My musical journey in Boston

How a fortuitous encounter started my musical career
March 2021
Yong-Chul
Y.
Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology

An Instrumental Encounter

“I am a musician.”

I did not expect to hear those words during my lab rotation for the Health Science Technology program. I clearly remember the day. It was a chilly winter afternoon of 2018 at Lansdowne Street in Cambridge when I was introduced to a lab administrator, who showed me around the lab I would temporarily work in. We started our conversation with the usual comment on the weather and why I was here. Then, he uttered that sentence.

Suddenly, my focus on research was undone and I responded instinctively, “oh cool, I am a drummer.” 

That was Jonathan Lawson, then a recent graduate of Berklee school of music and a jazz/funk/R&B saxophonist, who also just started working as the admin. Coincidentally (or not?), he was looking for a drummer to form a new band. Clearly, no more lab-related conversation happened that day between the two of us. 

Fast forward six months from the encounter, I had picked a different lab in the Wellman Center of Photomedicine at MGH, but Jonathan and I kept developing the idea of forming a band. Around this time, Jonathan’s old band members were leaving the city for reasons I do not recall. From one perspective, this is a poor beginning for the band – a sax and drums. However, we took this turn of events positively and decided we were simply given a great opportunity to build a new band from scratch. In fact, around this time, the higher-ups of the Wellman Center had decided they needed a Wellman band, given the phenomenal musicianship of Jonathan. This kick-started our recruitment effort. 

Growth in Motion

Our plan was to build two bands simultaneously – the Wellman band and our own band independent of the Wellman Center. We called the Wellman band the “low pressure environment,” in which we could experiment with new ideas and to recruit talented musicians to the other more serious band. In the meantime, of course, we would search for musical talents outside of the Wellman Center. For ease of distinction, let us call the Wellman band the W-band, and the other band M-band.      

The initial recruitment process for the W-band was easy; Jonathan only needed to send out a mass email to gather interest within the Wellman Center. We immediately caught the attention of a vocalist, a violinist, and a guitarist. An aside: we also had a comedian show up in our initial meeting, and that was comical. Since I do not want to bore readers with details, it suffices to say that only the vocalist eventually stayed with us. Later, she introduced us to her co-worker who would be our long-sought after pianist. The four of us formed the core for the W-band, and we enjoyed playing for Wellman Center’s social events even without a bassist (other members came and went, unfortunately). 

For the M-band, Jonathan and I were busy looking for a guitarist and a bassist. The former was a lot easier to find, and again by “chance”; a much younger friend of mine decided to come to Berklee to play guitar in the same year (2019). Knowing he is an excellent and humble guitarist, I immediately invited him to join the band. Thankfully, he responded with much excitement. We were elated to have such an extremely talented and easy-to-work-with musician in our band (a rarity with guitarists).

Our hunt for a bassist prolonged into December of 2019, however. We even used social media and Berklee posts to recruit a bassist. Ironically, despite all the effort we put into outsourcing, we found a keep through my good HST friend. He is a multi-purpose musician who can play bass, keys, guitar, drums, brass, and even sings! The M-band was looking fantastic with such great talents, and it motivated me to up my game since I was the only person without a formal musical training.

A Blessing in Disguise 

In January of 2020, the M&W bands merged to start looking for gigs and shows outside of the Wellman Center. We named ourselves the Midnight Motion (how did we get the name? That’s for another day). We successfully booked our March kick-off gig in Cambridge, but then something happened: The COVID-19. As a band we had a serious discussion about whether we should still perform or not (this was shortly after the Biogen news). To our dismay, we eventually cancelled our first long-waited public gig. We all parted our ways for the next five months. 

While the COVID-19 raised doubt about the band’s future, it turned out to be a small blessing in disguise. We were able to gather ideas for online performances and solidify future directions. When we were back (except for our guitarist) in Boston around September, we had our first livestream performance for the Wellman audience. Immediately following this, we had our first public live streamed show, albeit without a live audience, at a bar in Sommerville. 

Our story is only beginning! Never before had I imagined I would be playing with professional musicians, especially while conducting research. I was able to reboot my drumming career, which has been dormant since undergraduate. My message to the readers is that if you are applying to MIT and are a committed musician, don’t be surprised by the opportunities that keep on rolling for you as long as you keep your ears perked up (just like a good musician). 

Coda

Let me end with a shameless plug for the Midnight Motion: we recently set up our Facebook page, so please feel free to like and follow us! Also, feel free to request any content for our FB page. The band is starting to build momentum despite the COVID-19, and we are all looking forward to the day we perform in front of a live audience. 

P.S. We are looking for a guitarist! If the genre fits your style please reach out to us!