The sounds of science and music

Magdalena Maslanova and Mark Ptashne, PhD

A visitor to the Stowers Institute would normally hear the sounds of science emanating from its corridors—the gentle whir of a centrifuge, the clanking of a glassware cart rolling down the hall or the subtle pop of plastic Eppendorf tube lids snapping into place.

However, on one spring evening in April, Stowers members and visitors instead were greeted by the sweet singing voices of violin and viola, the warm and tender hum of cello and the resonating harmony of piano, when members of Park University’s International School of Music were joined by scientist and guest performer Mark Ptashne, PhD, in an Extravaganza Showcase Concert.

Ptashne, a scientist well known for his pioneering research on gene regulation, holds the Ludwig Chair of Molecular Biology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. His work has garnered numerous national and international awards including the Lasker Prize for Basic Research. An accomplished violinist who only began seriously pursuing violin as an adult, Ptashne has studied under the tutelage of master teachers Roman Totenberg, Eric Rosenblith, Patty Kopec and, most recently, Mela Tennenbaum.

Conversations with scientific colleague and Stowers Investigator Jerry Workman, PhD, and musical colleague and local Park University professor of violin Ben Sayevich was all it took to kindle the idea of a music concert in the Stowers Institute auditorium, more commonly home to scientific lectures. The result was a stunning evening of Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Paganini, to name a few, performed by students in the Park University’s music program. Ptashne thrilled his fellow scientists by joining the students in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor.

This was not your average student recital though. In fact, these students are internationally recognized musicians. Violin student Christian Fatu is regarded as one of classical music’s most exciting young artists. He has won multiple international awards and prizes and has already released two CD recordings. After his performance of Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25, bravos could be heard throughout the makeshift music hall.

At a reception following the night’s performance, guests agreed that mingling the sounds of science with music was a wonderful experience. All are looking forward to an encore performance.