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Barnes-Jewish, Washington University Concert Hits High Note

While we all know that employees and students of Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital collaborate to provide the best possible care to patients, what might come as a surprise is that they also make beautiful music together.

For the past nine years, performers from both institutions have been partnering to present a free concert in the lobby of the Center for Advanced Medicine (CAM). The event is sponsored by the Arts & Healthcare Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and organized by Sarah Colby, the program’s coordinator, and Bradley Fritz, MD, clinical fellow in the Washington University Department of Anesthesiology. The Arts & Healthcare Program is supported by The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“The concert draws a real cross section of performers from the medical school and hospital departments,” says Dr. Fritz. “These are all people who probably wouldn’t have come together to perform without the concert. It’s a way to collaborate and share of yourself, it’s something very personal. It’s also a celebration of the people who are members of our medical community.”

Dr. Fritz, who is currently completing a fellowship in critical care medicine and will be joining the medical school’s faculty in July, is a great example. During this year’s concert, which was held on Jan. 25, he sang Stephen Sondheim’s “Move On,” in a duet with Sarah Dowling, fellowship coordinator, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

An accomplished pianist, Dr. Fritz also accompanied two vocalists: Laura Kyro, graphic artist, Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology, who sang Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later,” and George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” and Kat Coffin, secretary, Department of Surgery, who sang Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Burn.”

The approximately 35 musicians who performed this year also came from such departments as the north cafeteria, clinical engineering, facilities maintenance, radiation oncology, and the pharmacy.  There was even one former patient.

These participants discovered the concert through various ways. Since Colby arranges for the pianists and other musical performances in the CAM, she often encourages those performers to play at the concert. Sometimes they learned about the concert through word of mouth or by internal communications sent to employees and students. In Dr. Fritz’ case, it was through the Washington University School of Medicine’s activity fair.

Although Dr. Fritz had been performing musical theater since he was six, he thought he’d have to give that up when he entered medical school. But through the fair, he discovered and then joined an a cappella group called the Histones. Named after proteins that provide structural support to a chromosome, the Histones singing group has existed since at least 2009 and has been performing annually at the Arts & Healthcare concert.

The Histones recruit students from all degree programs at the medical school, including medicine, PhD, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and audiology. Ryan Wahidi, a co-leader of the group, says one of the goals is “to get to know people in other departments and to expand our social networks outside of our degree programs.” For all members of the group, regardless of department, the weekly rehearsals are a regularly-scheduled time to relieve stress and make music together.

In addition to their promising health care careers, many of the students who make up the 18-member group have impressive musical backgrounds. Wahidi, for example, has worked in classical music and jazz as a cellist and upright bassist, performing at both Carnegie and Powell Halls. His co-leader, Angela Cattani, sang for two years with the Nerds in Harmony, the young scientist a cappella group at the National Institutes of Health.

Although the concert attracts a regular number of extremely talented musicians, Colby says she’d like to see the program expand, so she and Dr. Fritz are on the lookout for additional participants for next year’s event.

“The medical center is a big place and quite a challenge to get the word out,” Colby says. “We’d love to tap new performers from all corners of the campus. It is such a special program and we want to keep it going!”

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