John Tennison is a third year medical student at Stanford Medical School, in Stanford California. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology from Johns Hopkins University.

"I was born and grew up in Texarkana, a city that lies on the border of Arkansas and Texas. Before coming to Stanford, I lived in Los Angeles for three years where I tried to learn as much as I could about the music industry while I was working as a consultant to professional musicians, producers and local studios. I also took courses on the legal aspects of the music industry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)."



"Music has been a major part of my life, since childhood even." John believes, "the closest we can come to finding the meaning of life is to discover that activity which so fully engages our consciousness that we lose awareness of the self. Music plays a significant role in bringing me closer to this ideal."



"The main musical instruments I used on my first album were electronic synthesizers.

I bought my first synthesizer as an exchange student in Japan in 1985. It was a Yamaha DX21. Back in the states, I later bought a Yamaha RX21 drum machine. During my senior year at Johns Hopkins, I took several courses at the Peabody Conservatory, a division of Hopkins. These included ear training/sight singing, recording, and music theory."





"I have listened to music since I was an infant. In fact, my mother told me that she became angry at my father for playing the car radio at excessive volume levels as he drove us home from the hospital after my birth. I like to imagine that event as being the beginning of my interest in music. I also suspect that Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild" was the song that my dad was blasting.

During kindergarten and grades 1-3, I listened predominantly to bluegrass and old-time country gospel music. I used to rhythmically jump on my bed mattress to the bluegrass music my father played in the next room.

It was around the summer after 4th grade that I began taking 30-minute private weekly piano lessons. However, I wasn't a very disciplined pupil. I enjoyed improvising more than learning the pieces that I had been assigned to learn. Sometimes, I skipped a lesson because I had not practiced the material that I been assigned, but I was always playing nonetheless. I stopped my formal weekly lessons somewhere around the summer of 9th grade because school and student government were keeping me too busy to learn my assigned pieces. I never stopped playing or composing pieces though. Even though I had taken lessons over a 5 year span, I probably only attended an equivalent of 4 and a half years of weekly lessons. As an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins, I took one semester of private lessons. So when people ask me how many years of formal private lessons I've had, I tell them about 5 years."






"My musical influences are vast. I have already mentioned my early exposure to and affinity for bluegrass and old-time country gospel. During the 4th through 6th grades, I became very interested in classical music and instrumental movie soundtracks. I love most of John Williams' stuff, especially the material he did for Superman, the three Star Wars films and Spielberg's movies.

In addition to my father, my mother was also a big early musical influence on me. She had several 8-track Elvis tapes which she played all the time. My older brother and older sister are responsible for exposing me to what was popular in the late seventies. There are some Styx pieces that I love.

During my freshman year at Johns Hopkins, synth bands like Erasure and Depeche Mode were very popular. Peter Gabrial was also a popular favorite. All three of these entities had some influence on the music which I wrote while I was at Hopkins."




" Throughout my four years as an undergraduate, I performed in various events at Johns Hopkins, including my first solo concert at Shiver Auditorium. I also wrote soundtrack music for a commercial on fire prevention which aired on Maryland Public Television. One of my professors hired me to write the soundtrack for a video produced by Johns Hopkins to give high school seniors an overview of Hopkins. It is on the first Nonjohn album, appropriately titled, "Johns Hopkins."

When I moved to LA in 1990, I got more exposure to hard rock bands than even before. Before then, I didn't appreciate the musicality and virtuosity of heavy metal guitarists. However, I was lucky enough to have an apartment-mate who played in a hard-rock band with Roy Orbison's son. My apartment mate was named Bryan. He was the bassist for the band. Bryan and a mutual friend, Billy (the guitarist for the band) exposed me to a lot of hard rock to the extent that I finally saw the legitimacy of this style of music."





"When composing and recording music, I use whatever sound sources I can get my hands on. For example, the piece "Red River," has sounds which come from tapping a screwdriver on a metal pan from my kitchen.

Any sound can potentially become "music" if one attends to the sound in a certain way. For example, the repetitive sound of my car's windshield wipers can be music if I let it be. Thus, any auditory experience which is listened to and appreciated as an end in itself could be regarded as "music." I don't believe music has to have melody, harmony, or rhythm. It needs only to be longitudinal waves in a medium which satisfy the tastes of one or more perceivers, human or non-human. It is also conceivable that we could bypass the vibrational medium altogether by electrically or chemically stimulating the appropriate neurons in a given brain. To me, this would still be "music."






"Because of the difficulty in coaxing good guitar sounds out of synthesizers, I bought my first electric guitar, a Gibson Les Paul Standard, in the summer of 1992. I was with a friend named Mary when I bought the guitar, but because of a Freudian slip, I introduced her as Julie. (Julie was a cashier who once worked at the music store where I bought the guitar.) Because of this event, I named my guitar Julie. Although my keyboard skills currently exceed my guitar skills, I suspect that the electric guitar will become my dominant solo instrument. However, I will always use synthesizers to do things guitars have trouble doing.

When I play the guitar, I feel closer -- psychologically and physically -- to the instrument than I do when I play electronic keyboards. In fact, before ever taking piano lessons, the electric guitar was the instrument that I wanted to play. My grandmother, however, suggested taking piano lessons since she already owned a piano. There is no doubt that in today's electronic world, keyboard skills are extremely useful, and I'm glad I have them, but I am thrilled to be learning the guitar at last."




"I've also been fortunate to pursue research at Stanford under the sponsorship of the Medical Scholars program. My medical scholars work is ultimately interested in seeing if there are any trends in the way human brains process musical information. As a result of this interest, I have constructed a neural computational model of music perception. Among other things, it takes into account the fact that many sounds to which we are exposed oscillate according to a harmonic series of frequencies. In fact, neurons sensitive to harmonically-related frequencies have been discovered in both bats and cats. I have put 30 human subjects through listening tests to see how well the model can predict the averaged results of all the subjects. If the correlations are high, the model might lend some clue as to the kind of circuits our brains use when processing musical information. Even after I finish my Medical Scholars work, I will probably continue similar research at Stanford or elsewhere."

"There are four pieces from my CD which I would like to share with your readers. Big House: it was a piece inspired by the emotions I had when I moved from Texarkana to the Northeast corridor of cities. The world suddenly seemed a lot smaller and less intimidating, much like a house in which each city was a room. Shakti: I used the Sanskrit word, "shakti," as the title of this piece to suggest a primal, creative energy force. The word Shakti could also be regarded as a tribute to the ideals of the Tantric goddess of the same name. Cruel and Unusual Punishment: this piece is an expression of existential angst. The lyrics might sound pessimistic to some, but it is in fact a call for humility, truth, and meaning in life. Maria Sabina: this piece is named after the late Maria Sabina, a Mexican shaman who became well known in the 1960s."




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