Creating a New Normal
Breaking with convention in healthcare
Our Beloved Family:
Prior to the 19th century, the high vocal parts in church music was sung by pre-pubescent boys or boy sopranos. Women were not permitted to participate. This created a problem for choirmasters as each boy’s voice began to change, the search was on to find a new replacement. In order to preserve the sound of the choir and avoid the need for constant replacements, many churches made an unthinkable choice; they chose the best boy sopranos and castrated them. Never having gone through puberty and without their testicles to produce 95% of their testosterone, the vocal cords of the boys, known as castrati, would never have the chance to lengthen and thicken, giving them a deeper voice. The first known castrati appeared in Spain in 1550 and at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in 1565.
The result of this mutilation gave a castrato the voice of a woman, but with the lung power of a man. With this came the ability to sing in full voice at the very top of a four octave register, creating a power and sound no one had ever heard before. As their popularity grew, the castrati soon replaced all the countertenors and falsettisti in church choirs (adult men who have extremely high vocal registers or sing in their falsetto or “head voice”) because their sound was deemed more natural to the high choral parts. Subjected to grueling training schedules, the castrati soon became the superstars of church music and opera. The average castrato was paid twice as much as the highest paid tenor or baritone. They were in demand for performances all over Europe with more travel and employment opportunities than they could accommodate. One of the most famous castrati, Senesino, was paid 3,000 guineas for one season in London, a massive sum at the time.
With such severe hormonal imbalance, the castrati were most often overweight and very temperamental. It was nothing for a castrato to take off on his own and improvise on a melody, singing something other than what was written, in the middle of a performance. Naturally, this created some contentious working relationships with some of the greatest composers of all time including Handel, Bach and others. Regardless of their frustrations, the composers were sometimes at the mercy of the castrati because it was them that the audience was coming to see and if they wanted their music heard by the masses, they had no choice but to work with these eccentric divas.
What struck me most about the history of the castrati is how easily a cultural constraint can create a perceptual constraint, and suddenly something that previously would have been seen as abhorrent becomes the new “normal”.
Nearly all of the castrati came from poor families. As shocking as it is, many of these families were more than willing and even competed with each other to have their sons chosen to be a castrato for the fame and fortune that came with it. Ruining one son’s life seemed a small price to pay if it kept the entire family from starving in pre-Victorian Europe. In most cases, such a survival strategy backfired because it’s been said that practically all the castrati hated their parents for allowing their bodies to be mutilated and lives ruined. In fact, when he became an adult and his family came calling for money, famous castrato, Loreto Vittori, said the only thing he owed them was an empty purse.
At the height of their popularity, there were 4,000 castrati in church choirs between the ages of 7 and 9. During the entire castrati era, there was much debate about the ethics of the practice, but music and money always won out. By the mid-1700’s, composers like Mozart put much more focus on male heroes using adult tenors, and the popularity of the castrati began to fade. It was Pope Pius X who finally outlawed the castrati practice in 1903.
What struck me most about the history of the castrati is how easily a cultural constraint can create a perceptual constraint, and suddenly something that previously would have been seen as abhorrent becomes the new “normal”. Just because churches were struggling to find more boy sopranos, opera houses had to sell lots of tickets or close their doors, and parents were willing to sacrifice their own child to keep from starving, it became okay to mutilate young boys for hundreds of years. After a while, no one even questioned it. It’s just the way things were. It reminds me of a young woman I heard recently who was asked to make a comment on certain political situations in the world. Her comment was that she didn’t really have a comment when she said, “Well, that’s just the way things are going right now.” Apathy is always interpreted as allowance by those who are more than willing to make your choices for you.
There are lots of things in healthcare today that do us far more harm than good. Never be afraid to break with convention when it comes to your health or the health of someone you love. Question everything, go within and choose what’s right for you, not what everyone else is doing.
How often are we faced with a cultural constraint, a problem in our lives, where we don’t take the time to stop and really think about what to do, but make the “normal” choice because that’s what everyone else is doing or what people in power positions tell us to do? Why is it normal to subject children to 49 different vaccines by the age of six when they’re in the most important growth and development stage of their lives? Why aren’t there more people questioning this instead of blindly following along because they’ve been told it’s the next routine step in their child’s plan of care?
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, why do doctors automatically defer to the “normal” treatments of radiation and chemotherapy, even though we know they’re horribly destructive with a very low long-term success rate? From one decade to the next, it seems there’s a fad surgery that many people are having and yet, no one seems to question if it’s really necessary. In the 1950’s, it was the tonsillectomy for children; in the 1990’s, it was the hysterectomy for women. C-sections are so common today that no one even questions if they’re absolutely necessary anymore when they used to be a rare occurrence. Babies that do not pass through the birth canal don’t receive a crucial immune system inoculation from the mother’s vaginal mucosa, and the final intense surge of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, isn’t triggered. C-sections should only be used as a last resort when the mother or baby’s life is in danger but instead, they’re an everyday occurrence that we’ve been programmed to think of as perfectly “normal”.
There are lots of things in healthcare today that do us far more harm than good. Never be afraid to break with convention when it comes to your health or the health of someone you love. Question everything, go within and choose what’s right for you, not what everyone else is doing. Never abdicate your decision-making authority to someone else just because they’re wearing a white coat or have an impressive title. Only you fully understand your situation, and whatever you choose will be perfectly normal…for you. When our lives are constrained by illness or other problems, fear is the trigger that narrows our perception, leading us to believe that the only choice is the one everyone else is making. As long as we remain grounded and present during troubling times, we can maintain a broader perspective on our situation that includes more choices than we knew we had. When we choose the course of direction that’s really best for us, we create a new “normal” and can then become an advocate for others to do the same.
Please continue reading and learn about a new Love Button Global Movement Dandelion Initiative to Launch.
Light & Love in the Month Ahead,
Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami