Summer 2012

Perfect Pitch

Evan Barnathan, '14, brings a cappella to high school students in Chinatown

By Jacqueline Mitchell

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Evan Barnathan leads his ensemble at Josiah Quincy. Photo: Tom Kates

Like a lot of Tufts students, Evan Barnathan, A08, M14, pursues medicine because he wants to make a difference. But at the Josiah Quincy Upper School, a public high school minutes away from Tufts’ health sciences campus in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, he is using his talent for music, not medicine, to change lives. As a Schweitzer Fellow, a program that recruits graduate students in the health sciences to partner with their communities to fulfill unmet health needs, Barnathan launched an a cappella singing group, Atuned, at Josiah Quincy.

The move was a natural. A veteran of the Amalgamates, an undergraduate a cappella group at Tufts, and now a performer with the medical school’s Docappella, Barnathan believes singing together provides kids not only with an artistic outlet, but the opportunity to develop real-world skills such as leadership and the ability to compromise.

At the first audition last fall, Barnathan took all 11 students (plus one science teacher) who showed up. Musically speaking, they were a mixed ensemble. One student had six years of saxophone lessons under her belt; others weren’t even comfortable singing “Happy Birthday” in public, Barnathan says. So he started with basic scales and chords, eventually teaching the kids melodies and harmonies all by ear.

In addition to the two-hour group rehearsals he held every Wednesday afternoon from September to March, Barnathan also met individually with each singer every other week to work on a solo piece. All that effort paid off this spring, when the Atuned singers performed a set of five contemporary pop songs in front of friends and family at their school.

“It was beautifully done,” says Josiah Quincy Headmaster Bak Fun Wong, “Without [Barnathan], our lives will not be the same. Parents say to me, ‘I’ve never seen my daughter so excited.’ ”

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