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#UMMCGrad15: SOM quintet is pitch perfect

Published on Monday, May 18, 2015

By: Gary Pettus,

Published in News Stories on May 18, 2015

They call themselves 4 Hearts, 1 Beat, a double-edged name that cuts to the chase: A love of medicine brought them together, and a love of music has kept them there. 

The Hearts are lead singer Kelly Pippin, guitarist/vocalist John Bridges, accordionist Jorge Jimenez and violinist (fiddler) McGinty Chilcutt. The Beat is Drew Smith, the drummer. 

In March, the Beat and three of the four Hearts matched at UMMC for their residencies. But they matched up with each other long before that - drawn together by their mutual love of performing and the medical students' craving to, as Smith put it, "use a different side of the brain." 

"It scratches a different itch," Bridges said. 

Said Pippin: "I think we'd go crazy if we didn't do something else." 

Doing something else, in fact, helped them land a recent gig at New Orleans' House of Blues, and it may have helped them get through medical school. Chilcutt is the only one of the five not graduating on Friday, and that's only because he just finished his third year. 

He's also one of the most talented members of the group, Pippin said. "He was playing the violin right out of the womb." 

Actually, since age 3, Chilcutt said. 

Ophthalmology resident Jimenez, who has played piano since kindergarten and took four years of classical piano at Millsaps College, squeezes his keyboard skills into the accordion. Bridges, an internal medicine/pediatrics resident, has played trombone most of his life, he said, learned guitar in college and was a Teach For America music teacher in the Humphreys County School District. 

Pippin, brought up in Roanoke, Va., toured with a children's concert choir for seven years and studied piano for 10. Aware of each other's backgrounds, she and Bridges decided two years ago to perform on Fenian's open mic night after recruiting Jimenez. The band was born. 

Less than a year later, the group won Fenian's open mic night competition and was awarded a spot on the pub's St. Paddy's Day lineup - their first paid gig. 

"We started getting booked more often after that," Bridges said. 

Chilcutt had come on board at the invitation of Bridges, who got to know him during one of their medical rotations. The current band roster was fixed when they enlisted Smith, the former Drumline Captain at LSU for three years. 

What they haven't managed to enlist is a tour bus or van. They drive to shows in a "traveling caravan," they said, after dividing their equipment, and each other, among their vehicles, including a Honda Civic, which can hold a guitar, violin, accordion, three guys and ¾ of a drum set. 

Genre-wise, the quintet spans much of the musical spectrum - the Beatles, country, hard rock, folk rock, pop and more - but, with a couple of exceptions, no tributes to the big-haired '80s. 

"We don't have a bass player," Smith explained. 

The process of choosing which songs to cover is "Darwinian," Chilcutt said. Only the fittest survive - as determined by audience love, or lack thereof. 

At such venues as Fenian's Pub in Jackson and their friends' weddings, they've entertained frequent requests for "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," "Free Bird," and more. 

Britney Spears and Spice Girls tunes also light up the room, said Pippin, whose husband and fellow internal medicine resident Zach Pippin takes on managing and "merch" (merchandising) for the band. 

But it was a somber rock 'n' roll standard that in April propelled them to the stage at the immortal House of Blues. 

4 Hearts, 1 Beat band members perform at the House of Blues in April.
4 Hearts, 1 Beat band members perform at the House of Blues in April.

Dr. Jerry Clark, chief student affairs officer, and M3 student Turner Brown got wind of the band's talents and decided to explore in their capacity as co-chairs of a joint regional meeting of the Association of American Medical Colleges in New Orleans. 

Hoping he'd discovered an extra layer of entertainment for the event, Clark asked them to name their best song. 

Zach Pippin's answer was the name of a famous tune, and a seedy establishment, set in New Orleans: "House of the Rising Sun." 

"It seemed like a sign they were the group for us," Clark said. 

For about three hours, the five played for 246 medical students, faculty and student affairs officials in the House. 

"That was our biggest gig," Jimenez said. "We peaked." 

Despite that sterling addition to their resume, they aren't sure how long they can keep the band together, faced as they are by rigorous post-graduate training. 

"We're cautiously optimistic about being able to play during residency," Bridges said. 

Whatever happens, they seem grateful that they have been given the gift of music and been able to give it back - in some cases, literally. 

"This past Christmas I was super broke," Kelly Pippin said, "so I asked John and McGinty to record some songs with me on a CD - which I gave to my family for a Christmas present."

"If I had known you were going to give it to people," Chilcutt said, "I might have played a little harder."