Tony Cicoria – A Mystical Story of Music and Lightning

One of the most remarkable stories about music is the story of Dr. Tony Cicoria. Chronicled in Musicophilia – Tales of Music And The Brain by the late Oliver Sacks, Dr. Cicoria’s story is equal parts spiritual, musical, and science fiction. In 1994, Dr. Cicoria was a back surgeon living in New York, when a flash of lightning changed his life forever.


While using a payphone to call his mother, Dr. Cicoria was struck by a lightning bolt. The bolt left his body unconscious, but Cicoria describes having an out of body experience after the lighting strike:

“I was flying forwards. Bewildered. I looked around. I saw my own body on the ground. I said to myself, ‘Oh s***, I’m dead.’ I saw people converging on the body. I saw a woman — she had been standing waiting to use the phone right behind me — position herself over my body, give it CPR. . . . I floated up the stairs — my consciousness came with me. I saw my kids, had the realization that they would be okay. Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light . . . an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. The highest and lowest points of my life raced by me. No emotion associated with these … pure thought, pure ecstasy. I had the perception of accelerating, being drawn up .. there was speed and direction. Then, as I was saying to myself, ‘This is the most glorious feeling I have ever had’ — SLAM! I was back.”

After regaining consciousness, Dr. Cicoria refused EMT treatment in lieu of consulting a cardiologist and a neurologist that he knew personally. A month after the incident, Dr. Cicoria recalls an “insatiable desire to listen to piano music,” a very unusual urge for the surgeon. Dr. Cicoria was previously a college football player, and listened to rock music than any other genre. With only a few piano lessons as a child to speak for his musical ability, this desire to listen to piano music was foreign to Cicoria. This translated into practicing the instrument when a babysitter asked to store a piano in Cicoria’s home. Dr. Cicoria began teaching himself how to read and play music, when he began hearing new, original piano music in his mind.

“The first time,” he said, “it was in a dream. I was in a tux, onstage; I was playing something I had written. I woke up, startled, and the music was still in my head. I jumped out of bed, started trying to write down as much of it as I could remember. But I hardly knew how to notate what I heard.”

In the years that followed, Dr. Cicoria became obsessed with composing and practicing his own, original music. He became so obsessed, he would wake up in the early morning to practice – and his obsession eventually lead his wife to divorce him. But today, Cicoria is an accomplished pianist and composer. In 2007, he debuted his first original composition live. In 2009, Dr. Cicoria’s first album of original material, “Notes Of An Accidental Pianist and Composer” was released. Watch the late Oliver Sacks describe the story of Tony Cicoria in his own words below:


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