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They've got it covered: VCU dean, faculty and staff band in tune with rock, Motown classics

VCU dean, faculty and staff band in tune with rock, Motown classics

November 04, 2013

By Jean Williams, ADA News staff

Boy, have they got instruments. With one set, they can treat your teeth. With the other, they can move your feet.

The Vertical Dimension-VCU Band is a six-member rock group made up of faculty and staff of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. Dr. David Sarrett, dean of the dental school, and the other members started The Vertical Dimension three years ago. Since then, the band has serenaded VCU students, faculty and staff with rock 'n' roll and Motown classics at dental school and university events.

“We've gotten to where we have 30 to 40 songs we can perform,” Dr. Sarrett said. “We play covers. It's not our own music. It's mostly all old rock 'n' roll, songs people like to hear.”

They've even played at dental student orientations. “These new dental students are coming in and seeing the dean playing in the band,” Dr. Sarrett said with a laugh. “Maybe they're scratching their heads and wondering did they go to the right dental school.”

Soon enough, though, they learn that The Vertical Dimension-VCU Dental Band is peopled with very accomplished dental professionals whose CVs are longer than their playlist.

Dr. Sarrett, the band's bassist, earned his D.M.D. (1977) and an M.S. in material science and engineering with emphasis on polymers and composites (1988) from the University of Florida. Today, he is dean and associate vice president for health sciences, faculty affairs at VCU. Prior to coming to the VCU school of dentistry, he was a member of the faculty at University of Florida College of Dentistry. In 1993, he was named chair, department of general practice dentistry at VCU and served as assistant dean for academic affairs.

Dr. Sarrett also is editor for the ADA Professional Products Review, which is published quarterly for all ADA member dentists.

In taking first steps toward establishing The Vertical Dimension, Dr. Sarrett drew inspiration, in part, from the students. “About three years ago at a faculty meeting, I said, 'Is anybody interested in music because we have all these students who come to school and they have all these talents, and I said, 'Well, there has to be some people on the faculty who may have some interest in music.'“

He himself had developed an interest in guitar while a student. “I grew up playing a little bit of guitar when I was a teen and in college,” he said. “But, frankly, I hadn't owned a guitar for as long as I can remember. Then about four years ago as our children became grown, I said, 'I wonder if I can remember anything.' So I ordered an inexpensive guitar and started playing it. But I had never ever played in a group before with any seriousness. Not like this. I didn't really study music; I just picked up chords on the guitar.”

Dr. Bill Octave is an assistant professor of general dentistry. He plays rhythm guitar and sings backup. “We don't get to rehearse as much as we'd like,” Dr. Octave said, “because we decided not to quit our day jobs. But it's fun to be with people who have so many similar interests and talents. It's being a good team. It's camaraderie. It's a common focus and it's a diversion. It's a wonderful way to help express yourself maybe in those little quiet moments when you've wished you were someone else. I just enjoy being with the group.”

He has played previously in a number of other bands with dental professionals in Pittsburgh, even one that played for the Pittsburgh Steelers once.

“These people are as good a band as I've ever played in,” Dr. Octave said of The Vertical Dimension. “They're so talented. We're all down to earth. They're my side family.”

Dr. Debra Haselton is a prosthodontist and professor who directs the VCU Advanced Education in General Dentistry Program. She's also on keyboards with The Vertical Dimension. “When I showed up at that first session three years ago, I had no idea that it would lead to the formation of an actual band,” Dr. Haselton said. “Before our band existed, I only played piano and keyboard as a solo instrument and I currently take lessons in classical and jazz; so our music is new territory for me. It has been a great learning experience to play with a group and get outside of my comfort zone. It is fun to be part of a team and to see how we slowly over time have meshed very well. Our practices are a good way to relax at the end of a busy day.”

The other members of The Vertical Dimension include drummer Hiram Brown, a member of the VCU clinical support staff (drums); George Sharits, a dental laboratory technologist (guitar and vocals); and Cristina Cruz (vocals), assistant director of development communications and special events.

Even three years in, people are still getting used to a band filled with dentists. “It's so much fun to see some of the students and faculty look at us a little bit like, 'Is that who I think I'm seeing?' “ Dr. Octave said.

At a recent alumni event, Dr. Sarrett recalled with amusement an incident where the spouse of an alumnus hung around the stage trying to get Ms. Cruz's attention to put in a song request.

“This lady didn't realize who we were,” Dr. Sarrett said. “She thought we were just like a corporate band. She didn't realize who was in the band, even though I'd introduced them. Of course it's noisy and people are eating and drinking so they don't pay attention to that stuff.”

Check out The Vertical Dimension on YouTube. One of its first performances is here.