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Pictures from Good Day Sacramento CW31

Dr. Lee with Bethany of Fox 40 Live (left), Dr. Lee playing in our procedure room for CBS 3 (right)
I have not yet been able to link my two appearances on Fox 40.




>> 3/15/09 - Latest appearance with Fox 40 news (with Bethany). <<




Good Day Sacramento 3/11/09, Ear Training interview




CBS 3 (3/4/09):  "Sounds of a Surgeon", "The Doctor is in, In Tune and In Sync", "From the World Wide Web to a World Famous Stage"




ABC San Francisco (3/3/09), Dan Ashley "Not too Shabby", "Calvin Lee, Violinist from Modesto"




KCRA 3  (TV)

[click link to see video]

3/6/09  Photo-journalism by Manny Meza




NPR (radio)

[Click link then click on Listen now]

All Things Considered 3/5/09





Modesto Bee (Home-Town) Newspaper about Dr. Calvin Lee - Our ModBee local article by Lisa Millegan (original content)

Shanghai Daily Newspaper (an article directly about Dr. Lee, Reuters)

San Francisco Chronicle with picture of Dr. Lee (the picture was taken by Dr. Wu)


Click on the picture above to get a larger one in case you want to read the Chinese.  There's a few things wrong with this article.  It was my first interview in Chinese and if you thought I was rusty with violin, I was even more rusty with Chinese.  Mr. Kai Ping Liu wrote that I was a internal medicine doctor - I'm a surgeon, and they wrote Dr. Tammy Wu's name wrong in Chinese.  Regardless, I'm happy for spreading the news about classical music and YouTube.  I am most appreciative.


Videos of Calvin Lee on YouTube playing Piano and Violin

Calvin Lee, Chopin Piano Etude 10/1 ; Debussy Arabesque #1





Calvin Lee, Piano: Summer's Dream by Catherine Rollins






Calvin Lee, Violin, trying to play a solo from Scheherazade






Video #2 from the YouTube Symphony Auditions, Calvin Lee, Violin January 2009






Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Calvin Lee, Violin 1993, Brown University Orchestra
Pictures are from my more recent life in 2006 (pictures of the building of my new office, trauma surgery life, some famous musicians).

It's my dream to someday play this again.


There's much more - visit Dr. Lee's YouTube Channel:  RisingPianoFire

Dr. Calvin Lee's background info (Surgery, Webpages, Acupuncture, etc)



Email Interviews (3 of them)

Email interview with Nancy Kirsch


1.      Do you come from a family of musicians? Or doctors?  Can you give me a little family background?  Born in US?  I know you were raised in NY  - and you did undergrad and medical school at Brown?


I don’t come from a family of musicians.  But I believe that my parents would be musicians if they were exposed to music as they were growing up.  My parents are pharmacists in New York.  They immigrated to the US from Taiwan to pursue higher education.  My mother works in retail pharmacy and my father is in the research and development side of major pharmaceutical companies.  Yes, I was born in New York City – Queens; however we moved out by age 4 to a suburb of the city:  Rockland County.  I went to Pearl River High School and went to the Brown University 8 year PLME program in 1989.  I did both my undergraduate and medical school at Brown University.  My undergraduate degree was in Neurosciences.



2.      Did you ever consider pursuing a career in music rather than medicine?


I did consider music as a career.  However, I decided that music as a sole career would be hard.  I’ve always had it planned in the back of my mind that I would enter the music world after I’ve become more stable and comfortable in my medical profession.  And it has always been my philosophy that one should have at least two careers.  This makes for a synergy of expertise – a sharing of skills and knowledge that makes for unique contributions.  I don’t see that I’ve ruled out a musical profession in exchange for a medical one.  I’ve had to put my music aside for a while to grow my medical world of general surgery and acupuncture.  Plus I opened up my own medical office with my wife, the plastic surgeon – that took up a lot of time and energy.  One can have a lot but can’t do it all at once.  Basically I’m saying that one can’t have it all at once, but if one does it in phases – one can do a lot of different things and be good at them.  There are different phases in one’s life – we need to recognize the phase and tap the potential out of each phase.  Now’s a good time to jumpstart my 2nd career as a freelance violinist.



3.      Both medicine – especially surgery – and musical concerts – require trust and faith in the collaborative process – surgeons need other trained professionals for a successful outcome and musicians need to work together to create a cohesive, non-dissonant sympony or other body of music – how does music inform your medical practice or vice versa?  Parallels or contrasts you can comment on?


You mentioned a good one:  the collaborative give and take.  The surgeon is the conductor of the surgery.  The anesthesiologist is the concertmaster (the first chair violinist).  Both lead the way to a successful outcome.  One needs to direct the team/orchestra through the operation/symphony.  The operation has distinct portions which can be equated to movements in a symphony.    Of course skin closure equates to the grand finale.  There are times when I request a different tune on the radio when we’re in closing mode as a surgeon.  There are other parallels.  Being on stage is very much like being in the operating room – bright lights – people concentrating – and a performance that must be masterful – giving it your best, and the show must go on… - you can’t just stop the operation in the middle.  Another similarity.  MD to me means Medical Doctor, but to many musicians it stands for Music Director.


4.      Is your wife also a musician?  Did you meet in medical school?


My wife, Dr. Tammy Wu is a plastic surgeon.  She plays piano and has an amazing ear for music and tones.  She helped pick out my current violin.  She was born in Taiwan, then moved to the US at age 11.  She graduated as the #1 female graduating from our class – a feat that I am very proud of.  We met in 1989 in college.  She thought I was smart – now she knows better.



5. What do you think it will be like to perform with, presumably, mostly strangers at Carnegie Hall?  That old joke of “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice” now has to be changed to “You Tube, You Tube, You Tube…”  - how did you even hear about the contest and did you enter on a lark or with serious intent? Can you talk a bit more about that experience? Butterflies or nerves about the process? Do you think you’ll be nervous at Carnegie Hall?


This Carnegie Hall performance will be special for me.  I played at Carnegie Hall before, was with the Brown University Orchestra under Paul Phillips (I believe he is still the music director/conductor), Dave Brubeck was the guest artist.  I had just dated my wife the week before and then I had to be gone the next week for the Carnegie Hall performance.  This time, I’m taking her with me to Carnegie Hall.  I have such good friends here in Modesto, they insisted on coming along with me as well this time.  It will be a party at Carnegie Hall for us – well, at least a party in New York.  


I think someone also called the new Mantra:  “practice, record, upload.”  I first heard of the YouTube auditions for a YouTube symphony orchestra by reading the New York Times.  They wrote about the auditions.  It was quite the media blitz because as the day went on, I saw it in many different places including of course on YouTube on the home page.  Later, I got an email from a friend who trained with me  and my wife (we were residents together) in surgery who happens to be a opera soprano who asked if I was going to audition.  She encouraged me to do it.  Isn’t it great to keep in touch with people?  She is also making plans to meet me again in New York – she lives in Connecticut.   I don’t have much nervousness about the process, but I do have excitement.  I don’t think I’ll be nervous at Carnegie Hall.  I think I will feel very comfortable there.  It was built for musicians and performers.  I don’t think it was meant to be scary.


6.      Will this be your first “big” performance – I know one of the articles said you’d played some 60 concerts in one year – but have you ever performed in such a large venue as Carnegie Hall?


14.  Do you and Tammy have any children?

Do you enter a “zone” where you lose track of time with surgery and with music? 


7.      What expectations?Fears? Anticipated outcomes – will the group release a CD?


This is a one time concert for this group.  Perhaps there will be another set of auditions next year for the next group, but this is the first time anyone has gotten the world together to make an orchestra.  I’m sure there will be some type of broadcasting/recording on youtube.  CD as a recording medium sounds kind of passé.  Maybe there would be some sort of MP3 – there may be union issues, I’m not sure.  There are many professional musicians who are going to be in this orchestra.  I’m very excited about being able to play with them.  I have a lot of respect for professional musicians.



8.      Did you consider any “ballotbox stuffing” – did you encourage friends/relatives/patients to vote early, vote often (as they used to do in Chicago?)  -


In fact YouTube encouraged everyone to vote once a day for about 1 week.  So they wanted people to vote early and often.  I’m not sure what the strategy was.  But you couldn’t vote more than once per day.  Even after the popular vote there was another round where the final musicians were selected by Michael Tilson Thomas (the conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and the YouTube Orchestra)


The phases:

1. the administration of the contest and London Symphony Orchestra chose the first round winners.


2. the youtube audience voted for a week

3. then Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT is what he calls himself) picks the final orchestra



This was a relatively short audition process.  There were two videos they wanted.  We had to play a movement from the Tan Dun Internet Symphony #1 (which he wrote for this orchestra) on our instrument (for me, the violin), then we had to play from a selection list that they created – many of the selections were solo works from Bach and Paganini.  I chose to play a Bach – my Paganini was never very good and plus I was pretty rusty.  I had practiced two weeks before recording the Bach that you see on YouTube.  I wanted to clarify that a lot of press had said that I hadn’t touched my violin in 15 years.   I meant to say that I hadn’t practiced much.  I’ve done some weddings here and there, and I try to play a performance (of one short piece) once per year in a program that I run called Docs Play the Pops.  It’s very similar to the Medical Music Recital that my roommate James Lin ’89 and MD’93 (same as I) helped create with Dr. Elaine Bearer (our pathology professor) at Brown University.  The Docs Play the Pops was created in conjunction with the local community college in Modesto, CA.  I meant to say earlier that auditions for orchestras are usually more involved – more pieces to play in many different styles and sometimes they want to see how well you play in a group.  The YouTube auditions was much more compact and shorter in process.


9.      Why the violin? What about the violin  versus some other instrument is so appealing to you?


There’s so much you can do to each note.  To me the violin is very much about tone production.  It is a strange instrument, now that I think about it.  It’s not the greatest for your back, and the notes are hard to find.  It’s also hard to play more than one note at a time.  It truly is the devil’s instrument.  I played it because of peer pressure – I had many young friends at age 7 who were playing that instrument, so I got hooked on it.


10.  Anything else you want to tell me?


I played piano before – I started at age 5.  My parents tell me that I went to a recital and was drawn to the piano in the recital hall and started banging out simple tunes on it.  However after starting lessons for a few years, my piano teacher and I had a mutual decision to stop – I wasn’t practicing much, and wasn’t making much progress.  At that point I changed gears – my focus shifted towards violin.  Although it seems to me like a shame that I had stopped piano, but it was a good thing that I had the extra time to dedicate to violin which I started at age 7.  The piano gave me a good foundation for violin.  Just about 2-3 years ago, I started playing piano again – my piano playing videos are on YouTube.  I mainly created the YouTube channel to put my piano videos on there, but it got recently taken over by some violin ones.  The name of the channel is RisingPianoFire – one work.  It is derived from Chinese Medicine of Rising Liver Fire – the grand piano looks like a liver.


Will you combine the trip to New York to perform with any medical conferences/sightseeing/anything else?


I’ll be visiting some friends.  No medical conference that I can think of.  My wife knows a plastic surgeon on Park Avenue, maybe we’ll visit.  I’ll definitely do some sightseeing, maybe shopping to stimulate the economy.  I get many ideas when I visit places – I’m sure I’ll get ideas for my medical practice and my new 2nd career as a freelance musician.


Another thing – my biggest influences in music at Brown were:  Chuck Sherba – violin teacher, Arlene Cole – piano teacher, and Paul Phillips – Conductor of the Brown Orchestra.



12.  Do your patients have a nickname for you such as ‘the performance doc” or some such?


I haven’t really told many of them that I play music.  I guess they’re finding out for the first time now.  Plus, I really haven’t played all that much recently.  Maybe they will have on for me in the future.  I hope they realize that music doesn’t distract from medicine – it adds in so many ways:  dexterity, understanding of medicine as art, discipline, and the ability to break down complex surgical maneuvers as one would a complex piece of music.


13.  Do you ever get any sleep or are you one of those people who only needs two or three hours a night?


I need sleep.  I used to do trauma as part of my general surgery life.  I’ve given that up for now so that I can sleep more.  I don’t really do that much in a day – at least I don’t think I do.  But I try to be focused on the task at hand – I love doing different tasks and I also enjoy just moping around doing nothing, and dreaming about what I could do in the future.  I’m one of those guys that can stare at a blank wall and keep myself entertained.  I am an only child….



14.  Do you and Tammy have any children?  Do you enter a “zone” where you lose track of time with surgery and with music? 


No children yet.  I am hoping maybe soon.  I always lose track of time.  I don’t wear a watch.  I don’t like to have time get in the way of surgery and music.



Email interview with Lisa Millegan


1.)     What made you decide to audition for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra?


I played violin seriously before, and I'm always looking for activities that would motivate me to practice and perform.  I first heard about this when reading the New York Times.  Then later, I had a surgeon colleague who is also a singer write me email to tell me about this competition.  Plus the prize was a sweet one: a paid trip to New York City, playing Carnegie Hall under conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and a chance to possibly meet Tan Dun, the composer.  There's rumored that there are other very special guests that YouTube/Google will invite.  Furthermore, I grew up in New York, I'll get a chance to revisit.  I've played in Carnegie Hall before but that was about 20 years ago, and the memory is distant.  I was the associate concertmaster with the Brown University Orchestra at the time and the soloist was Dave Brubeck.



2.)     Are you going to perform with the group at Carnegie Hall?


Yes, I am going to be part of an Orchestra made of international professional and amateur musicians who submitted videos which were judged by the London Symphony Orchestra, voted upon by YouTube viewers and finally hand picked by the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas.  He is the famous conductor of the San Francisco Symphony.  The date of the concert is April 15, 2009.  However, we will be there a week earlier to rehearse.


3.)     How often do you play your violin?


When I was in my teens and early 20's I practiced my violin about 2-3 hours per day.  But for special occasions (spelling?) I would sometimes practice 8 hours a day.  Before I started violin, I wanted to play the piano.  But I wasn't very good and didn't practice, so I was dismissed from piano lessons.  Thus, my parents thought I should try violin, which I started at age 7.  Because I choose to become a doctor, the violin practicing became minimal.  But I developed ways to maintain my playing ability with a focused 15 minute session.  Then when I went through my surgery training after medical school.  Those 15 minutes got extinguished.  I only practiced when there was a special event coming up.  I actively chose to find these events, and created medical recitals to encourage other doctors to continue playing their instruments.  I have a version of this medical recital in Modesto called the Docs Play the Pops which will be staged on Sunday, June 7, 2009.  I found that it takes me about 5 weeks to get up to full speed again.  A violinist plays much better with callouses on their fingertips and sometimes on the neck as well.  The video that was entered into YouTube was about 2 weeks of light practicing.  I had no callouses for that video, and my violin strings were over a decade old, and the hair kept falling off my bow.  I later discovered that there was a small crack in my violin.  Regardless, the video did well enough.  The wincing that you might see in the video may possibly be real pain from pressing on the strings or from my upper back feeling load of the violin and bow.  With the momentum created from practicing for my audition videos, I've kept playing, sometimes even 4-5 hours now.  My wife, Dr. Tammy Wu, is very kind, she lets me practice till about 3am in the morning sometimes.  It's not really about the number of hours, it's about efficiency, focus, and imagination which makes the practicing worthwhile.  And believe me, practicing isn't the same as making music.  Most people wouldn't want to hear practicing.



4.)     How many performances or concerts do you play? Do you play with any groups?


When I was in college, I counted one year - I had 60 concerts in one calendar year, counting orchestra and chamber music performances with some solos.  I was a member of two orchestras at one time during those college years.  When I was in college, I traveled around a little to solo with some other orchestras in New York.  I'm still bitter, I missed my senior trip because I had to play somewhere.  Now, I hardly play at all, so playing with the YouTube Symphony would be a great treat.  So anytime I get to play with a group now, it's considered very valuable to me.  Last year, I got to play at the Gallo Center for the Arts with a 20 member Assyrian Rock Band.  It was actually very classy.  Before that I played heavy metal on the violin with Rachel Barton Pine at the Fat Cat.  I've played at a few weddings in Modesto, and at some churches.  I play in the program called Docs Play the Pops which is organized by the Friends of Music, a MJC music organization.  This is basically an annual event for medical music makers, and this year it will be held on June 7, 2009 at MJC.  The Townsend Opera has asked me to play.  I am on the Board of Directors of the Modesto Symphony, and I am an avid supporter of the Modesto Symphony and Gallo Center of the Arts.


5.)     How does music fit in with your surgery practice? Do you find it a release or complementary in some way?


Practicing violin hasn't been a release for me.  Instead, it has been frustrating because I remember the years when I have been a better violinist.  I have found that piano playing has been more of a relaxing endeavor.  Since I was never very good at it, I feel like I'm breaking new ground and improving.  It's nice playing piano, it feels like I have control of the entire orchestra.  With violin, I don't get that sense as much.  But both instruments, violin and piano, they serve as wonderful dexterity exercises for the fingers.  Surgeons need dexterity, but I have found that there is much more dexterity required to play a musical instrument.

Surgery is also an artform with a beginning, middle, and end - much like a musical piece.  Each portion has it's challenges and each portion blends into the next section.  Both music and surgery require focus and vision, it is wonderful to experience the similarities of surgery and music.  Also surgery on each patient is different, but the main themes are the same.  This is much like music where each performance of a written piece is different but the main musical themes are the same.  There's also a music concept of the show must go on.  Same in surgery - you can't just stop your operation in the middle.  And there's the analogy of bright lights in the OR and bright lights on stage - you're in the spotlight and everyone is watching, and you'd better perform your best.




6.)     Remind me of your background in violin again. When did you start? How far did your music education go?


Good question.  I forget sometimes now.  I always wanted to be a musician, and I always wanted to be an acupuncturist and surgeon - for as far back as I can remember.  I couldn't be everything at once so I had to reach my goals in stages.  First it was music.  I started piano when I was 5, but that didn't last too long.  Then I started violin when I was 7 years old.  My teachers and coaches were Mary Canberg, Jamie Buswell and Charles Sherba, all of them were tremendous influences on me.  In my teens, I was sent to Manhattan School of Music pre-college division on Saturdays to learn music theory, composition, and conducting.  But during this time, by desire to be a doctor grew and I went to Brown University to pursue that goal.  Meanwhile, I was able to keep up a pretty active music schedule.  My favorite musical moment was my dramatic claim of "my last public performance" at Brown, it was a sold out performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the Orchestra on April 15, 1993.  I remember April 15, because it is tax day.  Coincidentally the Carnegie Hall Performance with the YouTube Symphony will be April 15 as well.  After that concert, I went on to medical school, and then dived into Surgery training.  The violin got dusty.  During the middle of my surgery training, I missed the violin terribly, and decided to attempt an audition for a professional orchestra, Illinois Symphony and I procured a first violin spot.  Then I also had delusions that I was going to enter a international competition - that never happened because of time, and furthermore, I really wasn't good enough.  But as a consolation prize, Tammy and I took all our savings and bought a very good violin from a shop in Chicago.  This is the violin you see and hear in the video, it is made by Francois Louis Pique in the late 1700's.  He is considered one of the greatest French violin makers.  After I had become a surgeon, I went to learn acupuncture.  Now I practice both acupuncture and surgery, and I think it's time for me to revisit my violin skills which was my first developed skill.  There's a book "Outlier" by Malcom Gladwell, he claims that it takes about 10,000 hours to attain competency in any field.  I hope to spend much more than 10,000 hours in each topic:  surgeries, acupuncture, and violin playing.  Because these fields are also inter-related, I have the strong belief that a true expert is one who is able to combine expertise from many different fields; thus advancing each field further than if one had solely focused in one area. 



7.)     I understand there will be some video compilation of the performance as well. When will that go up on YouTube?


I think on April 16.  They are going to take parts of our videos and compile it into one video.  This is the video where we had to play our individual parts and follow a recorded video of the conductor.  This is not going to be an easy feat because the piece we had to play had delicate rhythms.  This piece was specifically written for this Orchestra by Tan Dun, the award winning composer of the sound track to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and for the Olympics in China in 2008.  I don't know if there is going to be a video of the actual performance in Carnegie Hall - but I'm sure many of the players including myself will bring our video cameras and start vlogging.



8.)     How many people made it into the YouTube Symphony Orchestra? I can’t find that anywhere.  (or maybe they’ll announce that Monday also)

I don't know this either.



9.)     How do you feel about getting chosen for the YouTube orchestra?


I'm pleasantly suprised.  I watched all these international players play Paganini Caprices (some of the hardest pieces written for violin) in their kitchens, bedrooms and hallways - they were very impressive, so impressive that I pretty much thought I didn't have a chance.  I guess auditions sometimes take strange twists and turns.  I'm happy to be chosen.  I tend to think and wish that everyone should have been chosen, but it was a competition, and not everyone made it through.  I know I will have much to learn from all the musicians whom I will meet in Carnegie Hall.  I have also met many people through you tube throughout this several month process.  I think many of them will inspire me to keep playing.



10.) What do you think of the idea of a YouTube orchestra?


It's an amazing idea.  It has promoted classical music to so many people.  In some ways I guess it's like American Idol with the audience voting, but it is for classical music and orchestral players.


Sorry I wrote so much.  I have so much to say, and I have more even.  Call me! 209-872-1362 - try anytime.  I'm in and out seeing patients on Monday, but talking to you is a priority if you want to call. :)



Oh... I almost FORGOT UGH... I revamped my webpage to have my video showing, so if the print version wants to show this link:  (this is my professional website for surgery - but I put on the very top an embedded video from the youtube competition).




Stephen Ryan Questions
Student on MA Multimedia Journalism
Freelance Media Producer
Bournemouth University


Why did you decide to get involved? Had you been playing music recently?


I decided to get involved a few weeks after I had heard about the announced auditions in the New York times.  I had been playing some violin recently because I had a little Salon-type recital with local musicians at one of the doctor-colleagues’ house.  It’s hard getting the violin out.  The callouses – or lack of really hurts without them.


What's your background in music?


I played music pretty seriously in Middle school and High school and in College.  I had some great teachers.

Did you ever work as a professional musician? If so, what was it like?


I’ve been paid to play the violin.  I’m not sure what the difference would be as a professional vs. nonprofessional.  Maybe it has some form of starvation involved with being pro?  Being solely a music professional isn’t easy.  I have played at several weddings before and subbed in some orchestras in the past.  Before I went to medical school, I had many concerts.

What was it like auditioning via YouTube?

It was fun.  I like recording myself on video.  I usually don’t like the video itself, because I find many problems with my playing, but I like the process because it helps me improve.


Going to NYC in April do you know the plans? How does it all work?


I’m still trying to figure this out.  I work as a doctor (surgeon) and sometimes, I don’t get to everything I want to in one day.  I’m usually in catch up mode.

Some people might say the YouTube SO will revitalise classical music youve been involved in music making for some years do you think people stereotype classical music as a dying form?


I think youtube itself will revitalize classical music.  Classical musicians can easily find each other on youtube.  It has been a great tool for me to expand my classical knowledge.

What would you say to young people interested in getting involved in music making?


Do it, and use YouTube as a way to spread your talents.    Furthermore, classical music isn’t all that different from other forms of music – there is much to learn from every form including rap and heavy metal.  I had a chance to play with Rachel Barton Pine in a bar, she had written a rendition of heavy metal songs for two-three stringed instruments.


I have more info about myself at



I hope all this was informative.  I’m sorry to mash all the email interviews together.  I thought this would be easiest for me to send out all at once.  Thanks for letting me save time.  And perhaps you’ll find info from each of the separate interviews.


-          Calvin Lee





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