Making Beautiful Music Together
Slice of MIT
Jim Muller SM ’82, PhD ’83 and Sharon Horovitch PhD ’80 came to MIT to get their doctorates but left with much more. They got married while at the Institute, and they started a bluegrass band, Southern Rail, that has been playing for audiences around the country ever since.
“We actually met at a mixer for graduate students,” Muller says. Horovitch adds, “Where we both discovered that neither of us could dance, and so we ended up just taking a walk along the Charles. That was very romantic.”
Horovitch expected to pursue a career in research when she started graduate school in the Department of Biology at MIT, having completed her undergraduate degree in biology at McGill University in her native Canada. Then she met Muller, who introduced her to bluegrass music, and got inspired to learn the bass fiddle. They started the band, and after working just a few years as a postdoc, Horovitch changed tracks.
“I decided to take a break from research, and I became the group's manager, agent, and publicist,” she says. “It was such a blast touring and performing that I never looked back.”
Muller, meanwhile, earned his PhD from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and went on to pursue technical and musical careers simultaneously. Today, he works as an embedded firmware engineer at Servomex, which makes gas analyzers. But for about 10 years he was able to tie his interests together as a senior software engineer for Harman Specialty Group (formerly Lexicon), which makes high-end audio equipment.
“My doctorate is in seismology, which means wave propagation really through the earth,” says Muller, who also has an undergraduate degree in physics from Virginia Tech in his home state. “Also, because I've been a musician for far longer than I've done just about anything else, I was able to take what I was learning and apply it to how sound works.”
Muller is the guitarist and lead vocalist for Southern Rail, which, in addition to Horovitch on bass, includes a banjo player (Rich Stillman) and a mandolin player (John Tibert). The band toured the United States for years, but currently focuses on cultivating its fan base nearer to the couple’s home in Massachusetts.
“My vision of the future of Southern Rail is: Keep playing as long as we're having fun,” Muller says.
“After all these years, performing with Jim in Southern Rail has never stopped being fun,” Horovitch says.
Hear more about Southern Rail in this MITAA video.