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Soldier of Song

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Click here for Dave’s profile.

Dave Sulzer was a musician long before he was a neuroscientist. And he’s been in a succession of great bands and worked with high-profile musicians like Bo Diddley, David Byrne, and John Cale (not to mention a certain group of five-ton musicians from Thailand).

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In fact, Dave made a living as a musician during college and grad school. And being a scientist-by-day, musician-by-night was never a problem for him until he got an invitation to tour overseas:

Soldier of Song-soldierstringquartetphoto1.jpg
Some songs do require soldiering - Dave on far left

“All my traveling and performing had been in the States. And I got an invitation in my first year of grad school to do a small tour of Britain. And I went to the department chair and I said, ‘Is it okay if I go to Britain? This is really an amazing opportunity for me and I’d love to do it.’ And he said, ‘Okay, you can do this. But you have to come back and not play music anymore. You have to single-mindedly devote yourself to scientific research.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’

“When I got back to the States [after the tour], I knew the department chair didn’t want me to play music. So I just started spelling my name differently for music. My real name is Dave Sulzer and sometimes people would hear it and think I was saying ‘Dave Soldier.’ In fact, one of the bandleaders I worked with called me that for about a year before he realized ‘Soldier’ wasn’t my last name. And even I didn’t realize he was saying that. So, I started using the name, ‘Dave Soldier,’ when I played music. And I kind of fibbed to the department chair. And other people figured out that I was still playing music at night sometimes, but it was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ kind of situation.”

So in the grand tradition of other pseudonymed artists such as Mark Twain, Pee-Wee Herman, and Crazy Eyes Killa, Dave continued (and continues) to have a successful musical career as Dave Soldier . And he has no regrets at all about his ongoing not-so-secret life:

“I remember very clearly that I felt if I didn’t write music and play, I’d go crazy. You know, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. And I think it’s that way for a lot of musicians. You don’t necessarily even want to do it. But you do it because you love it so much that you can’t not do it. You can’t stop yourself.”

And the whole music thing doesn’t seem to have held back his science career at all.

Soldier on, Dave.

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.