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Joel Levine

I am a Biology Professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where I run a lab where we work with vinegar flies – sometimes called fruit flies – to study the relationship between genes and social behavior. I developed an interest in science somewhat late, in my ‘30s. My scientific colleagues and students would probably be surprised to know that before I studied biology and moved to Canada, I lived in Philadelphia, where I grew up and spent my years playing music.

I played and still play the recorder—an instrument that, usually, little children learn to play for about a year year before moving on to an orchestral instrument, a “real” instrument, a well-tempered instrument. I began to play it in the early ‘60s at the age of 5 or 6 at the Settlement Music School in Germantown. But when the time came to move on to another instrument, I moved on with the recorder.

Although the recorder is commonly associated with Baroque and pre-Baroque music, my heart and ears were drawn to other traditions. My parents had some blues records at home and I spent a lot of time listening to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lightning Hopkins, Leadbelly, Josh White Jr., Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, and Rev. Gary Davis among others. Then, everything changed when I heard Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, especially Coltrane. I wanted to play that music on the recorder—which, as far as I could tell, nobody ever had. I wanted to reach the point where I could speak using the voice of the recorder in the ongoing conversation captured by this musical tradition. I wanted to pass along what I got from the music. I still feel this way.

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