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Bringing Music to the Texas Science Community in Intense Times

Bringing Music to the Texas Science Community in Intense Times
Professor of neuroscience Amy Lee and college director for facilities Ann Harasimowitz in the Norman Hackerman Building with its new piano. Credit: Masa Kuwajima

Finding new strategies to battle COVID or cancer, developing tools for the fight against climate change, working to understand a human brain transformed by alcoholism or Alzheimer's disease—this is just a small sample of the type of work scientists at UT Austin do every day. It can be a lot for the individuals involved, with plenty of setbacks and stress along the way. Researchers, like so many people, could use a break right about now.

That's one reason members of the Department of Neuroscience have organized a special concert this month—the first in a new series called Musical Memories. Led by Anton Nel, a renowned pianist and Butler School of Music professor, the concert celebrates the arrival of a Baldwin R piano in the Norman Hackerman Building (NHB), where many neuroscientists and other Natural Sciences researchers work. Nel, the Lozano Long Chair in Piano, will play in NHB's fifth floor atrium on Thursday, April 14 from noon to 1 p.m. A Zoom link is available for those who prefer to join online.

"It's so important for us to have ways to get together," said Amy Lee, a professor of neuroscience who helped organize the series. "Even though we get together in faculty meetings and student organizations, music is something that can bring us all together for just social support, networking, things that give us a sense of belonging."

A collaboration between the College of Fine Arts and Natural Sciences resulted in the donation of a piano key to a new concert series. Credit: Masa Kuwajima

The piano was donated by Joseph Mann in memory of his late parents, Rudolph (Rudy) Keimowitz and Carol Mann-Keimowitz. Carol Mann-Keimowitz was a music teacher at the University of Wisconsin and executive director of the La Crosse Symphony orchestra. That's where she met and married Keimowitz, an avid researcher and physician at Vanderbilt University, who sang in local performances. Mann has many memories of the piano in the life of the family, including his mother sitting down with her kindergarten-age grandson and playing as he banged on the keys.

"I remember when he would play with it, how it would make her smile," he recalled.

Not musicians themselves, Mann's family was looking to donate the piano at the same time that Lee was searching for one. She hoped to launch a series of musical concerts, modeled on a series her husband, Mark Bernat, ran for medical professionals and patients, first at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and more recently at UT Austin's Dell Medical School. Lee believed science researchers, too, could benefit from experiencing music in the spaces where they worked hard to make discoveries and improve lives. A contact at the Butler School introduced Lee and Mann, resulting in the piano's arrival in NHB.

Two concerts have already been performed this year, and Lee hopes that the piano will support continuing the series, perhaps with local Austin musicians and students at the Butler School.

"I hope that the concert will bring together not only our department and other departments within NHB, but also within CNS," Lee said. "I hope that it will serve as a nucleus for us getting together on all levels, where students will be able to mingle with faculty, with postdocs and staff, in ways that we don't readily do when we're behind closed doors in labs."

As for Mann, he is thrilled to watch the concert on the 14th in memory of his parents.

"It was music that brought them together," Mann said. The latest tribute to them will again be all about music bringing people together.

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Friday, 27 January 2023

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