Employee pens an ode for FDA's anniversary


Gerald Harris is one proud Food and Drug Administration worker. So proud that he composed a four-page score and more than 100-word homage to his employer for the centennial being celebrated at picnics and ceremonies this year.

Imagine these words set to a rather robust hymn and you've got Harris' "FDA Centennial Anthem":

We honor those who carried on before.

O'er these hundred years public safety to secure.

For food, vaccines, drugs, devices, blood and more.

They strove to see these goods effective, safe and pure.

Harris' song is often accompanied by the agency's centennial chorus and wind ensemble.

"When Jeff Silberberg asked me to write something appropriate for the centennial, I said, 'No way. It sounded too scary,'" Harris said. "I'm just an amateur at this, but saying no freed me up to think about it. I read a little bit of FDA history online, and who knows where ideas come from, but it prompted me to write a few lines."

Bloomberg News, which first reported on a performance of the anthem at the agency's centennial, noted that the song - as with all spirit-boosting anthems - glosses over the agency's recent missteps, such as Vioxx, and controversy surrounding the possible over-the-counter release of the morning-after pill.

"That wasn't the point," said Harris, who lives and works in Rockville. "It's a significant birthday, really, and a way to celebrate the history and ideals of the FDA, which I think are very important."

Harris also said that his role developing procedures for testing ultrasound devices within the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health is a "little insular."

"We're pretty proud of what we do," he said.

Harris grew up in a Navy and musical family. His father loved to sing, "although he didn't have a great deal of talent," Harris said, and his mother majored in music in college. Harris added that he has "dabbled" in composing ever since high school but didn't become serious about it until a decade ago.

That's when he signed up for an adult education course in composition at Montgomery College. The instructor, a professor from Catholic University, suggested that the class of about 20 form a musical group and find musicians to play class members' compositions. From that grew the Composers Society of Montgomery County.

Harris said that he is one of the "less prolific members of the group," although it is doubtful any of them have gleaned as much attention. The anthem has been performed at a half-dozen events this year, Harris said.

"I play the piano poorly, and can pick up a trumpet and guitar, but I have no performance skills," he said. "And these days, you rely on musical notation software on a personal computer to do this. You just hook up an electronic keyboard, and off you go."

When asked whether he would recommend that other agencies in Maryland write anthems for their coming milestones, Harris said that he "wouldn't speak for anyone else. It's just something that meant something to me."

But then he added, "Although there is a composer in the group who works at the National Security Agency."

The writer welcomes your comments and feedback. She can be reached at melissa. harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Recent back issues can be read at baltimoresun.com/federal.

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