Rocking with the BU Medical Campus Band
Ensemble fuses genres, fuels camaraderie
During the summer months, BU Today is revisiting some of the past year’s favorite stories. This week, we feature music.
As everyone knows, getting into medical and dental school is fiercely competitive. And for those choosing academic medicine, that MD tacked to their name promises admission into an almost military-style hierarchy. But at the BU School of Medicine, the Henry Goldman School of Dental Medicine, the School of Public Health, and Boston Medical Center (BMC), there is one place where everyone, from cardiac surgeons to shift nurses to third-year dental students, shares equal status and carries equal weight. It’s the BU Medical Campus Band, and since 2011 the faculty, students, and staff comprising this ragtag jazz-rock-country-world music fusion ensemble have been letting off steam on many Sunday mornings at MED’s Baskt Auditorium.
They also occasionally take the stage for paid performances, with the proceeds from several of them going to the Berklee College of Music scholarship fund. (A group of Berklee musicians has returned the favor with a performance benefiting BMC.)
This past year, the band played at a MED young alumni reunion at Boston’s Taj hotel. And they performed publicly at the Midway Café in Jamaica Plain.
The band was the brainchild of lead guitarist and harmonica player Rafael Ortega, a MED professor of anesthesia and a BMC anesthesiologist, who is game to jam in any style, be it soul, rock, jazz, or the reggae and calypso of his Dominican Republic childhood. Like his bandmates, a Sunday morning on-call might have him swiftly trading his jeans for scrubs. Ortega says the Sunday schedule was initially a tough sell for spouses and significant others. But the music makes this high-powered, Type A bunch so happy and so centered, they joke that the jam sessions have become their church.
The band is “a great venue for faculty, staff, and students to interact,” head and neck surgeon—and singer and guitarist—Anand K. Devaiah, a MED associate professor of otolaryngology, told BU Today shortly after the band started. Ortega says the ensemble now “lives permanently at the medical school,” and accepts musicians playing any instrument as well as any person moved to sing or clap cymbals. “We’ve had saxophones, violins, Spanish guitar, harmonica, timbales, congas, djembe, and bongos.”
Not only are there no auditions, but band members have been known to call, “C’mon up and join us” to people who poke their heads into the auditorium where they rehearse. Depending on who shows up that day, the band can segue from blues to heavy metal. “We don’t have a recognizable sound,” says Ortega, MED associate dean for diversity and multicultural affairs.
The ensemble is a hit among colleagues and administrators alike. The BUMC Band functions as something of an equalizer—a student might be playing the bass line for his professor of surgery. As for, to put it delicately, the reputedly outsized egos of people in certain professions, these are preempted by the music, the camaraderie, and the sheer fun factor. Ortega has called making music “a laboratory for all of us, to negotiate and make compromises. We must try to keep egos in check.” He describes the band as therapy and says it’s become such a popular diversion that it’s even used as a recruitment tool.
“One faculty member chose our institution so he could play drums,” Ortega says.
So proud of BUMC and everyone in the band! Would like to see more videos and learn more about when they perform.