I became a member of the Jackson Jills within my first week at Tufts—before I had my first Bio 13 lab, before I ever identified as “Maya, from Berkeley, California, majoring in Biology and Community Health and taking the pre-med requirements.” Singing a cappella is not a “typical pre-med” extracurricular activity, but it gave me incredible experience that I needed to grow and to fully enjoy my time at Tufts.
It is an honor, and a ton of work, to be a member of the Jills. We rehearse 7.5 hours a week, not including gigs on and off campus. We release an album every other year, and go on a tour during the alternate spring break. We devote ourselves to producing impressive music, to hard work, and to being role models of what all-female groups can accomplish. Though being in the Jills takes constant effort and all that one has to give, rehearsals are also an incredible relief from the world of classes, labs, and tests, a chance to feel accomplished based on something other than a score. I often find that my entire day is spent on academic endeavors until 10pm, when I go to Jills rehearsal and am able to leave the stress of projects and tests and grades behind me and make beautiful music with phenomenal women.
The fact that Jills is somewhat of a stress relief from classes has often caused me to view it as completely separate from my passion for pursuing a career in medicine, and this separation feels amplified by the fact that singing is not one’s first thought in terms of health-based extracurricular activities. And yet, when I truly consider the two, my passion for singing a cappella has a lot in common with my passion for medicine. Music is all about communication. In a fifteen person a cappella group, communication with each other must be impeccable. We must communicate how we feel in order to be able to get along for hours on end, and we must communicate with our voices to ensure proper tuning within each and every harmony. As an entire group, we have a job to communicate with an audience—to convey emotion and enjoyment. Medicine, too, is all about communication. To be a successful physician, one must be willing to consistently discuss with and learn from fellow health care workers, from other specialties and from within one’s own clinic or department. Arguably more importantly, one must be able to communicate with patients in a culturally competent, compassionate, and emotionally understanding manner. I find that within the Jills, when we work on our performances, or on our introductions, we are honing these communication skills each day. Music and medicine are also both centered on sharing. It is of my opinion that everyone has the right to equal access to health care, and also has the right to share in art and music. The Jackson Jills make sure to perform in places like homeless shelters and retirement homes, places where people may have less access to art like a cappella music. I have found that many of these populations have overlapped with marginalized populations that I work with in hospital and clinic settings, and that compassion and willingness to share parts of oneself is necessary in both settings.
I have found it exciting to realize over time that a part of my life that I consider so separate from my interest in pursuing medicine actually contains a lot of the same passions that drive me towards medical school. That is not to say, of course, that I am not forever grateful to the Jills for providing an outlet to relieve stress that piles on from the academic rigor of Tufts. I could not have asked for a better group of women to cry with, to laugh with, and to sing with. I look forward to continuing to consider both medicine and music important parts of my identity, and I will always be grateful that I was able to engage in both during my time at Tufts.
Maya Ball-Burack Class of ‘17