Dr. Keith Kramer is a cardiologist with Wellmont Cardiovascular Institute in Kingsport, Tenn. He has played guitar since he was a young child and grew up going to music festivals and playing bluegrass in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. After earning his medical degree from Wake Forest University, he came to the Tri-Cities area in 1999 to practice medicine.
He recalls, "I didn't start playing music formally with anyone else until 10 years ago when I hooked up with another physician who was finishing his training." The guitar duo soon added a bass player and a drummer, and they began writing original music.
"We call ourselves The House Band because we began playing for an annual Valentine's party at my house," he laughs. Now The House Band includes fiddle, harmonica, keyboards, and other guitars, and they play contemporary music and seasonal music for church programs and holiday community dinners. The band plays a wide variety of music, from Americana to folk to blues and pop rock, but not a lot of hard rock.
Dr. Kramer says, "Playing music is always a stress relief alternative to the day-to-day grind. And it's a nice family hobby, too. Two of my three kids join The House Band occasionally and have taken music through the public school system.
"My daughter is currently a freshman at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., majoring in English with a minor in theatre. She's interested in musical theatre and vocal performance and was active in the Dobyns-Bennett (D-B) high school band and chorus in Kingsport. She will probably end up teaching, but plans to continue her involvement in the arts."
Dr. Kramer's son Andrew also joins the band from time to time. A senior at D-B, Andrew sings, composes music, and is a self-taught piano and guitar player. He plays a brass instrument in the school band and is active in chorus and musical theatre. He's planning to pursue audio engineering in college for a career in the music industry and to enhance his own performance skills.
"Andrew's a creative kid, and the music he writes is very good," says Dr. Kramer. "He doesn't like to be on stage too much, nor do I, but he plays open mics at The Bus Pit in Kingsport. For a short period of time, he formed a band with some high school friends; and he has a little bit of a following. People know a few of his tunes already, and they've been asking if he's going to record some CDs.
"Composing music is a way of expressing myself, being able to tell a story about feelings and things that have happened to me. Andrew caught fire with that. He's a good songwriter himself. It's a great form of expression for him, particularly while going through teenage-related issues, conflicts, and aspirations about who he wants to be when he grows up."
Earlier this year, when The House Band played for a medical conference at the Marriott MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center in Kingsport, "Andrew got more interest from attendees than anybody else," Dr. Kramer says. "We have evolved from playing 90 percent covers and 10 percent originals to 60 percent covers and 40 percent originals. When we played MeadowView in August, we played 30-40 original tunes."
Dr. Kramer notes, "I'm so grateful that music education in the school system is so solid from middle through high school. It makes the arts something my kids are interested in - it's a cool thing to do. I was a jock growing up, and I thought our school band was geeky. There was a huge separation between people who did artsy things, and kids who were into math and science, and the athletes. Somehow, with my kids, we've been able to strike a balance between the arts and the sciences as well as sporting activities. My wife is a microbiologist by training, and I'm a cardiologist; but none of our kids are interested in doing anything science-related, and we're OK with that. Artsy people are more fun to be around!"