Orchestrating international health

Dr. Lass, a corneal surgeon in Cleveland, OH, has organized and performed in concerts at ophthalmology and vision research meetings, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

You may already know Jonathan Lass, MD. For the past 20 years, Dr. Lass, a corneal surgeon in Cleveland, OH, has organized and performed in concerts at ophthalmology and vision research meetings, including the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

Musical training

"I saw how difficult life was for professional musicians, how they struggled, and how happy doctors were with both their profession and their music; I decided to go into medicine and to continue to perfect my musical skills," said Dr. Lass. "I chose ophthalmology specifically because I thought it would allow for a more structured schedule and more time for music in my life."

He studied music at the Manhattan School of Music, Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts (where he met his wife, Leah, who was studying music education), and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Dr. Lass is chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, and the Charles I. Thomas Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. He has been at Case Western since 1979. He has an active practice specializing in corneal diseases and surgery, oversees a busy research program, and teaches residents and medical students.

"I have enjoyed guiding the growth of the department since 1993," said Dr. Lass.

His location in Cleveland, with the Cleveland Orchestra and a rich musical scene, allows Dr. Lass to meet many other doctors who also love music and are excellent musicians. He has played chamber music with different doctors' groups through the years-trios, quartets, quintets. Currently, he plays with a quintet of doctors called "the Circle Quintet." They practice at their homes, coached by a retired member of the Cleveland Orchestra, and stage concerts at nursing homes and hospital events. "These experiences allow me to maintain and perfect my skills continually," said Dr. Lass.

For 15 years, Dr. Lass directed concerts, which he described as a "nice escape from the meeting," at the annual AAO meetings at noon time between symposia. "At the 100th anniversary meeting in Chicago a few years ago, more than 60 ophthalmologists performed a full orchestra concert including Bizet's 'L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2' and its famous 'Farandole,' " said Dr. Lass. "I believe it's unprecedented; there is no other medical organization with such an active music element!"

He also led similar concerts for 10 years at ARVO meetings at the end of the research symposia on Wednesday evening. "These concerts don't have much rehearsal time," explained Dr. Lass. "The director sends the music in advance. Musicians have just two or three rehearsals at the conference before performing together-everyone is a trooper and the key thing is not to stop in performance or the audience will know there is a problem!"

Dr. Lass noted that his cello always gets its own seat on the plane when he travels with it. It was crafted by a British maker from the 1820s. He has owned it since 1966 and it is "his baby," he said.