Juniata Professor Gives MRI Testing a Musical Tribute

For many patients who are subject to a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, the immobility, tight spaces and atonal intermittent noises are something to be endured, not celebrated. However, when percussionist Jim Latten had an MRI, he heard music.

“What I found out, laying in the machine, is that it produces some pretty catchy rhythms,” says Latten, assistant professor of music at Juniata College, a Church of the Brethren-related school in Huntingdon, Pa. “I had to remind myself to hold still because I was starting to keep time to the sound. The only thing I could do was start to write the piece in my head as the test went on.”

Latten and Juniata’s Percussion Ensemble debuted his composition, “IMR: Impressions of Magnetic Resonance” at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 21, on the Juniata campus.

The 10-minute composition was performed by nine percussionists as the first performance in the newly completed von Liebig Theatre. The theatre featured seating designed in a concentric circular pattern to mimic the “tunnel” of the MRI machine. In addition, members of the ensemble played above the audience on two separate balconies that ring the theatre’s main performance space.

The performance included “a variety of percussion instruments,” Latten explained. “Tympani, tom-toms, unattached drum heads, and even one of the shovels used in the theatre’s groundbreaking” were played.

Latten, who is percussionist with the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, composed the piece using only percussion instruments. Because there are no other instruments to provide a melody, Latten had to design the sound of the composition to create tension and drama. In the middle of the writing process, Latten even received permission from J.C. Blair Hospital in Huntingdon to record their MRI machine in order to keep the composition true to life.

Latten received five MRI’s starting in 2001 for ailments that include a bad back, an ache he traces back to lifting bulky percussion equipment and carrying large drum sets in the many marching bands he has performed in. “It’s sort of interesting that this piece about percussion might have grown out of a medical problem caused by my choice of career as a percussionist.”

Members of the percussion ensemble included Matt Booth, a sophomore from Allentown, Pa.; Greg Garcia, a Penn State graduate student from Boulder, Colo.; Scot Kemerer, a Penn State graduate student; Tom Kimmel, a senior from Canfield Ohio; Carolyn Romako, a sophomore from New Cumberland, Pa.; Doug Schunk, a Science in Motion mobile educator from Altoona, Pa.; Jennie Rinehimer, a sophomore from Berwick, Pa.; Amy Wade, a sophomore from Schuylkill Haven, Pa.; and Kevin Kasun, a senior from Altoona.

Latten has dedicated the performance to radiation and oncology professionals at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, Pa., and Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa.

(This article was taken from a press release from Juniata College. Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or 814-641-3132 for more information.)

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail write to cobnews@aol.com or call 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Submit news to cobnews@aol.com. For more news and features, subscribe to Messenger magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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