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Live in the Einstein Philadelphia Cafeteria: Eye Tunes

By on 10/09/2017

It’s lunchtime in the cafeteria at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, and the room is filled with chatter as doctors, nurses, support staff, patients and visitors settle down to a quick meal.

It’s a lunchtime like most, but with one exception. Off in a corner near the exit hallway, three musicians are setting up and getting ready to play. Optometrist Andrew Gurwood, OD, from Einstein Philadelphia’s Department of Ophthalmology, settles in to play brushes on a big hand drum. Optician Stephen Whitaker, who operates Whitaker Eye Works at Einstein Philadelphia and Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park, is plugging a jack into his acoustic guitar. George Newman, MD, PhD, chairman of Neurosensory Sciences, is tuning up a five-string banjo.

Whitaker and Dr. Gurwood form the core of this little band called, pun intended, the Eye Tunes. Dr. Newman is a recent addition.

With a squeal from the amplifier and a brief introduction from Whitaker, the band starts to play, singing songs from the Beatles and Elvis, among many others—even playing Irish traditional and bluegrass tunes.

The Eye Tunes Come as a Welcome Surprise

It’s an eclectic musical interlude that most diners weren’t expecting,

The room quiets down. Doctors and nurses clad in white coats and scrubs stake out tables close to the band, big smiles on their faces, some of them taking cellphone videos and snapping photos. For just about everyone in the cafeteria, the Eye Tunes come as a surprise—a very nice surprise that takes them away from their cares for a while.

As it turns out, getting together and playing music is not that unusual for Whitaker, Gurwood and colleagues.

“Andy and I, and Vince Young (an ophthalmologist), and (optometrist) Chris Brennan, the folks who hang out in Ophthalmology on Fridays, typically get together in a back room and sing after work,” says Whitaker. “We’ll play instruments, sing, bang on things for about an hour, and then we go out to dinner. George (Newman) just joined a few months ago.”

It was Dr. Newman, Whitaker explains, who recommended that this merry band get some exposure. “And I said, we should do the cafeteria. We all laughed, and then it became a reality.”

Warming to the Performance

Dr. Newman has been playing banjo for just over two years. It was after his daughter and family moved to Ashville, N.C., that his grandson started playing guitar. “And I thought: They need a banjo player in this group. So I picked it up.” His musical interest didn’t just come out of nowhere. “Music has always been a part of my life. I’ve sung since I was a little child—but I’ve never played banjo in public before, that’s for sure.”

It didn’t take long for the crowd to warm to the band’s performance. In fact, when they finally did, the band’s song list pretty much went out the window. A table full of nurses filled the room with their rendition of Elvis’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” One of the less shy ones took the microphone to sing her own tempestuous version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire.” Closing out the performance, two young doctors from Neurology asked to sing “Let it Be.” Which they did, with a lot of other diners joining in.

It wasn’t exactly what the Eye Tunes had planned, but in a way, it was even better.

“I’ve realized that this whole sing-along thing, it’s really about them,” says Whitaker. “We didn’t do half the things that were on our list. And the more they got involved, and the more fun they had, that was cool.”

Photos by Wes Hilton

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