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Stanford Medicine’s Open Mic: Using music and art to express the human connection

Second-year Stanford medical student Sheun (Shay) Aluko recently commented that "there will never be a need to use Google Translate on a piece of art like music or a painting, because that communication transcends intellectualization and connects people heart to heart.”

That idea was on full display at the School of Medicine's second Open Mic night held earlier this month, when 20 medical students, physicians and medical professionals sang songs, played music and recited poetry in the lobby of the Li Ka Shing Center, after a school Town Hall meeting addressing President Trump’s immigration ban. The mood was intense after the meeting, and many of the performers expressed gratitude that the Open Mic night allowed them to come together and use art to express the human connection during this time.

Kathryn Wu, an MD-PhD student in the school's Medical Scientist Training Program, played Chopin’s "Ballade in G Minor," explaining that the piece was one played by Władysław Szpilman, a Jewish classical pianist, when he was discovered hiding in Warsaw by Wilm Hosenfeld, a Nazi soldier, who recognized the pianist and asked him to play. Wu explained that Hosenfeld was so moved by the beauty of Szpilman’s playing, that he helped Szpilman hide, bringing him food and blankets. (This story is the subject of the movie “The Pianist.") Wu said she believed in the power of art to connect people through their humanity.

Aluko, one of the three co-founders of Open Mic Night, along with first-year students Ryan Brewster and Andrea Garofalo echoed the sentiments of unity and compassion in the lyrics of a song he composed and sang:

Life is a journey, that never ends
We each have a story, that we can tell to our friends .
And I'm here to tell you, that you're made of love.
And I'm here to tell you, that there's a God above.

I'm talkin' 'bout Allah,
Jesus too...
Talkin' 'bout the God,
That's inside me and you.
In order to feel her, just open your heart,
You don't have to worry, 'cause it'll just start

Matias Bruzoni, MD, a pediatric surgeon, and Raji Koppolu, a pediatric nurse practitioner, arrived right from the hospital, still in scrubs and clogs. They sang an original composition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” and a mash up of James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind” and “You’ve Got a Friend.” Bruzoni and Koppolu belong to a band, 2-0 Vicryl (named for a super strong suture), that plays at Division events. They were thrilled to learn about Open Mic. “It was amazing to see all of the talent here,” Koppolu said.

Second-year medical student Jacob Blythe told the audience he was moved when he heard Robert Pinsky, the Mohr Visiting Poet at Stanford and former U.S. poet laureate, speak at Stanford the month before. He was inspired by the message in Pinsky’s 50-line poem “Shirt,” which he recited. “Shirt” is a commentary on the relationship between workers and consumers that  respects the skills of those who make and inspect a shirt, and also asks the reader to consider the often tragic history of textile workers, including  references to Korean sweatshops, the Triangle Factory fire, and Scottish mills.

Reflecting on the energy and feeling of community created with the evening, Brewster noted, "The universality of art has made the Stanford Medicine Open Mic so much more than a talent show. Several of our events have coincided during times of collective anxiety and worry. It was nothing short of inspiring to see the performers bring these emotions into tangible form, inviting them to be shared and validated as a community. It’s our hope that this project will become part of a larger movement to better integrate the arts and humanities into our professional training and institutional culture."

Previously: A musician amongst the scientistsStanford's Medicine & the Muse event mixes music, dance and pediatricsStanford Medicine Music Network brings together healers, musicians and music lovers and Stanford Medicine Music Network brings together healers, musicians and music lovers
Photo by Paul Sakuma

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