How music and medicine merge for opera performer and Hennepin Healthcare psychiatry resident Daniel Volovets
In the Minnesota Opera’s performance of Carmen this May, guitarist Daniel Volovets added a new element to the classical score—improvising on the opera’s themes with a flamenco twist that calls to the Romani roots of the main character.
The audience might be surprised to learn that Daniel performed in the opera on a Thursday night and then worked a 24-hour shift on Friday for his psychiatry residency at Hennepin Healthcare before putting in two more performances on Saturday and Sunday. His performance earned praise from the Star Tribune, calling his arrangements “a wonderful touch.”
Daniel, who is in the third year of his psychiatry residency at Hennepin Healthcare and Regions Hospital, says his passions for music and medicine have become “an inextricable part of my life.” He can’t imagine not doing both.
After finishing a stressful shift, he can turn to music as an emotional release. Both music and medicine take an analytical eye—whether you’re examining a medical problem or a score. “Having an ear for music helps me listen to people as well,” Daniel says. As an ensemble musician, he’s learned to communicate and listen to others—another skill that translates well to medicine.
If Daniel brings his guitar to work because he has a rehearsal at the end of a shift, patients sometimes connect over a shared love of music. He connects with patients over their unique interests, seeing them not just for their medical needs but as a whole person.
Daniel’s education in classical guitar started at the age of seven, in a home filled with music from many cultures that have influenced his own musical style—Brazilian jazz, flamenco, and Russian and Ukrainian folklore. His mother, Nataliya Ishkova, pursued her passion for medicine after she moved from Ukraine to the United States, ultimately becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Alongside her medical career, she is also a singer.
Daniel, his mother, and brother Adrian — an accomplished multi-instrumentalist currently pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts in Sacred Music at Eastman School of Music — have all collaborated musically.
Daniel began his psychiatry residency in 2019 after earning an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from the University of St. Thomas and an MD from the University of Minnesota. As he pursued his career in psychiatry, he’s never stopped performing, teaching, composing, and arranging.
The year he started his residency, he also released his first solo album—Masquerade—the latest of seven full-length albums. Jazz guitarist Thomas Nordlund praised Masquerade, saying it “reveals a brilliant composer and musician who has subsumed his influences into a compelling voice of his own.”
In 2020, Daniel united music and medicine in a performance for a PBS program, Hippocrates Café: Reflections on the Pandemic. Daniel’s original composition, “A Meadow by the Sea,” was set to photos of frontline healthcare workers wearing masks.
Daniel sees parallels between the production of Carmen and Hennepin Healthcare. Carmen’s director, Denyce Graves, prioritized diversity not just in the casting but in the team who was involved backstage in staging and producing the opera—a similar focus to Hennepin Healthcare, where he says, “We try our best to focus on diversity and inclusion not just with regard to staff but also with regard to equitable patient care—critically examining our own decision making and our own inherent biases.” He found it refreshing to see that same perspective in his work with the opera.
Chief Academic Officer Meghan Walsh says, “Dr. Volovets embodies work-life integration beautifully. His passion for music has made him a better doctor, and love of medicine has likely made him a better musician. I am in awe at his ability to do it all so well. We are lucky to have him here.”
Daniel wants to leave his coworkers with the encouragement that they don’t have to choose between art and medicine: “The societal expectation is that you do one thing, and the rest is on the side. I would very much like to encourage people to find ways to pursue their passions.”
Carmen’s last performance was on May 22. You can follow Daniel’s music and future performances at DanielVolovets.com.