Ballad of the sad kidney

Want to know a good way to liven up a renal pathophysiology course? Form a faculty band and write a song called “The Ballad of the Sad Kidney.” That’s what happened when Associate Professor Steven Cheng, MD, challenged his students to correctly answer the majority of questions during a renal lecture. If they did, he would “do something fun for them.”

“The class suddenly perked up,” laughed Cheng. “When they got the answers correct, someone suggested that Dave Windus and I perform for them before the course exam. To be honest, this was the cheapest and least humiliating suggestion that was offered so I was game.”

Sad Kidney

From left to right: Dave Windus, MD; Rowena Delos-Santos, MD; Timothy Yau, MD; Steven Cheng, MD; and Seth Goldberg, MD.

Cheng and Professor Windus, however, aren’t slouches when it comes to music. Both perform as members of the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra — Cheng on violin and Windus on cello. The Orchestra is the oldest and largest regional community orchestra in St. Louis. Cheng serves as its co-concertmaster.

“I play cello, but usually sitting down,” says Windus, who has been with the Philharmonic Orchestra for more than 30 years. “For this group, though, I pretend to play stand up bass, but I have discovered that I cannot sing and play a musical instrument at the same time!”

As the two started collaborating on a song, they added other faculty members — Assistant Professor Timothy Yau, MD, on guitar (he also plays the Irish fiddle and other stringed instruments); Assistant Professor Rowena Delos Santos, MD, a classical pianist by training but who plays percussion on a washboard for this group; and Assistant Professor Seth Goldberg, MD, who admits playing the piano and oboe, but for the renal band, plays an $18 ukulele he bought off of eBay.

“Give the time I have owned this rare collectible, its value now may actually be higher, maybe $18.25,” he says. The group, which formed in 2013, comes up with 1-2 songs annually. You can listen to their first song, “The Ballad of the Sad Kidney,” on youTube. “It’s a fun, creative way for a bunch of musical nephrologists to geek out with each other,” says Cheng.

Adds Delos Santos, “I’ve tried to suggest a good group name, but all have been vetoed as cheesy. Maybe alumni will suggest a name for our band.” See the video here.