The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Young music composer and violinist survives the Aurora, Colorado shootings because she is lucky and has good health care – not because she has an abnormal brain. | July 29, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

More and more news about the tragic cinema shootings in Aurora, Colorado, keep emerging.

Now we understand that the accused killer, James Holmes, was under the treatment of a psychiatrist. And you can be sure there is much more to come.

One of the underlying themes of this very sad incident is the role that luck plays in our lives.

Go to the right movie or the right theater or the right showing time or the right seat, and you are safe. Go to the wrong one, and you are dead, if not severely wounded or permanently injured.

One of the good luck stories that came out concerned a young woman who is a violinist and a composer of music that honors veterans. She is Petra Anderson, 22 (below in photo by Randal McGee), who was shot in the head but survived. (She was also took three bullets in the arm, though it doesn’t say if it was her bowing arm.)

Originally doctors operating on her thought that she had an abnormal brain structure that actually directed – or, more accurately, deflected — the bullet and so saved her life and brain function.

In an update, it turns out that her owed more to luck than biology. There’s was nothing unusual about the structure of her cranium or brain, after all. The bullet simply took a highly unusual path through her brain.

Here is a link to her story:

I mention her story here because she is player-performer and also a composer of music. It reminds me of a short story, a passage from a novel really, called “Mozart Assassinated” by the 20th century French writer Antoine de Saint Exupery (below), who is best known for his children’s book “The Little Prince.”

In the passage, the writer is on a train and observes a young sleeping child of migrant Polish laborers, as I recall, and wonders if this child could ever grow up to be another Mozart, even if the youngster had the talent, genius and creativity – but won’t simply because the circumstances in which the child lives won’t allow for that kind of development and achievement.

It makes me wonder about similar situations in the world where possibly great artistic – or scientific – minds are stifled by various circumstances.

It could be a shooting — in a terrorist attack, a crime or an accident.

It could be a famine.

It could be a war.

It could be poverty.

It could a lack of health care, especially now that the Republican leadership (below, with Senator Mitch McConnell in the foreground) has openly admitted that assuring universal coverage is no longer a priority, despite estimates of 50 million or more Americans who are uninsured or underinsured.

Here is a link to the story by NPR’s terrific heath care reporter Julie Rovner:

Chance or luck always plays a role. But we don’t have to maximize the role of chance or bad luck by falling back on some kind of social indifference and lack of compassion that uses a love of s0-called freedom as an alibi — as if having health care isn’t a form of freedom.  

That is, simply the unkindest and dumbest form of social Darwinism, with only the rich and powerful thinking that they are the fittest and deserve to survive.

Anyway, we can all hope that the composer and musician who survived Aurora goes onto achieve a complete recovery and then create great things and enrich all our lives.

And that is what we should hope for, and work to obtain, for everyone.


  1. What an unusual, informative post about one of the survivors and also about universal health care. Thank you! One note (pun intended) of caution: can references to the alleged shooter be made without naming that person, even in a blog? Does reading the name of a criminal cause a few to imagine that the only path to fame via the media (or history books) is the commitment of a crime? As far as I can tell, only CNN has chosen not to name the shooter.

    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — July 29, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    • Hi Ginny,
      Thank you for reading and replying with such thought and kindness.
      I choose to name the suspect because it is a matter of public record, and because, given my background in journalism, I believe in openness and transparency.
      I don’t think criminals or copy cat criminals really act because the media name someone. And i haven’t seen proof that they do.
      If they crave the attention, the act itself gives it to them — not the naming in whatever media.
      But I could be wrong in my reasoning and hope others will sound off with their views.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 29, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  2. I’m with you 100% on health care. And I wonder if the young Mozarts among us will never develop their potential because they are not exposed to the music that makes them say, “I want to do that!”

    Comment by Susan Fiore — July 29, 2012 @ 7:33 am

    • Hi Susan,
      You make an excellent point — which is another reason why funding for arts education should not be cut disproportionately at the expense of, say, athletics and other subjects.
      The nation’s culture at large should help expose young children to the kinds of achievements that may indeed speak to them and encourage them, no matter what their own family background is. It could be arts or science or the humanities or social sciences or trades or whatever.
      I am all in favor of a broad curriculum.
      It is also why arts and music outreach programs by professional organizations matter so much. In Madison, we are lucky that the University of Wisconsin, museums and symphony orchestras, among other institutions, do so much to educate and expose young people.

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 29, 2012 @ 9:57 am

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