The Romance of Music

Saif Ansari ’24. Photo by Semran Thamer ’23

Most of us are familiar with the bright, singing tone of the violin, but less familiar with the viola’s darker, warmer timbre. 

This was true for Saif Ansari when as a nine-year-old he chose to play the violin. It was during an introductory lesson that his music teacher suggested his long arms and fingers might be better suited to the viola. The school’s orchestra needed more violists, so he thought about it, switched, then fell hard for the beautiful instrument.     

Ansari’s appreciation for and love of music is deep. Considering a career in music, he studied at New York University obtaining a degree in performance. 

Though steeped in music, Ansari decided against becoming a professional musician. “To me, many of my professors who performed professionally seemed to have lost a bit of love and appreciation for music because it became a job,” he recalls. “I didn’t feel that way then, but I thought it could happen to me too—and I didn’t want to lose the romance of music.” 

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto” is a score Ansari both loves listening to and playing. Though not written for viola, it is an important piece for the instrument. Rachmaninoff, many believe, composed this concerto, and others with prominent viola parts, as a tribute to his psychiatrist, an amateur violist who helped him overcome writer’s block. 

“For me, this concerto is one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever created—something that I really love.” 

Now, rather than performing, playing for pleasure is a refuge from medicine. “I’m at my best when I keep my mind working even when relaxing,” he says, “and while playing is calming, soothing, and helps me maintain creativity and intellect, it is also very active—so it’s not a retreat into something that’s easy. It’s very challenging and there are often times when it’s so difficult that I’m ready to drop my instrument to do something else.”  

Which he frequently does; ultimately returning to seek solace. 

Ansari playing a passage from Johannes Brahms Op. 120 No.1, Sonata in F Minor (Allegro appassionato).

Saif Ansari ’24, is a third-year student at Geisel School of Medicine and recently admitted to the joint MD-MBA program at Geisel and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.