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Med Campus Band On Call Tonight

Berklee musicians join in benefit for food pantry

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In the video above, watch the BUMC Band’s version of “Dirty Water.”

There will be doctors in the house—as well as nurses and medical and public health students—for tonight’s eclectic program of jazz, blues, pop, and Latin music to benefit the Boston Medical Center Food Pantry. And if last year’s sold-out collaboration between the BU Medical Campus Band and Berklee College of Music musicians was any indication, the house will be packed. The band and 17 friends from nearby Berklee will play at the School of Medicine’s Bakst Auditorium to raise money for the pantry, which helps patients in need.

The joint concert with Berklee’s All Stars Band was inspired by a hugely successful performance last February, when the BUMC Band played at Berklee’s Café 939 as part of the music school’s executive series, a showcase for Boston area professionals who are also musicians. Proceeds from that event went to a Berklee scholarship fund.

“They were turning people away at the door,” says Rafael Ortega, a MED professor of anesthesiology, who plays guitar and harmonica. “We arranged this concert in the spirit of reciprocity.” Ortega has written about music’s potential for soothing not just patients, but the practitioners who attend to them. The BUMC Band, with a membership hovering around 20, “has strived to improve communication, enrich the learning environment, foster medical humanism, and enhance cultural competency,” he says.

And the ensemble has a great time doing it. Born out of informal gatherings of BUMC musicians three years ago, the band rehearses on Sunday mornings in a storage room tucked behind a lecture hall. “It’s an ensemble that’s fairly diverse and ever-changing,” Ortega says. Drawing on their varied ethnicity and ages, the musicians play popular music with influences from reggae to calypso. “I’m from the Dominican Republic,” he says, “and we have musicians from Puerto Rico, China, and Armenia.” Other backgrounds include Indian, Jamaican, Korean, Sri Lankan, Trinidadian, and Iranian. “We have senior faculty to younger faculty to medical students to staff, with a range of capabilities.”

The band doesn’t do many acoustic numbers—the guys “like to amplify,” says Ortega. The amplifiers, as well as drums and a keyboard, were donated or purchased by the faculty and now “live permanently at the medical school,” he says. “We accept any instrument, and we have had saxophones, violins, Spanish guitar, harmonica, timbales, congas, djembe, and bongos.”

Ortega hopes BUMC colleagues and the BU community beyond will show up to enjoy the music and help a worthy cause. The need for food assistance is greater than ever, he says. “While there are many worthy causes, the most basic—to help feed the people in our community who cannot afford to do so—is one that rings true for everyone.”

More information about tonight’s concert, which is open to the public and begins at 7 p.m. at the Bakst Auditorium, 72 E. Concord St., on the Medical Campus, can be found here. Cash donations will be gratefully accepted.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

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