Program mixes music with medicine

by Mac Emery | 9/30/14 6:09pm

Among New Hampshire’s impassive woods and within sight of Dartmouth’s drowsy Green, the country zest of some of Nashville’s finest hits twanged and rang out in the upper level of the Hopkins Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening. Transporting his songs from the glitz of radio hits that made them famous, singer-songwriter Rivers Rutherford ripped and crooned his songs, popularized by country icons Brooks and Dunn. Without the flamboyant pretenses of a groomed superstar, Rutherford struck a small, intimate crowd with a candor and rawness that his pop staples rarely see.

Rutherford’s performance was part of the Dartmouth Medical Arts Program, a new initiative to foster arts appreciation for Geisel School of Medicine students and the Hanover community at large.

“There’s a good medical literature about integrating art education into art humanities, ethics education into medical school, health care providers, education platforms,” said Geisel professor and program director Robert Singer.

The program uses art to sharpen medical students’ empathy, which will be applicable throughout their careers as medical professionals.

“We know that the doctor’s ability to interact with patients is enhanced,” Singer said. “Observational skills have been studied through programs that have this type of thing.”

Rutherford, who has performed at similar venues for students at Vanderbilt University, said he agreed, adding that studies have shown that exposure to art helps exercise different parts of the brain.

Singer, who was a professor at Vanderbilt before accepting a position at Dartmouth a little over a year ago, said he was influenced by the prevalence of similar programs in Nashville’s vibrant musical scene.

“When I came up here and was offered the opportunity to work here and teach, it was on my short list of things I wanted to do,” Singer said.

Soon after relocating to Dartmouth after about two decades in Nashville, Singer founded the initiative with the aid of a panel of Dartmouth employees and financial support from various foundations, he said. Finding an artist for the inaugural session of the program, in this case, was as simple as resorting to an old, abiding bond with Rutherford, his friend from Nashville.

Rutherford, who said his life has revolved around music as long as he can remember, has songs performed by country icons including Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and more. His lyrical talent for directness and sincerity has established him as an accomplished songwriter on the country scene and delivered his musical voice to a massive audience.

“Songwriting is such a narrative deal,” Rutherford said. “Particularly country music songwriting, because it’s more story-driven, it’s direct, it’s more specific. And it really comes from personal experience.”

Punctuated by mellow, mumbled digressions and tales, this blunt honesty reverberated through the lofty arches of the Hop. After his performance, which concluded with the spiritual ballad “When I Get Where I’m Going,” there was a brief question and answer session.

Some attendees said that the event’s attendance was underwhelming, despite the quality of Rutherford’s performance.

“I think there are a lot of people in our class that had absolutely no idea that this was going on,” Chelsea Dodds Tu’16 said. “Honestly, Tuck [School of Business] students just finished our first term finals right now, and I bet if people knew [about the event], this probably would have been pretty well-attended.”

Warren Williamson Tu’16 said that more advance advertising could have drawn a larger crowd to the event.

“There’s only so much you can do in that intimate environment,” he said. “Some people know the songs and some don’t, so you do your best to make it fun, and that’s what he did.”

Singer said the program was just developing.

“It’s a test thing,” Singer said. “We’re going to see where it goes. And if it goes the way that we think it will, then we’ll reach out more.”