Here’s something for the annals of “you did what?”. Notwithstanding my impulsiveness in personal life (random weekend trips to Boston, Baratza coffee grinder, et. al.), my academic self is a deliberate, risk-averse animal, hewing to the standard, rarely deviating in appearance and presentation. I now have one data point against this characterization. The story goes like this…
I found out a couple of months ago that I had been selected to present my research on hemoglobin at the “90 Second Science” session suring the CORE Group’s 2018 Annual Global Health Practitioner Conference. I had 90 seconds and one powerpoint slide to describe my work. 90 seconds!
Imagine my surprise, when the first thought that entered my head I had when I found out was: I should sing this presentation. Wait, what? As a doctor and public health researcher, my presentations in scientific conferences have been pretty run-of-the-mill academic, in posters or oral sessions. I like to get creative in the trainings that I run as a technical assistance provider to USAID missions around the world- role play, learning by doing, energizers, Jeopardy! games, etc. These are underlined by my belief that I should talk less, listen more, and showing is better than speaking. However, if there is a red line on my public performance, it’s at speaking to a beat aka singing/rapping.
The thought swirled around in my head for a few weeks and I tested the idea on a few colleagues and received 100% positive feedback and encouragement. In hindsight, that kind of painted me into a corner because I’d given the impression that I was going to do it, which was far from my state of mind! Still plagued by self-doubt, I thought I would get song/beat suggestions from the younger/far-more-hip-than-I-can-ever-be crowd at JSI (thanks, Diane, Natalie, Kelly) and these were the suggestions: Shape of you, Shawn Mendez, One direction, Imagine dragons -thunder, theme of the Big Bang Theory. Being of an advanced age, I needed a refresher on these suggestions. Heard them sing, sounded great. I was still not inspired and on the verge of abandoning the idea. I was also swamped with work, we were five days away from the conference, and I didn’t know how someone who is not naturally gifted, musically, can write the words, practice, and sing publicly for the first time.
Cue one day later. I was with my friends Monique, Theresa, and Bob. They had one unanimous suggestion: Hamilton. I might have paled at their suggestion. 1) I don’t know how to sing or rap’ 2) I am tone deaf; (3) There are also 46 songs in Hamilton and I don’t know any of them well enough to sing, leave alone add my lyrics to their beat.
How does an Indian, nervous, never sung before and a
tone deaf, dropped in the middle of a spoken
Spot in a conference by selection, unsure, in horror,
Grow a pair to be a stage-on rapper?
It was May 31 and three days before the conference. We were at a happy hour and I was casually hinted at “Hamilton at Core Group” to Lin-Manuel Miranda superfan, Ashley . [I was still testing the waters with suggestions. My backup was to go the staid academic route, which I could so with my eyes closed.] The song suggestion was immediate: Cabinet Battle #1. I was still clutching at straws but I know how deeply immersed she is in Hamilton lore, and I then decided that I was going to take her up on her suggestion. I still have 3 days to prepare, and lots of work piling up in my non-Hamilton life. But if you know me, you know that, the dithering notwithstanding, once I’m set on a path, I stay on that path till the end.
I couldn’t get to Hamilton till Saturday – conference was on Monday. I spent Saturday listening to Cabinet Battle #1 on a loop, but only the first 1 minute 30 seconds (it was 90 second science after all!) I wrote out my research as lyrics, to the tune of the song. I spent Sunday with Suj and his daughter Sanvi, who were of course more important than a conference. I did convert an instrumental version of the song into a 1:30 clip. I was still playing around with the words, as they didn’t fit the beat well. And practicing.
Monday morning, 5 to 7 AM was dress rehearsal. Still not happy with words. But i needed to get the timing and pronunciation right.. trying saying “hemoglobin is definitely less” instead of “government assume state’s debt”…
I spent the day at the conference, attending sessions while subconsciously head-banging to Cabinet Battle #1 . I had a last minute practice at 3.30 pm. Then it was time, at 4 PM, and I was on first. The hitch was that the 1.30 instrumental clip I had recorded would be played through the central sound system with volume controlled by sound engineer. I’d practiced my rhythm with the music loud in my ear, so I was not sure how I was going to maintain both beat and key without the music being as loud. As I started the song with “Ladies and [music] gentlemen, you coulda been anywhere in the world tonight, but you’re here with us in Bethesda Maryland. Are you ready…for a 90 second science session”, I realized that I couldn’t hear the music well. Nonetheless, I was in it, and i forged on ahead. Gwyneth recorded it all from the front row, so I will know how I did after I see the video. [Update: I have seen the video- Ed]
Tell me how I did. Be gentle.
The lyrics are available on request.
Before you ask me about any more singing appearances, I will have to say, “I can neither confirm or deny any future musical interludes, research-y or otherwise”.