Courtesy of UVM Medical School
Adam Ackerman working in Guatemala, 2012
What’s graduation without “Pomp and Circumstance,” Edward Elgar’s undisputed aisle-walking melody since, oh, about 1905? Meh, might be the response of Adam Ackerman, who will graduate this Sunday from the University of Vermont Medical School.
“I personally don’t like ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ very much,” admits the 31-year-old. Ackerman is a highly trained musician who veered off into medicine after studying jazz composition as an undergrad at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and then earning a master’s in composition from the New England Conservatory (NEC).
So, at his instigation, Ackerman and his classmates will march to a completely new tune instead: Ackerman’s own “Vermont Passacaglia.” The composer wrote the processional for the occasion, and the med school has engaged a brass quintet of musicians from the NEC to play it.Ackerman, who will be heading to Maine Medical Center in Portland for a surgery residency, says the idea to compose an alternative graduation tune came to him a year ago. He found “a little extra time” to write it while flying around the country interviewing for residencies.
The soon-to-be-doctor has regularly composed since leaving NEC, he says, though with fewer opportunities to hear his music performed. He found composing the passacaglia both harder and easier than other works. (He named it after composing it, but it bears partial resemblance to that solemn musical form in three-quarter time.)
The hard part was that a processional “can’t be this brainy, intense piece,” he notes. “It can’t be brimming with personality” because it’s merely “an accompaniment to a bunch of graduates walking down the aisle,” who are the real show. That also made it easier to tackle — that and its brevity.
Composers have always written pieces for public occasions, Ackerman points out.
As a medical student, he came across several musician-doctors at Fletcher Allen Health Care, including covert pianist James Hebert, a surgeon. (Also, cardiologist Harold Dauerman has been known to blow on his French horn, and pulmonary doc Daniel Weiss, a bass player, started the Green Mountain Mahler Festival in Colchester in 2002.)
“There seems to be a very strong connection between people who are interested in music and those who go into medicine,” notes Ackerman. He recalls that one of last year’s UVM med school grads had previously earned a master’s at Julliard.
To some extent, doctors need a relaxing outlet from the pressures of treating patients, and music often serves that purpose. Ackerman’s composing bug doesn’t fall into that category.“I don’t think it’s relaxing, no,” he says. “It’s something that I need to do. I don’t think I’ll ever stop.”