Department of Medicine Chair David Aronoff sits atop a cajon drum in the lobby of the Simon Cancer Center as he plays with three other members of the Crooked Finger Rhythm Review.
Normal, lunch-hour chatter in the hospital was muffled that afternoon. Sounds of a bass guitar and a shaker joined the noises from nearby cafeterias and drew the eye of curious passersby.
Tucked behind the iconic bamboo in the lobby of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, a band played. Each of its members had some connection to the facility their music filled – the lead vocalist is a surgeon, for example. and one of the guitarists is a vice president.
Perched atop a wooden cajón drum and tapping out a beat was David Aronoff, MD, the chair of the Department of Medicine and a physician-scientist specializing in infectious diseases.
He’s been a self-taught drummer since he was about 14 years old. He almost majored in music at Indiana University, even took a few classes and picked up sight reading before he settled on microbiology. He attended Tufts University School of Medicine after earning his bachelor’s degree.
But a love for music never left him. Even as science and medicine became his career, music remained a hobby for which he held a particular ardent passion. He firmly believes that fueling the creative and analytical sides of the brain “sharpens our ability to listen and observe, to take in information” and makes for well-rounded and attentive doctors.
“We are better physicians when we can expand our thinking,” he said.
Aronoff has played in a variety of musical groups over the years.
In college, he joined punk rock and cover bands. After completing his medical training and establishing his career, he began playing more often with fellow physicians.
Once a year at the international meeting of the Society for Reproductive Investigation, he plays the drums in a band called the Featles with scientists from around the world who work in reproductive health. (The Aronoff Lab studies infections that complicate pregnancy.) The band will reunite at the 2024 meeting in Vancouver.
At IU, Aronoff recently joined Nick Zyromski and the Crooked Finger Rhythm Review, the band he could be heard playing with in the Cancer Center.
The band is led by Nicholas Zyromski, MD, a Professor of Surgery at IU School of Medicine. They occasionally give lunch hour performances as part of IU Health’s CompleteLife Program, which offers free integrative therapies like music, art and yoga to patients.
Aronoff calls himself a champion of all forms of art, not just music. Whether it’s dance, painting or writing, all forms of expression are beneficial and therapeutic, and should be prioritized as much as practical learning, he said.
In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – a time when Aronoff was still leading the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in “the Music City” of Nashville, Tennessee – he saw how acutely musicians were impacted. With gigs cancelled and income from streaming not filling the gaps for many, Aronoff prioritized buying music, like vinyl records and CDs, whenever he could. The practice has helped him develop a bit of a library of music, and he encourages everyone to support artists in this way, whenever possible.
Aronoff also worked closely on COVID-19-related safety issues with leaders at the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville as it opened during the pandemic in 2020 and, since he moved to Central Indiana, he is now a regular patron of the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis.
“I always say, ‘Support the arts if you can’, particularly locally,” Aronoff added.
He loves to discover new music and musicians. Currently, one of his favorite groups to listen to is a modern, contemporary jazz group from London called Ezra Collective. He loves how the group blends hip hop, Afrobeat, and jazz while using their music to lift the spirits of their audience in a highly inclusive way.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...