Cellist-Doctor Uses Music to Fight Diseases


Dr. Eric Roter has two personas: an emergency room doctor who tends to cardiac arrests and accident victims and a Juilliard-trained cellist who uses his instrument to help cure the medical conditions he treats.

His usual introduction to patients at Ohio's Kaiser Permanente's Cleveland Heights Medical Center is, "Hi, I'm Dr. Roter, where does it hurt?"

But now, as holiday giving reaches its peak, Roter and his cello are featured in a series of YouTube videos -- "Bach to Health" -- designed to raise funds for some of the toughest diseases, from

VIDEO: Dr. Eric Roter plays the cello to raise awareness about ankylosing spondylitis.

lupus to cancer.

Making his debut as a soloist at New York City's Lincoln Center at age 17, Roter abandoned a promising music career to study medicine. While he was heartened by helping others, he also felt a "betrayal for leaving an art that was so near and dear to me."

As a student in New York, he occasionally performed as a street musician and never forgot the charity of passersby who tossed donations in his cello case.

Today, at 46, he has perfected the solo suites by Johannes Sebastian Bach -- "the heart of cello literature" -- and dedicated each of the 36 movements to a national medical charity.

"People trust me with their lives in the ER," said Roter. "Perhaps they would trust me if I taught them a bit about some of the medical conditions I treat. Perhaps I could inspire people to donate to some great health care charities."

His medical colleague at the hospital, Dr. Aaron R. Smith, said Roter likes the flexibility of emergency room shift work so he can pursue his art.

"I can understand it's a little bit of a funny fit, a cellist of his caliber, in an emergency department," he told ABCNews.com. "We're rough and tumble action-oriented, an image very different from what you think of a cellist. He manages to straddle both worlds well."

Each audio-visual performance of the cello solos is set against the backdrop of a scene in New York City, where Roter went to both music and medical school. Each also highlight facts about the disease and provide a link to make a tax-deductible donation.

"I am like a one-man band, beginning to end," Roter said of the video and music production that was two years in the making. "I vowed to myself that I would not make anything public until I was really satisfied that I was doing justice to the music."

Some of the musical and visual pairings are ironic, and some are poignant.

The video for the American Liver Foundation, Suite No. 3: "Bouree 1 & 2," addresses digestion disorders and takes place outside the food market Zabar's.

Suite No. 5: "Sarabande," which Roter first heard while working in the World Trade Center as a pre-med student, was dedicated to his mother-in-law, who died of pulmonary hypertension.

One of Bach's most difficult movements -- "Prelude" to Suite No. 6 -- was dedicated to Prevent Blindness America and is played outside Carnegie Hall.

As for the fatal Huntington's disease -- he deliberately chose Suite No. 4, "Allemande," -- a "bright major key."

"There are some really sad movements and I didn't want to use tragic music for that -- a down piece in a minor key," he said.

So far, perhaps because it is the first video, Suite No. 1: "Prelude," dedicated to the Accelerated Cure Project for Multiple Sclerosis, leads for most viewed.

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