Behind the Music: Armand Keating, MD

Director, Cell Therapy Program and Philip S. Orsino Facility for Cell Therapy at Princess Margaret Hospital/Ontario Cancer Institute; Professor of Medicine, Professor at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering; Director of the Division of Hematology Epstein Chair in Cell Therapy and Transplantation at the University of Toronto

If you’ve attended the the general session room at the ASH annual meeting in the past eight years or so, you’ve likely heard the musical interludes as the audience takes their seats or as speakers take the stage – setting just the right mood for the science being discussed. Ever wonder who selects that music? In this edition of PASHions, ASH Clinical News speaks with the man behind the music: Armand Keating, MD.


How did you first get involved with choosing the music for the ASH annual meeting?

This started when I was secretary of ASH in 2008. One of the responsibilities of the secretary is to oversee a number of aspects of the annual meeting – the abstracts, meeting rooms and those sorts of issues. I thought that it could include the music, because there was a little bit of a gap there.

I started doing it and found that it was a lot of fun, and so I just kept doing it! It has been an enjoyable interlude.

Have you always been interested in music?

Absolutely, music has always been very important to me – although I do not play an instrument. I remember as a kid, when I was probably about six years old, I would put a record on the player or turn on the radio, stand up on a chair, and conduct the music. So, getting to relive that by working on the annual meeting music has been great.

How has the process changed since you started?

Well, in the old days, I would bring a whole stack of CDs with me, identifying which track should be used at which point, and so on. Now, of course, everything happens at the touch of a button. I can simply send an email with the track listing, and everything is available online.

What is your process for selecting the music? Do you have “themes” in mind when you make your decisions?

Over the years, I have learned some general principles about “scoring” the sessions. When I’m planning the music, the idea is for the music to not be intrusive. People will be walking in and chatting, so – with that in mind – I exclude vocal music because it can be distracting. I focus on instrumental pieces, but there are caveats there, as well. For instance, violin music does not work well in a big hall, whereas horn, trumpet, piano, and orchestral music can carry very nicely.

On the other hand, the music has to capture people’s interest – particularly the interest of those who are just sitting in the audience waiting for the session to start! So, what I don’t want is background music.

The approach I’ve taken for exit music is a little different. As people are leaving the hall, I don’t think the requirements need to be quite so stringent; it can be more celebratory.

I choose exclusively classical music, but I do try to tailor the music to the particular event. For the awards presentation, for instance, I’ll choose pieces with trumpets or horns to try to keep it reasonably forward-looking – no elegies.

It is a delicate balance, because while there is beautiful music that is kind of sad, I don’t think the audience – or the presenters, for that matter – want to hear that. I think you want something that’s reasonably upbeat. For that reason, I’ve focused on music from the Baroque and Classical era, but not always.

The 2014 Annual Meeting Partial Playlist

Ham-Wasserman Lecture

Before: Adagio from Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor; Leif Ove Andsnes/Berlin Phil.

After: Divertimento by Rolf Lovland; Secret Garden

ASH/EHA Symposium

Before: Rondo from Beethoven Triple Concerto in C major; Collegium Areum

After: Overture #4 William Boyce; Cantilena/Adrian Shepherd

E. Donnall Thomas Lecture

Before: Larghetto from Mozart Piano Concerto #24; Ivan Moravec/Neville Marriner

After: Torelli Trumpet Concerto in D; Alison Balsom

Ernest Beutler Lecture

Before: Bach Keyboard Concerto #7 in G; Angela Hewitt/South Australian Chamber Orchestra

After: Code Name Vivaldi; Piano Guys

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