NEW JERSEY'S SINGING DOCTOR
Originally published in
Garden State Woman,Vol 7.1, www.gswoman.com
What is one to do? You are a brilliant, Ivy League-educated medical doctor with a modern, holistic practice. You also have a lifelong passion for music, and began singing at age 2. What is one to do? Well, if you are Robin Ellen Leder, and making decisions is not your forte in any event, you do both - and that’s exactly what she does. On Saturdays, you can find Dr. Leder in her medical offices in Hackensack attending to patients, taking calls, charting her medical notes. When she closes her medical office on Saturday, usually around 5:00 P.M., she takes off her clinician’s white jacket and stethoscope, and moves seamlessly out of the physician’s practice, and into the world of cabaret singer at Lantana’s (formerly Sonny D’s), an upscale eatery in Secaucus. The ease with which Robin Leder moves between these two worlds reflects the remarkable array of talents and gifts of a very extraordinary woman.
Leder, born in Brooklyn, spent her early years growing up on Long Island, and is anything but your typical suburban product. “There was a fair amount of pressure in those days in that world to conform and to excel. My challenge was to comply, but, at the same time, stay myself - kind of a rebel in good student’s clothing. I guess I’ve always needed a means to express my inner self. Ordinarily, I’m really a classic loner. With music, I have an ongoing involvement every night with wonderful, creative, funny fellow musicians. I get to be a focus of attention in a way I can handle and enjoy - AND I get paid for it. So I don’t feel bad about taking time off from work to have fun. Otherwise, I’d feel guilty about it!”
Certainly no one could ever accuse Robin Leder of being a conformist. She graduated Valedictorian of her high school class of 525, and proceeded with undergraduate studies at Brown University. Even then, her two worlds were inextricably bound. When she first arrived at Brown, Robin became a member of all-girls singing group called Chattertocks that performed all over the Northeast. (The group is still going strong.) At Brown, Robin fell in with a group of student musicians who would periodically get together at apartments and dorms and jam the night away.
When a friend couldn’t meet a singing commitment at “Eddie’s Canopy Club”, a local tavern in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, she asked Robin to fill in. She did and loved it. So began her professional career. “After you’ve sung in front of a pool table five nights a week, there’s no turning back.” She sang hard rock, ballads, and anything else the crowd wanted. She was a natural. No surprise, considering that her mother was herself a professional singer with a big band in the forties, singing Billie Holliday style. Her brother Mark, a Yale-educated Attorney with a doctorate in English, found time to attend the New England Conservatory of Music between degrees, studying French horn there, and was a member of the Russian Chorale at Yale. Leder also added that her father, a retired garment industry executive, “thinks he’s Dean Martin”, and is not in the least bit shy about performing. The family regularly sang in four-part harmony on car trips and during family dinners. It’s obvious that Robin is very proud of her thoroughly musical family, in all respects.
After she graduated Brown cum laude with a degree in psychology, Robin applied to medical school, and was accepted at several excellent institutions, including Harvard. Ultimately, to stay in New York City, she accepted a position at the prestigious Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Although she intended to proceed after graduation on to a psychiatry residency, she became interested in internal medicine, and stayed with it.
After graduating from medical school, Leder had the opportunity to work with the recently-deceased, world famous diet and nutrition authority, Dr. Robert Atkins. It is there where her interest in alternative medicine really took on a practical form. “I learned so much from Dr. Atkins, sitting by his side several hours every day for months. He had a remarkably open mind about medicine, organized a great medical team, and was not afraid to take on the medical establishment long before alternative medicine and high protein became acceptable. When I think about it now, he was truly a pioneer.” She came away with a strong sense of really wanting to help people, but with a very pragmatic approach. “Medicine cannot successfully be practiced piecemeal - the whole person must be considered, not just the symptoms which generate complaints. Sometimes I’m actually grateful for the symptoms because these are some of the best clues we have as to what’s really going on in the body. I will consider any treatment modality that will help my patients. Of course, the least invasive methods with the fewest side effects are first line choices for me. Natural medicines work nicely in this regard. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I am always open to new concepts. That is my obligation as a medical doctor. If I don’t have an answer, I always remind a patient that that doesn’t equate with there not being an answer. It means we have to keep looking together.” Her patients love her. She often spends hours talking to her patients about their history and lives, trying to piece together the seemingly unconnected facts which, when viewed together, provide her critical insights into why her patients have evolved health-wise as they have. With all her years of practice in the alternative medicine field, Robin never lost interest in psychiatry. She regularly attends continuing medical education courses in the field. This year, she is enrolled in a formal course of study at the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis.
Robin’s singing career has come a long way from her college days. After Brown, she first sang with the Heartbreakers, a local group (“not Tom Petty and “) in New York City, and worked summers and weekends singing in the Pocono Mountain and Catskill resorts. There, she was discovered by some heavy hitters in the society band circuit. She took that world with flare and aplomb. She appeared regularly at the Waldorf, the Plaza, the Pierre, Palm Beach, Palm Springs, the Hamptons, and Newport, Rhode Island. She now prefers songs in the style of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
Though she has the pedigree necessary to be a mainstream feminist, Robin clearly is not. “I have some very traditional ideas about men and women, and how they should relate to one another. Love, to me, is the ultimate ideal for living. It is something to be pursued, regardless of risk, and is the natural centerpiece of a balanced happy life. I really believe it. In that sense, I’m a pure romantic.” On the roles of men and women in the work place: “I’m not a feminist there either. It has never even occurred to me that a man or a woman should have different responsibilities, value, or certainly pay. I hope no one honestly thinks they should. If they do, I hope they have the good taste not to admit it to me.”
How about the future? “I intend to continue singing professionally and to continue to practice medicine for as long as I enjoy doing them and can do them well.”
So, what’s the take home message of this story? Perhaps: “Life is not always easy, but it’s always too short. Given an opportunity to do something you love to do and have fun doing it - always take it.” Or, in this case, take them both. Not a bad life’s philosophy, when you think about it.