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Spring 2014
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Calvin Lee
Beautiful Music
Medicine and music are a harmonious combo for Calvin Lee.
By Nancy Kirsch
For Calvin Lee ’93 MD’97, it took more than “practice, practice, practice” to get to Carnegie Hall. For this violin-playing surgeon and acupuncturist, it was “practice, record, upload.”
Along with hundreds of other musicians, Lee auditioned “virtually” for a spot in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the world’s first collaborative online orchestra. Led by Grammy-winning San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilton Thomas, the group performed at Carnegie Hall on April 15.
After we each submitted two video performances, representatives from some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras selected the first round of winners. Then, YouTube encouraged people to vote – as often as they wanted, but only once a day.”
The selection process may have been as competitive as applying to medical school: from more than 3,000 audition tapes, 200 finalists were chosen. Ultimately, Thomas selected some 96 performers from 30 countries. Lee was the only physician in the group.
“I was nervous because I cared, not because I was scared,” says Lee. “I wanted the world to see a good orchestra.”
This wasn’t Lee’s Carnegie Hall debut. His first performance there was in 1990 with the Brown University Orchestra, of which he was concertmaster, with guest artist Dave Brubeck. Tammy Wu ’93 MD’97, a young woman he’d dated briefly, did not attend that performance. Now his wife and professional partner, Wu was in the audience in April.
Even with years of classes and performances behind him, Lee was delighted that winning a coveted spot included two days of master classes, taught by world-famous musicians: Gil Shaham on violin, Yuja Wang on piano, and Joshua Roman on cello. “They called this the ‘musical summit,’” he says.
Lee remembers always wanting to be a musician, an acupuncturist, and a surgeon. At the age of 5, already a pragmatist, he started with music. After two years of piano lessons, his teacher recommended violin, which became his instrument of choice. According to Lee, the violin is “the devil’s instrument … the notes are hard to find, it’s difficult to play one more than one note at a time, and it’s not the greatest for your back.”
For Lee, medicine and music are in perfect harmony. “Surgery and symphonies are complementary,” he explains. “The stage and an operating room are similar: bright lights, people concentrating, and a performance that must be masterful. You can’t stop the surgery – or the performance – in the middle.”
Watch Lee’s audition video at and hear the performance at
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