Music of the neurons
Noted composer and physiologist Hector Rasgado-Flores presents his soundtrack to body functions at C
By Joan Trossman Bien 09/06/2007
What happens when you combine a molecular physiologist with a composer? You get Hector Rasgado-Flores, PhD, and his original composition, “Body Notes: A Musical Interpretation of Human Physiology.”
An accomplished pianist, Rasgado-Flores will be performing a new version of his orchestral suite with California Lutheran University faculty member and cellist Joyce Geeting, D.M.A., on Sept. 9 at CLU’s Samuelson Chapel.
“It tells how the cells begin to get organized as we are being formed, then how the heart is one of the first organs to be developed, then there is a section about muscle contraction, about the neurons and how they communicate among themselves,” Rasgado-Flores says.
Rasgado-Flores grew up in Mexico City, the second of seven brothers. His father, a noted violinist, instead chose to become a plastic surgeon in order to support his large family. Rasgado-Flores followed those footsteps. He is a professor at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, but he has also studied at the Royal School of Music in London, as well as at the National School of Music in Mexico City.
“I am trained in physiology, and also I have been trained as a pianist and a composer. So, through the years, it has been a balance between these two very deep interests. All the time it is a trouble and a joy to do both activities,” he says.
The process of writing “Body Notes” is something Rasgado-Flores did not enjoy. The difficulty of translating an idea — especially a scientific idea — into a musical experience was an ordeal for him.
“Composing music is like a little damnation, because when you get the ideas, you can’t get them out of your mind,” he says. “You can’t do anything else. It is a torture in that way. It is only until you get them out and write them down, then you are at peace with that.”
He called on one of his brothers, also a musician, to help him with the orchestration. He later pared the composition down from a full orchestration to two instruments for logistical purposes.
CLU faculty member Joyce Geeting, D.M.A., will be joining him in the performance. Geeting is an accomplished cellist and has performed extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe; she will be accompanying Rasgado-Flores in an international tour of performances of “Body Notes” later this month.
Geeting says she never would have had this opportunity but for the unusual background of former CLU President John Sladek, who resigned this past summer in order to pursue medical research at the University of Colorado.
“Sladek is a particularly interesting fellow with expertise in science as well as music,” she says. “During presidential inauguration week last fall for Sladek, one of the events was a concert. He invited his good friend, Dr. Hector Rasgado-Flores, with whom he worked in Chicago, to perform with me. At that time, Hector asked me to perform his piece, ‘Body Notes,’ in Salzburg for an international medical convention.”
Rasgado-Flores describes his unusual composition as a unique way to appreciate and understand the human body. The music guides the listeners on a journey through the body.
But the suite also deals with the difficult subjects of life and death.
“At the ending of the piece, there’s a dialogue between the brain of a person who is very active and the body who is giving up,” Rasgado-Flores says. “There is a fight between them because the brain would like to keep going, but, of course, at the end it is the body who determines whether to live or not. The brain finally accepts it is the time of closure and that it will live forever in the good things that we have done for other people.”
He adds that getting the ideas onto paper can be a race with your own mind.
“Once you get in a calm mood and are able to write it, if flows very fast, faster than it comes into your mind and you are able to write them down. And you cannot let them go; they are there all the time.”