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21 August 2018

Mr Frank Wells discusses the ‘Rhythm of Life’ with Dame Evelyn Glennie

Virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie was invited into the operating theatre by Consultant Surgeon Mr Frank Wells during the recording of her BBC Radio 4 ‘The Rhythm of Life’ series.

The programme – which is available to listen to on iPlayer – aims to reveal “a hidden world of rhythm around us and searches for musical inspiration from some unlikely sources”.

Mr Wells told Dame Evelyn that understanding the rhythm of the heart was fundamental to performing open heart surgery.

He said: “When we’ve finished the operation we have various manoeuvres to try and get the heart back into rhythm and sustain normal rhythms. Speed is also really important… getting the tempo right.”

Dame Evelyn, who watched Mr Wells perform surgery at Royal Papworth Hospital, described him as “almost like a conductor trying to control the orchestra of the heart; you are seeing this piece of music unfold before your very eyes. It’s quite beautiful to see, but also a strange feeling.”

Asked about the similarities between surgeons and musicians, Mr Wells said: “The same forces are acting on both of us, but how you use it is different. You [Dame Evelyn] are expressing to the audience – through your body – powerful emotions. I would contend that I’m surrounded by emotion and my job is to contain it and keep things calm for everyone around me.

“This comparison with music is very interesting, but it’s a bit different [for surgeons] - there’s no script and no score. You’re writing the score as you do it.”

Listen to the 'The Rhythm of Life: The Symphony Within' here.