Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 24, 1997

Steven Goodman's
passion for music:
One Singular

Mike Field
Staff Writer
If fate rode in straight lines, Steven Goodman might be known as the Benny Goodman of children's medicine.

A pediatrician by training and a clarinetist since his youth, Goodman professes a love of medical science--and a passion for music. Yet spend some time talking with him and you will hear neither of childhood illnesses nor clarinet playing.

"I'm the pediatrician who now does biostatistics and the clarinet player who now sings opera," he says with a laugh. "I guess I can't get it straight." Goodman is an associate professor in Oncology in the School of Medicine with joint appointments in Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the School of Public Health. He joined the Hopkins faculty in 1989, after five years of doctoral work on the East Baltimore campus.

Prior to his arrival at Hopkins, Goodman completed a medical residency in pediatrics at Washington University in St. Louis. Yet even though he says he thought taking care of children was just great, the numbers and statistics of medicine held increasing fascination for him. Today he works primarily as a biostatistician, helping researchers design and analyze their clinical studies while conducting his own investigations into issues of inference in research.

"I'm interested in determining how sure we can be as a clinical trial goes along that the substances being tested are working or not working," Goodman says of his research. "In clinical studies you need to be able to quantify what the effects of going forward or not going forward are going to be. It appeals to me because it's this kind of blend of statistics and philosophy and ethics. It goes beyond the numbers. The issues and the answers are very complex."

That same appeal may underlie Goodman's decision eight years ago to trade his clarinet playing for singing opera. "The reason I love to sing opera has to do with the process involved in singing a piece," he says. "It's more than simply learning how to use your voice. You have to delve into emotion and technique and use all your physical and intellectual resources. To do that you have to develop on so many levels. There is a real challenge in training for a role."

And while his occupation may challenge his intellect as his avocation challenges his soul, Goodman has nonetheless been remarkably successful at keeping the two seemingly contradictory forces in his life in balance. Until recently, that is. For in music, at least, it now seems that Steven Goodman is going to be a star.

Or, to be more precise, he has at least a 1-in-12 chance of becoming one. Earlier this month, on an answering machine chock full of joyful messages congratulating Goodman and his wife on the arrival of Sarah, their brand new baby daughter, a caller from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra informed Steven Goodman he had been selected a semifinalist in the orchestra's "Search for a Star" contest with principal pops conductor Marvin Hamlisch.

"In all the excitement I had nearly forgotten about the contest," Goodman said. "The message on the answering machine was like a bolt from the blue."

The crux of the message was that out of more than 250 entrants in a statewide contest to find Maryland's next new talent, Goodman was one of about thirty good enough to earn a live audition from which he subsequently won a performance slot. He is scheduled to make his Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall debut Friday, April 25, at 8 p.m., and will be one of four finalists to appear that evening.

Marvin Hamlisch, who is in his first season with the orchestra as principal pops conductor, brought the "Search for a Star" idea with him from Pittsburgh, where he was employed in a similar capacity.

"The idea is to find the most promising and exciting upcoming talent in the state," said a spokesperson for the Baltimore Symphony. "We accepted videotape submissions of any type of talent, from harmonica players to tap dancers, singing groups to pianists." The finalists will appear in a series of SuperPops concerts April 24 to 26, with a grand prize winner selected from among the group on Sunday, April 27. Goodman will be competing against an 11-year-old pianist, a vocal quintet and a 30-member women's barbershop quartet, among other contestants.

"I see this entire event as just pure fun," says Goodman, who performs in a more serious way with both the Baltimore and Annapolis opera companies. "I understood going in that these were not the Met regional auditions, so I was able to relax and enjoy myself, which helped."

Goodman and his piano accompanist, Hillary Kruh, recorded his audition tape in the family living room. "Well, she was playing in the living room, but I sort of had to stand in the dining room in order to fit," Goodman recalls. "I started the tape by telling Marvin Hamlisch he was my last hope. Luckily, he seems to have a pretty good sense of humor."

Goodman sang two songs on the tape, "On the Street Where you Live" from My Fair Lady and the title song of Man of La Mancha. "I'm not very expert in Broadway show tunes, but I figured since it was Marvin Hamlisch [who wrote the music to A Chorus Line, among other compositions] this is what I should do."

After sending in the tape, Goodman received a letter saying he had been selected one of about 50 contenders and should prepare "what he did best" for a live audition held March 10. "I substituted the "Toreador Song" from Carmen for the My Fair Lady piece, since opera is what I think I'm best at," Goodman says. Each of the semifinalists was assigned a 15-minute time slot, "but when I got there I learned that they were ahead of schedule because Marvin tends to make his mind up very quickly," recalls Goodman.

Even with the Gong Show-threat of some long crook yanking him offstage mid-song, Goodman didn't get nervous. Not that is, until he was ushered to the conductor's private waiting room, a small room on the stage-right side of the hall, where conductor David Zinman and guest soloists wait before coming on.

"So I'm in this room that has this floor-to-ceiling display of the little 8 x 11 photographs signed by just about every major classical music star you can think of--it seems like there's about 100 of them--and needless to say it does become a little bit intimidating," Goodman says. "That's when I started to get nervous."

Onstage at last, Goodman began with the "Toreador Song" but only got through the first verse.

"You can stop there, the music's the same in the second chorus," Hamlisch told him. "But the words are different," Goodman offered hopefully.

"But the music's the same, why don't you give me "The Man of La Mancha" now?"

Mercifully, Hamlisch let Goodman sing it all the way through. "When I finished, he told me 'You've got it,' but I never really understood if he meant I'd won a spot as a finalist or if he just meant I had talent," Goodman says. "But then Marvin started telling me pediatrician stories, about how he hoped to bond with a friend's children so he took them to the pediatrician who gave the kids shots so now they associate him with shots instead, and another story about a pediatrician who has an empty aquarium and imaginary fish. It was very funny stuff."

Having been selected a finalist, Goodman is now in rehearsal with his pieces, including voice work with Peabody faculty member Stanley Cornett, who has been his vocal teacher for the past few years. "Hopefully," he says, "this time they'll let me sing the "Toreador Song" all the way through." And maybe, if all goes well, the panel of independent judges will even make him a star. After all, his chances are essentially one in 12.

For a statistician, those aren't bad odds.

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