‘Physician Musician’ Eager to Keep Learning and Performing
It’s not unusual for doctors to be fascinated with instruments. They’re tools of the trade, after all. Musical instruments? That’s a different song entirely.
“I have 60 harmonicas; I mean, you need one for each key, right?” said Dr. Mark Christensen, D.O., a family medicine specialist with Silver Cross Medical Group in New Lenox. “And then you have flats and sharps.”
His collection also includes a guitar, ukulele, and a new banjo still in the box. “And I just bought a violin. Don’t tell my wife.”
Christensen said he’s pretty much self-taught on all these instruments. “YouTube. It’s great. Everything from car repair to music lessons.
“Now, people call me either ‘Dr. Mark,’ or the ‘Physician Musician.’”
Lifelong Fascination with Music
Despite the fascination with music, Christensen doesn’t consider himself to be particularly musical. Proud to be born and bred in the area, he said he played trombone in the Joliet West Marching Band.
“Although, I loved going to the Rialto. I think I saw every Kiwanis Show growing up. My wife danced on the stage with her class. I probably saw her back then.”
After a couple of years at Joliet Junior College, Christensen attended the University of Illinois, and then the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine. Then he headed with his wife for an internship and residency at Wellington Regional Medical Center near West Palm Beach, Florida. He didn’t mind the warmer climate there, but his wife, also from Joliet, wanted to be closer to family again.
In 1994, he was hired by Silver Cross Hospital and soon set up general family practice at a new building on Route 30 and Cedar Road. He’s been at that spot for 26 years.
Since that time, he’s run into a lot of old friends at the office, including a former JJC professor who reminded him often that he talked too much in class.
Opportunity to Bring His Music to the Stage
But it was at a New Year’s Eve party at Al’s Steakhouse five or six years ago where Christensen said he ran into Tim Placher, against whom he played high school tennis when he was at West and Placher was at Joliet Catholic.
Placher, a former attorney and writer, now is a grade school music teacher and performer who gathers local talent from the area for various gigs. Drawn in by the convivial New Year’s atmosphere, Christensen jokingly told Placher to call him if he needed another band member. His former high school tennis opponent took him up on it, and soon, Christensen was practicing four days a week with YouTube crash courses on guitar and harmonica.
Christensen insists he’s not very good, at least not as good as the pros he often plays with, but Placher kept asking him to perform with him at various gigs, such as at Chicago Street Bar and Grill, and at the Rialto.
“I learned to play guitar and harmonica at the same time on songs by Bob Dylan and, of course, “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, along with some tunes by the Traveling Wilburys supergroup, and the late John Prine.
Growing up and seeing all those shows at the Rialto, Christensen said it was amazing to perform on stage there.
“Even better, I performed the last song there before they had to close for the pandemic. It was a song I wrote called ‘Seize the Day.’ That had to be the absolute pinnacle of my career.
“Actually, I wrote a song for the Rialto. So, I guess performing that on stage there would top that.”
Playing a Different Tune Amidst a Pandemic
COVID-19 put a kibosh on performing much of last year, other than a virtual Christmas concert Placher organized. Aside from that, when not at the clinic seeing patients, he’s practicing on one of his instruments.
“Work has been fairly routine. We’re not front-liners like at the hospital. We just take our precautions to keep people safe.”
Christensen recommends people pick up an instrument to help get them through pandemic stress. It’s pretty easy, especially with YouTube.
“If I can do it, anyone can.”
To learn more about Dr. Mark Christensen, check out his profile at www.silvercross.org!