Tickling the NIH ivories

The grand piano in the National Institutes of Health's Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Center fills the facility with music

Lauren Urban
Jul 8, 2010
Visitors to the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, find themselves in the middle of an airy atrium at the hub of units and labs and above a cluster of tables and chairs where both scientists in lab coats and patients sit. Wander through the floors of the facility and you may hear music wafting from the Steinway grand piano at the center of that spacious atrium. It's very likely that those ivories are being tickled by one of NIH's own. In 2005, the director of the clinical center, John Gallin, and its architect Bob Frasca were discussing the layout of the new building over coffee when the idea of placing a piano at the heart of the facility was born. The idea spread to the researchers that would make the center their home, including linkurl:Tracey Rouault,;;http://mmp.nichd.nih.gov/personnel.html head of the section...
airy atrium at the hub of units and labs and above a cluster of tables and chairs where both scientists in lab coats and patients sit. Wander through the floors of the facility and you may hear music wafting from the Steinway grand piano at the center of that spacious atrium. It's very likely that those ivories are being tickled by one of NIH's own. In 2005, the director of the clinical center, John Gallin, and its architect Bob Frasca were discussing the layout of the new building over coffee when the idea of placing a piano at the heart of the facility was born. The idea spread to the researchers that would make the center their home, including linkurl:Tracey Rouault,;;http://mmp.nichd.nih.gov/personnel.html head of the section on human iron metabolism in the molecular medicine program and her husband, William Linehan. Linehan happened to have a patient interested in making a donation of some kind to the hospital, and he thought that a piano would be the perfect gift. But after consulting with experts at the piano maker Steinway & Sons about the type of instrument that would truly do the space justice, it was clear that additional funds would have to be procured. Linehan's brother and partner matched the patient's donation, and the Friends of the Clinical Center kicked in the rest of the funding needed to purchase a Steinway "Model D" grand piano. Rouault, who began taking lessons at the age of 5, set-off to Steinway's factory in Queens, New York, where she brought scores of music specially chosen to bring out different tones in pianos until she found the right one for the clinical center. Rouault used some of that same music for the inaugural concert that was held in the atrium. Since the first concert in 2005, a number of scientists, clinicians, staff, and patients have all sat behind the grand piano to fill the halls of the clinical center with music. In order of appearance: Tracey Rouault is the head of section on human iron metabolism at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Rouault has played the piano since she was five years old and names Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Brahams as some of her favorite composers.Tristen Park is a surgical oncology fellow at NIH. She was born in South Korea and moved to New York, where she began playing the piano at a prep school as an eight-year-old. She decided to attend Columbia University's Medical School when she learned that composer Sergei Rachmaninoff had donated a Steinway grand to the school similar the one in the clinical center. Jenny Hong, another surgical oncology fellow studying immunotherapy, says that playing the piano keeps her "emotionally and spiritually sane." For her, playing music and practicing medicine are very similar. "Just like medicine, playing the piano is both an art and a science." Hong says that through playing piano at NIH, she has been able to meet a number of other musicians in the clinical center.Joy Williams, staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute for the past twenty years, has been merging science and music since her undergrad days at Oberlin College in Ohio. The school has a conservatory and a college of arts and science, and as an undergrad Williams graduated with both a degree in piano and one in biology. She says that if she had just focused solely on science it would not have been good for her. "Playing the piano focuses me" and "absorbs my mind in different ways then science."
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[3rd June 2010]*linkurl:Scientific song and dance;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/56138/
[5th November 2009]*linkurl:Medical music;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/55826/
[17th July 2009]

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