was a practical as well as personal matter.
The revelation came during his sophomore year at Yale, where he was a music theory major. Although he also plays piano, the only instrument where he believes he plays at a high professional level is the tuba. By the time he was in his second year at Yale, he had played most of the classical repertory for tuba, and could compete for a classical job. But. he figured he would be bored, as the job of a tubist in a classical orchestra comprises “mainly counting rests.” In other words, not a lot of notes to play.
On the other side, while he is a good Jazz pianist, he still considers himself a better tuba player; and. the job prospects were not good there, for either a middling pianist or a tuba player regardless of skill level.
The career choices, then, were between classical (lots of rests) and Jazz (lots of rest) —neither of which was very appealing— and something else.
“I knew that if I went into medicine. I somehow would always be able to play music.” The converse prospects, a career in music and a sideline in medicine, weren’t realistic.
The following year, the leader of an undergraduate Jazz band in which Newberger had played fixed him up on a blind date to go to a gig in New York.The date was a Carolyn Moore, a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence. She was “a wonderful date” who has turned into a wonderful date for the 46 years that they have been married, plus the two years of courtship.
Carolyn was understudying for “courtship,” she joked, but also literature, music, music theory, and she took flute lessons with Samuel Baron. “I did not study to the depth that Eli did.”
She did study art briefly as a Freshman, she related, but by the end of the semester she concluded, and her teacher concurred, that “I had a facile hand but lacked an artist’s mind.” She left that course, a move that she now considers “a youthful mistake, I was insecure and didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I didn’t have a goal.”
Through serendipity, after doing fine in college and graduating and doing a lot of work and study in literary analysis, “we realized that we needed to support ourselves.” Eli was going on to medical school; Carolyn, a year behind him, finished her senior year and became a teacher for four years. That led her to child development, and to the discovery that she loved working with children.
They joined the Peace Corps for two years. Upon returning, Eli joined the pediatrics faculty of Harvard Medical School. His research, clinical philosophy, and many publications reflect a deep devotion to improving the protection and nurturing of children and to strengthening parent-child relationships. They have been acknowledged with numerous local and national awards.
“After we went to the Peace Corps (with their infant daughter), and came back to Boston, it was natural to apply to grad school at Harvard,” Carolyn recalls. She earned a doctorate in Human Development, and trained in clinical psychology at the Judge Baker Children’s Center and Children’s Hospital, which are affiliated with Harvard Medical School. In that course of study, she discovered and pursued an interest in childhood development and child psychology. After completing her graduate training, she continued at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in clinical and academic roles doing research, teaching, and clinical practice, “Finding things as I went along that were fascinating and exciting, tapping into things that I really cared about. But as an undergrad, I hadn’t a clue.”
Brushing Art Aside
At 18 years of age, Carolyn lay down her pencil and brush for two human generations. She returned to art in 2003, after reluctantly accepting a friend’s invitation to attend a week-long painting seminar being offered by Jane Goldman.
“When I first squeezed pigments from their tubes onto my plastic palette, tears came to my eyes,” she recalled. “Then, when I dipped my wet brush into paint and swirled forms on the white paper, I felt relief, as if I were finally coming home.”
It was like a revelation, a eureka moment: “This is what I am supposed to do.” The conversion was quick and sure. Now, she may awaken mid-sleep, thinking about art, about things that might be amiss in a painting. “.Being an artist was in me, but I had to re-discover it. “It’s like I started a new life,” she says.
After her phases in literature and medicine, “this is the phase where I am an artist.” It seems to have worked out to her advantage, as anyone who has seen her work in shows or visited www.CarolynNewberger.com can attest. She was recently announced as winner of this year’s Mary Schein Award by the Cambridge Art Association for her painting, N’Goni Master, one of a series inspired by their time in West Africa, where Eli served as a Peace Corp physician. Another favorite eye-catching painting shows their granddaughter attempting to make music on the sousaphone. Several of her more recent paintings explore abstraction.
Besides all this, she is an avid writer and essayist, having authored over 35 publications in both the academic and popular press.
Although she abandoned art for most of her adult life, she never put down the flute for very long, even though spending many of the interim years going to grad school and then raising a daughter. After that came her demanding career as a child psychologist, juggling this with doing grant proposals, research, and teaching around the world. She’s even been on Oprah. Twice.
Writing a full-length book was challenging, and while it is only Eli’s name on the book cover, he is quick to acknowledge Carolyn’s contributions. Although Eli has never shrunk from difficult conceptual tasks, this was an order of magnitude more ambitious than a thesis or scholarly paper. Some of the research papers on which they jointly worked became foundation for some of the thinking in The Men They Will Become, such as “The Social Ecology of Malnutrition in Childhood,” knitting broad cultural themes to malnutrition.
There were other papers on child health, as well, one which was co-authored by Julius Richmond, who became the surgeon general in the Carter administration; the impact of media on violence; the corrosive impact of poverty; parental conflict and its implications for children. They came up with a set of guidelines for appropriate focus on improving child health individually and in society at large.
What was the motivation for the book? “I wanted to re-think the notion of boys’ character,” said Eli. He had to do lots of research and interviews, and he wanted the book to be written for a lay audience of parents and teachers. “Carolyn played a vital role in the book. She takes a resourceful, daring approach to child psychology and cognitive development,” he said. A chapter in the book, The Roots of Character, makes use of her theory.
The book doesn’t have much jargon, it is written for people who are trying to understand boys and their development, and the main tasks of forming fine character in boys, through the first two decades of life. He summarized the principal messages from his book in a paper he presented at the White House Conference on Helping America’s Children, in 2005, entitled “Strengthening the Characters of Boys: What We Know and Can Do.” A video of the presentation, with an illustrative story and music from his jazz idol, Louis Armstrong, is on Eli’s website, www.elinewberger.com
The book took about two-and-a-half years, from signing the contract to submitting the manuscript in early 1999. Coinciden-tally, at that same time he got a call from the pianist Butch Thompson about a return gig to a place in Rockport, Maine. Eli got the idea of doing an album of pieces on the same theme as the book: male development.
The tracks they recorded betray (or at least chronicle) a variety of human frailties, such as: It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie; If I Let You Get Away With It Once (You’ll Do It All the Time); Ain’t Much Good in the Best of Men These Days; There’ll Be Some Changes Made; Miss Otis Regrets (She’s Unable to Lunch Today), and the like. A fascinating concept, the CD can also be appreciated at its most basic level of entertaining music, with Newberger, Thompson, and vocals by banjoist Jimmy Mazzy, with whom Newberger still performs on occasion. He updates his performance schedule, CDs, and other news at www.elinewberger.com.
Still extant after all these years, the book has provided Eli with a welcome transition from almost a full-time focus on trauma and its events to a whole new set of teaching opportunities. He is now “less burdened by the stigma and unpleasantness of working in the abuse field,” and spends more time lecturing, researching, and consulting.
Meanwhile, Eli has become a trustee at the Berklee College of Music, not least because of his interest in their new music therapy program, which is now the largest in the U.S. He has just started to conceptualize an edited book on music and trauma, directed towards music therapists and trauma specialists.
So, a definite link emerges between book and music, and medicine and music. One would expect no less from someone who had the aptitude and drive to make a career in either discipline.
Why do they do all this? The mountain climber does so “because it’s there.” The Newbergers have quite different motivations for their callings. If the writer can be permitted an amateur psychoanalysis, perhaps they are engaged in medicine because they know they can make a difference, and in art because they must…they have no choice.
Reader, music fan, or family person, the individual who has encountered Dr. Eli Newberger and Dr. Carolyn Newberger has much of note (and notes) to contemplate: behold the adults they have become.