by day, musician at night Melody helps Robert
Bunning '75 let loose
of them are named Flanagan, nor are they brothers. The singing foursome's
founder, Robert Bunning '75, is only half Irish. But The Brothers
Flanagan, a male quartet Bunning's led for 10 years in the Washington,
D.C. area, has just recorded its own CD. The four make the rounds
on St. Patrick's Day and wherever invited throughout the year, bringing
cheer to listeners and for Bunning, a sense of equilibrium.
"I've used music as an outlet,"
Dr. Bunning reveals, to balance his day job as rheumatologist at
National Rehabilitation Hospital, recently ranked among the best
in the country for arthritis patients by U.S. News & World Report.
"Working at a rehabilitation hospital has taught me the importance
of leisure skills."
Princetonians of a certain age may remember Bunning's
band, Harbour Lights, which the music major formed in his junior
year. Bunning was the pianist, and Alex Donner '75, who went on
to a singing career (and performed at Princeton Stadium's opening
ceremonies), crooned Sinatra-style. "It was a scaled-down Lester
Lannon model," Bunning says. "We played for fraternities,
homecoming parties we were affordable." And in demand
the band's profits helped Bunning pay his way through Princeton.
The Princeton experience also taught Bunning he
had a gift for gathering musicians which came in handy during
medical school when he revived Harbour Lights at the University
of Cincinnati. Bunning led a cadre of medical students who played
a Dixieland format and even cut an album. "I don't think I
could have gotten through med school without music," Bunning
says, "Medicine is demanding, draining. With music you let
It wasn't until he was making the rounds officially
as a doctor that Bunning discovered the joys of singing. The CEO
of the newly opened National Rehabilitation Hospital had been part
of a barbershop quartet at a Chicago rehab center, and drafted Bunning,
a baritone, to launch a group in D.C. with hospital personnel. The
group appeared for five years at hospital functions to boost employee
morale. "It was a good model of harmony and working together,"
Bunning enjoyed the experience and the
fact that singers travel light, as opposed to lugging musical instruments
to gigs. But it wasn't until a St. Patrick's Day some 10 years ago
that the idea for The Brothers Flanagan was born.
Seeing lines outside a popular Irish bar that
day gave Bunning an idea. The next year he called three bar owners
and suggested they allow a quartet to bypass the lines and sing
three songs to entertain their patrons. Gigs established, Bunning
set out to find singers to join him. Now The Brothers Flanagan don
Irish rugby shirts and make the rounds on a regular basis.
It was a Valentine's Day gift of studio time from
Bunning's wife that led to the group's recent CD. "Danny Boy,"
"When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," and other Irish-American
favorites are recorded, along with a blarney-filled tale of how
the group came to be.
Bunning, the yin and yang of music and medicine continue to be a
life-affirming combination. Now, he says, if his son turns out to
be a tenor, he may launch his family into a singing group, too.