Stanford Medicine’s ‘[email protected]’ series closes the distance between medicine and art despite social distancing

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After almost a month of social distancing, it is difficult to imagine attending a concert. Throwing yourself in a crowd of thousands for the sole purpose of entertainment without worries for your health seems like a distant memory. Thankfully, current media technology has allowed for the arts to be shared with miles in between each audience member, something that communities wouldn’t have had a decade ago. Popular artists have been using Instagram Live and daily YouTube uploads to keep their fans entertained. Broadway.com live-streamed a reading of “Lips Together, Teeth Apart.” Cirque du Soleil has been broadcasting 60-minute specials with highlights from their various shows.

Unfortunately, when you turn on your TV, the first thing you hear is news coverage on the pandemic. With stories about the influx of cases, it is easy to get lost in the medical world. However, there is no rule that states that STEM fields must be separate from the arts and that practitioners cannot engage in creative expression. The Medicine & the Muse Program at Stanford Medicine created the “[email protected]” concert series in late March to converge the worlds of medicine and humanities in front of a virtual audience. The organization is dedicated to continuing this event every week on Thursday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. until the shelter-in-place order in the state of California terminates.

I had the fortune to watch the second “[email protected]” concert aired on April 2. Bryant Lin, a clinical associate professor of primary care and population health, served as the emcee for the entire hour. When asked for his reflection on the series, Lin reflected that “[he] was inspired to help start the concert series out of a desire to forge closer human connections during a time when we all have to stay apart.” He is “amazed by the depth of sharing, warmth and talent in [the] community.”

He started off the event by introducing Jacqueline Genovese, the executive director of The Medicine and The Muse Program. She thanked all the medical professionals working on the frontline of the pandemic, acknowledging that this is a difficult time for our community, our country and the world as a whole.

“We believe in the strength of music and community to bring healing,” Genovese stated as she smiled into the camera. She also commended Lin for being an enthusiastic host, joking lightheartedly that he could rival the famed Ryan Seacrest.

Before starting the program, Lin encouraged the audience to utilize the chat function on Zoom to send in comments and “applaud” the performers. An unfortunate instance of Zoombombing during the first performance, however, required that Lin and Genovese close the chat for all but the select cohort of performers, reminding those watching live of the importance of kindness and empathy in these trying times. 

The concert opened with Matias Bruzoni, a pediatric surgeon, and Rajashree Koppolu, a nurse practitioner with pediatric general surgery, performing a medley of “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen and “Walkaway Joe” by Trisha Yearwood. As part of their introduction, Lin asked the duo what has surprised them during this challenging time. Koppolu expressed that “it’s been refreshing and wonderful to reconnect with good friends and family from around the country,” while Bruzoni emphasized the impact of these times, adding that “music is a good excuse. We’ve been playing a lot of music ourselves … it’s a good vent.”

This passion for music was clearly exemplified the second that they began performing. As Bruzoni began playing the piano, Koppulu’s voice cut through the audio of Zoom as her relaxing tone enraptured the audience. The clearness of her voice contrasted so beautifully with the raspy nature of Bruzoni’s harmony, elevating the dynamic of the piece.

These harmonies were rivaled by Steve Goodman, the associate dean for the School of Medicine, and his son, Eli Goodman ’21. In their introductions, Lin stated that Goodman has performed in numerous Bay Area productions and has sung the national anthem for the San Francisco Giants and the Golden State Warriors. This musical talent was not lost in Eli, who is a member of the Stanford a cappella group the Mendicants. The pair performed “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” which, as Goodman explained, was the anthem for the unemployed during the Great Depression. As they sang, it was so interesting to listen to the difference in style. Goodman exemplified strong, classical training while Eli had a more contemporary tone (as you would expect of someone in the Mendicants). However, when they sang in unison, it was as if one person was performing.

Following performances by Anita Honiken, Alyssa Burgart, Laurel Braitman, Han Zhu, Jonathan Chen, Dan Li, Paramesh Gopi and his children and Tamara Dunn all exemplified the diverse range of musical talent within Stanford Medicine. There were elements within every performance that related back to the current stress of the pandemic, and these individuals spoke to their audience through their artistic mediums to virtually reassure everyone. In reciting the poem “The Weighing” by Jane Hirshfield, Laurel Braitman mused, “the world asks of us only the strength we have and we give it. Then it asks more and we give it.” These were not originally words written by her, but Braitman took them and made them her own with her delivery and audible silences.

Dan Li’s performance of “Drunken Man” by Ruan Ji on the Guqin (a seven-stringed zither) was a form of music that you don’t hear every day. The melodies were not what you would call conventionally pretty, but there was something about the chord structure and the form of the song that makes it so unique. There were no patterns that you could infer. As with current times, you had to take the piece as it came and allow yourself to relinquish a little bit of control over your musical expectations.

Another moment that stood out was Paramesh Gopi singing an Indian healing prayer with his entire family. After a stunning rendition of “Rise Up” by Andra Day performed by his children Kaanchana and Shankaran, the Gopi family crowded around a keyboard to perform said prayer. Prior to the performance, they explained that the prayer was historically used to deliver communities from disease. It was so heartwarming to visualize these individuals coming together to gather their hopes towards a common cause.

The event concluded with a sing-along, an idea crafted by Paul Wang, who acknowledged that “in these uncertain times, it is important for all of us to come together as a community. What better way to join together than in song – a sing-along. We all felt a bit closer.” This part was led by Tamara Dunn, a clinical assistant professor in hematology and program director for hematology fellowship. She sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” powerfully belting the well-known melody and taking liberties with the tempo of the piece. She added her own special take on the piece by including dips and soaring high notes as well as intentionally getting softer and concentrating the nostalgic tune into a definite close.

In a conversation afterward with Genovese, she remarked that “as a non-clinician who works with so many wonderful physicians and medical students, I feel a bit helpless as our medical professionals go in every day and face the enormity of this pandemic. To be able to create community and bring musical joy to the medical community and others, and to provide a space and shine a light on our talented medical students, residents, doctors and staff, especially in such uncertain times, makes me feel just a little less helpless.”

While there will undoubtedly be technical interruptions that come from conducting a Zoom concert, the “[email protected]” series has proven that no matter where you are and no matter how many years of experience you have, art is always something you can indulge in. No one knows for certain how much longer this pandemic will last, but this does not mean that each day must be faced with negativity. Creative expression provides an outlet and a method of community contribution for everyone, even if your career is not in the arts. Just as evolving media technology has been shaping the way that we learn, it can also shape the way that we entertain and the way that art is delivered and created.

As stated before, the “[email protected]” series will be every Thursday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. PT until the shelter-in-place order ends. The next concert will be aired on April 9, 2020 (today) at 5:30 p.m. PT. Visit http://med.stanford.edu/medicineandthemuse.html for the Zoom link to attend.

If you are interested in performing in the series, please contact Jacqueline Genovese at [email protected].

Contact Chloe Chow at chloe23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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