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Seriously singing: Steve Goodman balances roles as physician, researcher and baritone

I first learned about Steve Goodman’s off-campus talent several months ago, when a YouTube video of him performing the national anthem at the San Francisco Giants game spread through our department-wide distribution list like wildfire. I was blown away. His voice – a rich, resonant baritone – filled the cavernous stadium, reverberating off the walls.

Like many, I often (unfairly) assume that Stanford faculty don’t have the time to pursue their extracurricular interests with something approaching the passion they give to medicine. But Goodman, MD, PhD, who is a professor of medicine and of health research and policy, fills his off hours with a dizzying array of performances – singing in churches, concert halls, and theaters all around the Bay Area.

He started as a “moderately serious clarinetist first, not a singer,” Goodman explained in a recent article. His trajectory changed when he heard a college production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute when, “for the first time I understood the theater part of opera,” Goodman said.

It was at Johns Hopkins, where he was earned a masters in biostatistics and a PhD in epidemiology, that Goodman says, “I got more and more interested in singing seriously.” His real breakthrough came while working with a vocal coach at Hopkins’ Peabody Conservatory. "He somehow got through to me that the voice that sounded good to me in my head sounded bad outside, and the voice that sounded bad to me in my head sounded good outside. When I finally sang with the voice he wanted, he shouted, 'That’s money!',” Goodman said.

The coach was right. Just weeks later Goodman auditioned for the Baltimore Opera, and was offered the choice of any part he wanted. He (fittingly) chose a role as Lady Macbeth’s doctor, and while he didn’t cure her, his opera career had started. He sang in multiple productions over the ensuing years, performed “virtually every baritone role that Gilbert and Sullivan wrote,” and somehow found time to sing for the Baltimore Orioles.

In 2011, Goodman moved across the country for a new position at Stanford. Though his musical opportunities have diminished, he still finds gigs occasionally. He has performed mass at Stanford Memorial Church, has cantored for Jewish services at the Stanford Hillel, and has sang the national anthem for many Stanford games. “I am still working on the Warriors,” he explains, “but they are a tough nut to crack.”

Goodman describes the experience of navigating between the worlds of academic medicine and opera as being intensely rewarding but extraordinarily difficult. He does, however, feel that it has made him better at dealing with patients and people in general:

You touch people by sharing your common humanity, and that means not being afraid to find it in yourself, and to display it to others. There is no question that this aspect of my singing life kept part of me alive that made me a better doctor, friend, and parent.

Previously: Stanford anesthesia faculty and staff share their hidden talents"What a life to one's morale": Stanford physicians take time from busy schedules to discuss art and A lesson in voice and anatomy from an opera singer
Photo by Cory Weaver

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