|Lightning Strike Turns Surgeon Into Composer/Concert Pianist|
By Jake Palmateer
The Daily Star
January 23, 2008
ONEONTA - An Oneonta surgeon who survived a lightning strike in 1994 and suddenly began craving piano music will make his public debut as a composer and pianist next week.
Dr. Anthony Cicoria said the lightning bolt that came out of a pay phone during a family outing near Albany caused a near-death experience that changed his life forever.
Nearly 14 years later, Cicoria will perform concerts at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Feb. 4 at the State University College at Oneonta.
His story appeared in The New Yorker magazine and a book and is now receiving international attention. Three television crews from Europe are planning to film the first concert.
Before a rehearsal Monday at Goodrich Theater at SUCO, Cicoria recalled the lightning strike and his brush with death.
After seeing his body lying on the ground and his family rushing to him, Cicoria was surrounded by a bluish-white light, the 55-year-old orthopedic surgeon said.
He began drifting up and away from his body and entered a state of bliss, Cicoria said.
"The sensation of movement was there," he said.
But he said he was suddenly thrust back into his body and began to feel an intense pain.
Cicoria said he eventually came to and had no lasting physical effects from the strike. But he soon began having an intense desire to hear piano music.
"It didn't make a lot of sense at the time," Cicoria said.
Cicoria bought classical piano recordings and listened to them constantly. A short time after that, he said, he had a dream.
"In this dream, I was playing in a concert hall," Cicoria said.
The music in that dream stayed with him after he woke up. It and other music would be revealed to him in whole sections that would come into his mind at once, he said.
That process, he said, is similar to data being downloaded to a computer.
He began playing piano and was soon referred to local piano teacher Sandra McKane, who was helping him rehearse Monday.
McKane said she and Cicoria meet at 5 a.m. twice a week for regular classes.
Before the lightning strike, Cicoria was mostly a fan of rock and roll.
"I had played some guitar when I was a kid," he said.
As a 7-year-old, he took piano lessons but "didn't really like it."
"This is somebody who didn't have technique," McKane said.
As part of the instruction, McKane and Cicoria worked with other composers' music, as well as his own material.
While playing other composers' music, the notes from his dream would come out.
"This music would suddenly come to the foreground and butt in," Cicoria said.
McKane assisted Cicoria in transcribing the notes in his head to sheet music.
When asked where the music comes from, Cicoria said it came from a divine place.
"As Mozart said, it comes from heaven," Cicoria said.
Cicoria was featured in a New Yorker magazine article by Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who studies music and its relationship to the human brain. The article is the basis for the first chapter of Sacks' book "Musicophilia."
"He had learned about this through word of mouth," Cicoria said.
In 2006, the two men met in New York City.
"We talked all day long," Cicoria said.
Cicoria recalled Sacks saying the piece of music in his head had gone through a lot to get there, and it was really important for him to sit down and write it.
For six months, Cicoria worked on the composition after arriving home from work.
"It's affectionately called the Lightning Sonata," Cicoria said.
Although Sacks is attempting to explain the phenomenon on an anatomical basis, Cicoria said that is not entirely possible.
"There's something to this that I can't explain," Cicoria said.
The music, he said, is meant to be shared.
"It's obvious to me there is something important that I am supposed to do with this," Cicoria said.
One of the greatest realizations he said he had from the near-death experience is the knowledge that there is life after death.
"Whatever we are, our consciousness goes with the spirit," Cicoria said.
Cicoria is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who is chief of the medical staff at Chenango Memorial Hospital in Norwich. He is also a clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse.
The public concerts grew out of a request from Catskill Conservatory Director Carleton Clay to do an in-house performance for SUCO students, Cicoria said.
"It really has taken a life of its own," Cicoria said.
Cicoria will perform his Lightning Sonata, Nocturne and Rhapsody in D Minor.
"I've got probably a dozen different things in various stages of completion," Cicoria said.
The concert series is presented by the Catskill Conservatory and SUCO as a gift to the community. The series is partially funded by the New York State Council on the Arts and involves 12 to 14 performances a year.
More information about the series is available by calling Clay at 607-436-3419.