At left, Jason Klima and Lauren Abell provide leadership for NIH Nerds in Harmony. At right, NIH Nerds in Harmony includes (front, from l) Abell, Megan Wang, Alex Title and Lexi Dias. At rear are (from l) Klima, Tony Dawson, Ian Murphy, Anthony Duong and Femke Lamers.
The Rolling Stones they are not. Nor are you likely to mistake their music for Aerosmith, the Black Eyed Peas or Andrea Bocelli. In fact, most of these young NIH scientist-singers might go so far as to admit they really aren’t top line performers (at least when they joined up) and most have had no professional training.
“That is true, in fact most of our members actually received their ‘training’ singing in the shower,” noted NIDDK’s Lauren Abell, soloist, soprano and director of NIH Nerds in Harmony, an a capella ensemble consisting of 14 members. The group, made up primarily of post-baccalaureate researchers, volunteer their voices, poise and occasional wit to participate in a number of musical performances each year, geared primarily to youth or special interest groups, both within and outside of NIH.
Abell, whose scientific work investigates translational regulation and gene repression using bacteriophage T4 and Bordetella pertussis, says, “Our group is very tight-knit and everyone is there because they love to sing, so every rehearsal is a good time.”
The harmonizing assemblage was the 2004 brainchild of four NIH postbacs who started singing under the name “IRTA pella” (a play on Intramural Research Training Award). Since then, the group has flourished through the leadership of many directors and members who come and go as their professions enable them.
While a penchant for song is a driving incentive, some members see additional benefits to belonging to the group. Observes Alexandra Title, a second-year postbac in the Laboratory of Clinical Genomics, NICHD: “Joining this group was really a great way to meet and interact with other baccalaureates pursing different fields of science.” She says the group has performed for many audiences, including D.C. Autism Buddies, the French Embassy’s Fete de la Musique, Bethesda residents at holiday time and for patients at the Children’s Inn and in the wards as well as in the Clinical Center’s atrium.
“What’s best is that singing at NIH allows us the privilege of cheering up sick patients,” adds Title. “It also provides us bench scientists with exposure to the patient side of NIH—something we rarely get to experience from the lab.” Singing is also a great way to relax and clear your mind after a day in the lab, she said, “and who doesn’t need that?”
Under the leadership of current musical director Jason Klima, an NHLBI fellow investigating mitochondrial genetics, the ensemble delivers a variety of tunes from different genres. While in past years the emphasis was on top 40 hits and pop, “today we focus more on alternative and disco-rock, soul and traditional songs from groups such as the Beatles, Katy Perry, the Drifters and even The Lion King.” Their favorite songs, he added, include “For the Longest Time,” by Billy Joel and Joe Dassin’s “Les Champs Elysees.”
What keeps the group together? By all accounts, it appears to be camaraderie. “Through rehearsals, performances, karaokes, retreats and get-togethers, we’ve become closer than colleagues,” Klima said. “This makes it easier to pass the torch, so to speak, as we are completely self-organized.”
Anyone interested in joining NIH Nerds in Harmony or learning more about the group can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to hear them perform, you can listen to them practice at the chapel in Bldg. 10, 7th floor, Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. You can also follow their activities via several social media sites, including Twitter@NerdsinHarmony, Facebook (Nerdy Harmonizer) and YouTube (NerdsinHarmony).