Superheroes of song

Members of the DMU Choir and String Quartet juggle classes and tests. They excel on board exams and clinical rotations. And somehow they’re able to meld medicine and music, masterfully. Can these people fly?

By the time they arrived at the venue, members of the DMU Choir were already a bit nervous about their performance at the University’s 2009 Glanton Scholarship dinner. Not only were they going to sing with world-renowned operatic bass-baritone Simon Estes in front of more than 500 guests, but they also had had just a week to practice “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Then an unfortunate bit of miscommunication boosted their collective blood pressure: Just hours before they took the stage, Estes told the choir members he expected their pianist, osteopathic medicine student Jenna Tate, to tickle the ivories along with the pianist he’d brought along for his solo numbers. The piano score was an orchestral transcription of the song, which made it even more difficult and daunting.

“It definitely added a bit of stress to the evening,” understates Tate. “I knew we were going to have to improvise somehow if we were going to have something playable within a couple of hours.”

Nonetheless, she and her choir mates kept as cool as steely emergency room doctors. They performed to enthusiastic applause and rave reviews. “You don’t get the opportunity to sing everyday with a world-class opera singer, especially as a non-professional,” says choir member Katie Schell, D.O.’12.

Most DMU Choir members were hard-wired for song at an early age. Choir member Ashley Holland, D.O.’13, credits the colic she had as a baby for her musical acumen.

“For the first three years of my life, I cried all the time,” she says. “My mom says all that crying I did stretched and prepared my vocal chords.”

Two years ago, Kendall Reed, D.O., FACOS, FACS, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, sparked the idea for a university choir by e-mailing the idea to COM students. “I got more than 100 responses within an hour,” he recalls. The group now has about 25 active members and several more on its e-mail list.

Why a choir at a medical school? “I think music is part of the culture of a university,” Reed notes. “And it gives students balance in their lives.”

Resonating idea

Growing up, Nicole Nelson, D.O.’13, came to love the violin because her lessons let her miss the weekly meetings with the guidance counselor that her school required. Early in her DMU career, she and osteopathic classmate Yoshihiro Ozaki, a cellist, discovered their mutual stringed strengths.

“We thought, ‘Hey, we’re half a quartet,” Nelson adds. She and Ozaki spread the word and were soon joined by others, including Eric Lew, now a fourth-year podiatric medicine student.

“I was really excited to catch word that there were other string instrumentalists on campus,” Lew says. “We realized the chance we had for providing a unique musical service to the DMU community.”

The DMU Choir and String Quartet have become regular, albeit unpaid, stars at University events. Ozaki sees an analogy between music and medicine.

“When you see patients, they don’t really care how much time you’ve spent in class or in board exams,” he says. “That’s like performance – the audience doesn’t care how much you’ve practiced so long as you’re giving them the gift of music.”

Giving the gift of music: Several members of the DMU community are also members of the Des Moines Community Orchestra, including students Nicole Nelson and Yoshihiro Ozaki, who is principal cellist; Deb Gordley, a DMU administrative secretary and the orchestra’s principal oboist; and gastroenterologist Bernard Feldman, D.O.’80, a cellist and member of the DMU Board of Trustees.

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