Photos by Graham Perry
Musical and medical passions are a natural match for Joseph Park, a second-year MD-PhD student at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Park is a Juilliard-trained classical violinist and Harvard University graduate who currently plays in a funk rock band called Trisomy Rescue with five medical school classmates and one Penn doctoral student in applied mathematics. Park plans to pursue graduate study in genomics and computational biology at Penn, aiming to become a physician-scientist combining biomedical research, clinical practice, and teaching—while still keeping music as an essential part of his life. Here, Park discusses his musical track in his own words.
On his inspiration to become a musician:
My mother, now a retired opera singer, had a dream as a young girl to become a world-renowned pianist. But due to her father’s poor cardiovascular health, she made the decision to give up her dreams, which required a significant financial investment to not only maintain piano lessons but also to pay off the cost of a grand piano. While she decided to become an opera singer instead, she encouraged me to pick up her dream and play the piano. However, being the rebellious child I was, at the age of three I chose the violin after jealously watching a girl play Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor on TV.
My family moved to New York City when I was 10 years old for a variety of reasons, including the opportunity for me to attend the Juilliard School. Ironically, my move to New York corrupted my classical music background once my friends introduced me to classic and alternative rock.
Throughout college, I kept up with violin as a member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra. Chamber music, which was also a favorite from my Juilliard days, continued to provide an avenue for me to temporarily forget all stressors. But I also started to take music arrangement and composition more seriously, using the skills I learned from music theory and ear training [at Juilliard] to arrange old songs using modern sounds, perform K-pop songs in jazz and funk arrangements, and get into the habit of listening to any vocal part in 3-part harmonies.
On balancing music and medicine:
There were many students at Juilliard who were also interested in going into medicine, but there weren’t any platforms that existed for us to perform at hospitals or other medical centers in New York City. So, a couple of classmates and I created a group at Juilliard called Apollo Ensembles, named after the god of both music and medicine. Through the few connections I had formed with the Beth Israel Medical Center through shadowing and research internships, we were able to start performing in the ICU at Beth Israel, before expanding our performances to other medical locations over time. At Harvard, I joined Music In Hospitals and Nursing homes Using Entertainment as Therapy (MIHNUET), an organization that performs at medical centers and senior homes throughout the Boston area. In addition to playing in the university orchestra, performing with MIHNUET helped me to continue tying together my interests in music and medicine. It really wasn’t an avidly active process on any of the members’ parts, but somehow [forming a jazzy, pop-style funk rock band, Trisomy Rescue, in medical school] happened.
On writing medically inspired songs, including a love song about contraception:
Believe it or not, it was not our intent to become a medical school band; we weren't trying to write explicitly medical songs. As Trisomy Rescue, we do tend to write songs that incorporate some of the language we find ourselves immersed in during medical school, but we use such language to symbolize universal experiences such as love and heartbreak. For example, by symbolizing a heartbreaking situation as a schistocyte [a fragmented red blood cell] for our first song, we aimed to create a song about an emotional topic that our listeners could relate to while using a medical term to portray this emotion.
You can listen to the song on the band's SoundCloud, here.
The language of family planning is not often used in pop music, so for “Meant to Be” we aimed to use that language to create a love song that is emotionally bare and explicit, for example, using lyrics such as “we’re gonna use contraception tonight.” The combination of a reggae and ballad-based musical atmosphere and lyrics that incorporate medical terms to talk about love and sex is what we think makes the song unique and catchy, while also capturing the band's identity and color.
On finding the band’s unique sound while creating “Rescue Breaths,” their first EP:
As clichéd as this may sound, each member of Trisomy Rescue brought in something special and unique. Our horn players, David [Kersen] and Jon [Peterson], were able to bring in jazzy components given their background and training in jazz performance. Peter [Schwab] and Dan [Gratch], the bassist and lead guitarist, used their experience in song-writing and band performance to create key catch-phrases, memorable lyrics and vocal lines, and the catchy guitar and bass lines that each of our songs heavily anchors on. Our drummers, Jacob [Seideman] and Mike [Randazzo], have changed the atmosphere of each song since their initial compositions through their own rhythmic interpretations. Finally, I've been organizing and incorporating each member's strengths to paint a general picture and lay down a framework for each song on which the band could build upon and add new ideas, while also writing horn lines, vocal melodies, and harmonies. Initially, the song-writing process was very random and disorganized, but it has now become a systematic process that everyone understands and can easily adhere to. Now that we have this system in place, we are still able to continue being productive as a band even during our busier clerkship years.
The process for putting together "Rescue Breaths" was also a process for us as a band to figure out our identity, the "Trisomy Rescue sound." For shows, we have performed a wide variety of genres, including jazz, funk, rock, pop, and even holiday music. But what ultimately went into our EP became a sound that traverses funk, jazz, and pop, and that sound is now an identity we are proud to live and play by. Interestingly, the new songs we are currently working on are consistent with this sound, and it makes us think that we have truly found an identity as a band through the process of creating our first EP.
On keeping music alive in a future medical career:
Music has always been an essential part of me and I cannot imagine a life without my serious investment in music. It has always been this way, and I hope that I will always be involved in music somehow. I also hope that Trisomy Rescue will have a long future, even if we will be encountering various obstacles in the clinic along the way. I also don’t want to lose my roots in classical music, which is why I joined the recently founded Penn Med Orchestra in hopes of establishing a strong orchestral culture in the Philadelphia medical community, just as the Longwood Symphony has done throughout decades in Boston. While the orchestra is just in its beginning stages, I am hoping that the many years I have left in Philly as an MD-PhD student will allow me to invest significant energy and effort as the orchestra’s concertmaster to see the community develop over the years.
Audio Extras: Meet the Band and Find the Music
Members of Trisomy Rescue sat down with Katie Magoon, a second-year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine, to discuss music and medical education. Listen to an excerpt from the interview, conducted as part of a forthcoming Doctors Who Create podcast:
Music by Trisomy Rescue is available on iTunes and Spotify.
About this Article and Audio Extra
An earlier version of this article was originally published on Doctors Who Create, a website focused on creativity in the medical profession, founded by second-year Perelman School of Medicine student Vidya Viswanathan. Stephanie Woo, the site’s editor in chief, provided initial editing of the written Q&A with Joseph Park. Katie Magoon is a podcast producer for Doctors Who Create, as is Penn undergraduate Ben Silva, who contributed sound editing to the audio interview. The audio segment was further edited and produced by Rob Press and Rachel Ewing for Penn Medicine.
Read more about Doctors Who Create, Viswanathan, and other creative medical students in Meet the Modern Medical Polymaths.