There’s a quote saying – “He who sings frightens away his ills,” and here is the journey of a person who is proving it true…
Tara Rajendran is an Indian physician, classical musician, author, and TEDx speaker. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in classical music, and her dissertation is about the evolution of music’s role in medicine. She is presently the major proponent of bringing music into India’s palliative oncology system. She developed the world’s first advocacy-lecture-concert series, ‘Oncology and Strings,’ launched at the Stanford University Campus, where she reaches out to medical students, oncologists, and palliative care professionals.
Following her Heart…
Tara was four years old when her maternal grandma died of cancer right in front of her eyes. Tara read ‘The Emperor of All Maladies – A Story of Cancer, which earned the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 as a medical student. Tara was moved and inspired by these two events to spend more time alternating in oncology departments in India and the United States.
Education and Recognition
In 2008, she received the highest accolade for Girl Guiding from India’s Honorable President, along with the proficiency badge ‘Musician.’ In 2010, she made her debut All India Radio broadcast. She also holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in ‘Saraswati Veena’ and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Music, with her dissertation focusing on the evolution of Indian classical music’s usage in medicine.
Tara completed a 9-month clinical clerkship in oncology at Harvard Medical School, Weill Cornell, and Stanford Medicine. Weill Cornell Medicine selected her as the featured international visiting medical student of 2018. Patients frequently recognized Tara as an “excellent and friendliest student doctor.”
She graduated from one of the country’s six “Institutes of Eminence” – the “Manipal Academy of Higher Education,” where she was in the top 1.2 percentile of undergraduate students in the country for the world’s most prestigious and expensive scholarship – The Rhodes scholarship ’18 – for her academic brilliance, outstanding extracurricular achievements, and leadership qualities. She was also one of the finalists for the Oxford University DPhil Oncology program in 2018. In less than two years, she had reached out to over 10,000 patients by lending free-copyright-free music to hospice and palliative care clinics across India. Her work has been highlighted in many mainstream digital publications, networks, and tabloids, as well as in “Million Women in STEM.”
Started with the Lecture-Concert Series
The first physician-musician launched a cross-disciplinary lecture-concert series championing the importance of employing ‘music’ in palliative medicine and oncology globally. Following her success, she was invited to give her maiden lecture-recital at Manipal University in India, which marked the first national launch of ‘Oncology & Strings.’ Tara went on to deliver a TEDx talk with the same title on August 17, 2019.
She was only 25 years old when she was asked to be the chief guest and a panelist at India’s premier national cancer program, Tata Memorial Hospital, for the World Mental Health Day program -2019.
How did this idea arise?
From 2017 to 2019, she rotated across the hematology/oncology programs at Harvard, Stanford Cancer Center, and Cornell for around nine months as a final-year medical student. Her Harvard mentor, noticing her affinity for both fields, encouraged her to investigate the connection between music and oncology. She began incorporating music into the palliative oncology infrastructure of lower-middle-income nations such as India, where music therapy is not yet a recognized healthcare specialty. Her advocacy program raises awareness about the untapped therapeutic power of music and how incorporating the arts at the organizational level can help prevent physician burnout.
Free MP3 – Music
She noticed that downloading classical music from YouTube and other platforms is exceptionally challenging. That’s why she started recording instrumental music on her Veena and lending palliative care centers, hospitals, and clinics free mp3 clips.
While music therapy (MT) is a well-established healthcare profession in many countries, India and many other LMICs still lack an NMC (National Medical Commission) or MCI (Medical Council of India)-accredited music therapy-academic training program.
In her review, she mentioned –
“The American Music Therapy Association AMTA defines music therapy as clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. According to this, India has two significant deficiencies –
1. Lack of evidence (Large cohort, statistically significant, randomized controlled trials using specific musical interventions tailored to the Indian subcontinent)
2. Lack of board-certified/licensed Music therapists.
It might be challenging to remit these deficiencies immediately. However, the above-given definition is for clinical MT. There is another variant of music therapy which is therapeutic MT. “
Various Research Grants for Tara
Tara was recognized as one of the ’20 brilliant Indians in their 20s’ by ‘LinktheDots’ in 2020. Hematological malignancies and instrumental music-based interventions in palliative oncology are Dr. Tara’s academic interests. She has received several research grants, including one from the Indian Council of Medical Research-STS. She has presented posters and abstracts at professional oncology platforms such as the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the American Society of Hematology (ASH).
Speaker, Stories, and Albums
Dr. Rajendran was the youngest invited speaker at the Indian Association of Palliative Care’s 27th International Conference, and she gave the keynote presentation for the Asian Medical Students Association-India. Tara is also the Co-Principal Investigator of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on musical interventions among head and neck cancer patients at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore.
She was the youngest invited speaker at the Indian Association of Palliative Care’s 27th International Conference. Tara gives free MP3 ‘Veena’ recitals (available on www.tararajendran.com) to hospice facilities, cancer centers and NGOs through her ‘Oncology and Strings’ project. ‘Chordae Tendineae’ is her solo instrumental album. Tara was regarded as a prodigy in the ‘Saraswati Veena,’ India’s national instrument. Her hallmark technique, ‘Tanam,’ a Carnatic musical improvisation, has an unequaled track record. Tara has been asked to perform at renowned national music festivals and has received numerous prizes and merit scholarships in the ‘Veena.’
She has also written short stories that have been published. Her writing has featured in publications such as Oklahoma University’s ‘Blood and Thunder’ (How I describe heart sounds to my deaf brother), Nymphs Publication (The waiting uteruses), and Active Muse (Blood and the Vermillion), to name a few.
The Indian Express, New Indian Express, Eenadu, The 20s – Meet 20 Brilliant Indians -The Education News Network, National Khabar, ETV Telangana-Masterminds Youth (Yuvaa), and others are a few media appearances she made.
Music-based interventions address physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and social needs. Music is not a standalone treatment for any illness. But as an adjunct to the standard treatment, musical interventions help reduce anxiety, and stress. Music enhances quality of life and sleep. Tara Rajendran strives hard to integrate music into India’s Palliative Medicine and Oncology infrastructure.