Physicians join Santa Barbara Symphony for special concert
Toni Meyers is a doctor who has taken music to heart.
The Sansum Clinic ophthalmologist is a pianist who played with the Oregon Symphony during her high school years at Catlin Gabel School in Portland.
“I started playing when I was 5, then played pretty seriously for 20 years,” the San Diego native told the News-Press by phone from her Santa Barbara home. “I haven’t played (other than for relaxation) for the second half of my life.”
Last December, Nir Kabaretti, music and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Symphony, asked Dr. Meyers to operate as a soloist with the orchestra to record a concert dedicated to the medical community.
“I never thought that I would have this opportunity,” Dr. Meyers said, before saying something Dr. McCoy might have said on “Star Trek.”
“I’m a doctor, not a pianist.”
But Dr. Meyers, who, by the way, is more into “Star Wars” than “Star Trek,” accepted the challenge, and you can see her as the piano soloist on the “Elvira Madigan” movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21.
The Santa Barbara Symphony’s “Santa Barbara Celebration” concert, which also features Dr. John Zemjanis of Carpinteria as one of the violinists playing Russian composer/physician Alexander Borodin’s Nocturno, will stream at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. (Tickets and streaming information are at thesymphony.org.)
The orchestra rehearsed last week on The Granada stage and recorded the concert there without an audience last Friday. The symphony followed strict COVID-19 guidelines, requiring masks on strings and percussion performers and the conductor and putting plexiglass shields by the wind players. Up to 40 musicians were on stage, a number that allowed for six feet between players.
The program, which also includes Beethoven’s Romance in F Major with Concertmaster Jessica Guideri and “State Street” from Bramwell Tovey’s “Santa Barbara Sonata,” starts at $43 per household with a series subscription.
In addition to music, this weekend’s concert will feature Symphony Board Chair Janet Garufis in a conversation about the healing power of music with Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, CEO and chief medical officer of Sansum Clinic, and Ron Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health.
Maestro Kabaretti told the News-Press why he decided to focus on the medical community for this weekend’s concert.
“It was something I was fascinated with for a long time: the interaction with music and healing and music and medicine,” he said by phone from his Santa Barbara home. “Medical schools have the highest number of students who practice an instrument compared to any other (non-musical) study.
“There’s a big connection between musicians and people who study medicine,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “I couldn’t think of a better time to highlight this theme, to honor physicians.”
He noted how music has been used to help patients such as those with Alzheimer’s. “Music has a way of connecting with patients who otherwise cannot express themselves.”
Maestro Kabaretti pointed to Dr. Borodin, the Russian physician whose Nocturno is featured in this weekend’s concert.
“In his time, he was known as a physician and a chemist and quite a remarkable one (in both fields),” Maestro Kabaretti said. “He would compose only in his spare time. He could only write on weekends and holidays and vacations or late at night.
“Nevertheless, the few pieces he wrote are spectacular,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “Today, everyone knows him as a composer.”
And the symphony director complimented Dr. Zemjanis for performing well with the orchestra’s violin section. “I thought he did a really great job.”
Maestro Kabaretti also praised Dr. Meyers, the Sansum Clinic ophthalmologist, for her performance in the “Elvira Madigan” movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. The conductor combined the movement with Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 for this weekend’s concert.
“Her playing is extremely beautiful, sensitive, intimate and spiritual,” Maestro Kabaretti said. “She did a really beautiful job.
“There’s beautiful interaction between the orchestra and her,” the conductor said. “I thought her playing was stunning.”
Dr. Meyers, who rehearsed and recorded with the symphony on the same days she was seeing patients, said she loved the choice of the movement from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21.
And Dr. Meyers, who has a touch-sensitive, electric Yamaha piano in her family’s home, said she has found the piano to be a relaxing hobby.
“If I have a really hard day, it’s nice to sit at the piano and be transported into another world,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.”
Her children — Miles, 10, and Dean, 9 — have played piano since they were 4 and take lessons from a teacher. At home, Dr. Meyers is their piano tutor.
Dr. Meyers, who earned her medical degree in 2001 at St. Louis University, said she feels her lifetime of piano playing helped to prepare her for her career in ophthalmology.
For one thing, playing piano requires both hands on the keys and the feet on the pedals.
“When you’re doing cataract surgery or any eye surgery and you’re looking through a microscope, you have to be ambidextrous and use both hands. You also use your feet (on pedals used in operations),” said Dr. Meyers, whose training includes a 2005-2006 fellowship in glaucoma at Emory University in Atlanta.
For her symphony performance, Dr. Meyers received support from her No. 1 fan: her husband, Dr. Jason Boyatt, a Sansum Clinic cardiologist who expressed total confidence in her.
And Dr. Meyers expressed gratitude that the symphony is honoring the medical community with the concert during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This has been a long and difficult year for many of the people in the medical field, as well as the community.
“This is such a wonderful and generous thing for the symphony to do, to show their appreciation of my colleagues.”