When Dr. John Schwab talks about Hoover Uprights, chances are
he's not referring to vacuum cleaners. Schwab, a chemist in the
NIGMS Division of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Biological Chemistry,
is a founding member of an old-time country music band named — for
reasons even he can't explain — after the appliance.
Schwab says his love of folk music inspired him to take up the
acoustic guitar, which he has played since age 13. But he insists
that he is not a solo artist. He prefers playing with his fellow
band mates — a fiddler, a banjo player and a ukulele player who doubles
as a bassist. Occasionally, the Uprights are joined by a harmonica
player, whom Schwab jokingly refers to as the group's "blower attachment."
||Dr. John Schwab (l) and band
mates (from l) Bill Schmidt, Kevin Enoch and Dr. Kate Brett,
play old-time country music in their free time.
"We have a terrific time playing, both for the music as well as
the camaraderie," he said. "After a dozen years, we are still very
close friends, and 'band politics' have never been an issue for
us," he added.
The style of music the Uprights perform is commonly played at
square dances. The genre, which originated in the southeastern
region of the United States, is the root of bluegrass music. But
unlike bluegrass, which is performance- oriented and features instrumental
solo breaks, old-time music is a more social form of music that
is played as an ensemble.
The Uprights play for contra and square dances at local venues
such as Glen Echo Park and Cherry Hill Park, as well as at Lovely
Lane United Methodist Church in Baltimore. They also showcase their
skills at fiddlers conventions. A few years after taking home the
top prize at the Deer Creek Fiddlers Convention in Westminster,
Md., the group won first place in the traditional band contest
in 2001 at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival in Clifftop,
W.Va. They repeated as first-place winners in 2003.
Schwab says their 2001 performance at Clifftop was his most memorable
moment playing with the Uprights. "It was a huge honor, since many
of the very best old-time musicians have bands that enter the contest,
and they tend to take it really seriously and play their very best," he
explained. In a typical year, 50-70 bands enter the traditional
The group's list of accomplishments includes a performance on
the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage in 2004. The Uprights' first
CD, which will include tunes from the Appalachian Mountains and
the Midwest, is in the works and will be completed soon.
According to Schwab, his role as an old-time music backup guitar
player is similar to his role at NIH.
"Here in NIGMS, there is no such thing as a 'superstar' program
director — we all work for a common goal, which is to facilitate
scientific research and to help identify and support the very best
science," he said. "Playing old-time music is comparable. We all
play together, and each of us tries to complement what the other
musicians are playing."