Last December, a group of 15 medical students gathered in the lobby of the Sheikh Zayed Tower in The Johns Hopkins Hospital. That evening, the glass-enclosed space was filled with hospital staff members exhausted after a long day of work and worried family members of patients in the emergency room.

The students formed a small semicircle and, without introduction or pretense, began to sing aloud, “’Tis the season to be jolly, falalala lala la la.” Children looked over eagerly. The security guards began singing along with booming voices. Physicians, nurses and visitors walking by on the floor above stopped at the balcony to watch, some joining along with smiles.

Ultra Sounds members Tim Xu, Sharif Vakili and Christine Shrock posing for a photo after the winter concert.

Medical students Tim Xu, Sharif Vakili and Christine Schrock smile after the 2014 Winter Ultra Sounds concert.
Photo Credit: Christine Schrock

“It was so uplifting to see the effect caroling had on people in the hospital,” says Christine Schrock about the experience. “A pediatric oncology patient and his mother came up to us afterward to thank us for bringing them joy through our music.” Schrock, who is now in her second year of medical school, is a co-leader of this student group of musicians known as Ultra Sounds.

There is a long history of music in medicine. Ultra Sounds was originally founded by medical students so future physicians that were musically inclined could meet and play music together. This year, the group leaders made an effort to involve students from all of the schools on the East Baltimore campus, including the school of nursingBloomberg School of Public Health and the biomedical engineering program.

“We have about 70 people signed up for Ultra Sounds, and even a handful of faculty members,” says Schrock. “About one-third to one-half of Ultra Sounds is composed of nonmedical students. It’s a fun way to bring people who wouldn’t otherwise interact together.”

Timothy Gilpatrick, a second-year medical student and co-leader of Ultra Sounds, agrees. “Ultra Sounds provides friendship, musicality and another opportunity for us to contribute to the greater community.”

Whether it is a duet, a trio or an orchestra, musical groups in Ultra Sounds are entirely student-run and initiated. Members of the group use a master list that contains information about each person’s preferred instrument(s), musical experience and style, and contact information.

“I was looking through the list and contacted every person who I thought would be a good fit for a funk band,” says George Zuo, the founder of B’More Funk, a 10-person funk band formed from members of Ultra Sounds. “I was surprised by the enthusiasm of the responses I received.” So far, B’More Funk has performed at numerous on-campus events and at venues across the city.

Members of B'More Funk plays at Second Look Weekend.

B'More Funk plays at Second Look Weekend.
Photo credit: B'More Funk

“Through B’More Funk, I’ve met a lot of people and developed a lot of deep relationships,” says Suraj Kannan, a second-year medical student who is the electric guitarist for the band. For Kannan, being part of the tight-knit funk band has also been an inspiration for his future role as a physician. “I want to support and walk with my patients in the same way we have been walking together as a band.”

This year, Ultra Sounds is hosting its winter concert on the second floor of the Anne and Mike Armstrong Medical Education Building on Dec.11 at 6:30 p.m. They also plan to go caroling again in the hospital later in the month as a way to bring hope and joy to patients, their families and friends, and the rest of the Johns Hopkins community.

If you are interested in receiving emails about future events such as these and/or would like to play music as part of the group, you can send an email to Ultra Sounds co-leaders Christine Schrock or Timothy Gilpatrick.

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