Singing Scientists: Muna and Norbert
Muna Sidarus from the Competence Center Service and Norbert Mayr from the Metrohm Academy at Metrohm Headquarters have found a mutual hobby: singing in the gospel choir. I talked to them about how they discovered their passion for singing and what they’re up to next.
Norbert: A Preference for Modern Music
«I’ve been singing in a choir since I was 18 years old», says Norbert, «and I would have started earlier if it hadn’t been for the choice of music that choirs in my hometown sang.» Norbert’s hometown is Dillingen on the Danube in Germany, a town with a population of just about 20,000. «Most choirs sang old, traditional German songs, which I couldn’t really relate to.» Then, finally, a choir was formed that focused on more modern music: mainly pop, jazz, and gospel.
Norbert continued to sing in this choir even after having left his hometown for his studies in Ulm, a nearby university town. When he moved to Munich for his Ph.D., though, the commute became too long. After that, Norbert quit singing for quite some time: «I couldn’t find a choir that suited me in Munich. And after finishing my Ph.D., I did field work as a sales rep. Being on the road all the time isn’t ideal for pursuing any hobbies.»
Norbert joined Metrohm in Herisau in August 2014. He was taking a walk in St. Gallen, a neighboring town where he lives, when he passed a church and heard singing. «The choir was singing a pop song. I went into the church and just listened. When they had finished, I went up to the conductor and asked him whether and how I could join.» And that was how it started.
Muna: An International Past
Muna started singing much earlier, when she was just 8 years old. Before coming to Herisau, she sang in choirs in Portugal and the UK and even got the opportunity to sing at the Royal Albert Hall in London twice. She had to put this hobby on hold for a few years because, just like Norbert, she was working as a sales rep, which meant a very hectic lifestyle. But when she joined Metrohm, it didn’t take long for her to start singing again: «I met Norbert right away when I started at Metrohm in May 2017. When I mentioned I missed singing, he told me about the choir and I joined immediately.»
Muna grew up in Évora, Portugal, and has lived in Lisbon, Avignon, and most recently in London, before she came to Switzerland. «I don’t get too attached to places, and I like to move around», she says. With that, she follows a family tradition: Her mother is from Portugal and her father from Egypt, and they met in Germany. While a stronger contrast than that between a cosmopolitan city like London and the rural east of Switzerland could hardly be imagined, Muna doesn’t miss London much: «Back in London, everybody was so busy, it was hard to see friends and make new connections.» In addition to singing, Muna keeps herself busy out of working hours by taking German lessons and exploring Switzerland and its culture.
Internationality in the Choir and at Work
The choir in St. Gallen rehearses 4 projects a year, each culminating in a concert. «Unlike what I’ve heard about Swiss sports clubs, the atmosphere in our choir is open and warm, which I enjoy», says Norbert. It also works on joint projects together with international partner choirs. «In summer, we had a Gospel reunion in St. Gallen. More than 400 singers from Switzerland, Germany, and Chile took part. This meant intensive training every night for a week with a concert at the end.» Norbert enjoys the contact with people from all over the world, which is also an important part of his job at the Metrohm Academy.
When Norbert applied at Metrohm, it was actually for a job as an Application Chemist in ion chromatography (IC). But when Andrea Wille, head of the Competence Center IC, read his resume and saw the experience he had gathered leading training courses, she forwarded the application to be considered for an opening in the Metrohm Academy. «I’m very happy that I ended up in the Academy. As a former sales rep I enjoy being in touch with customers and training sales reps. Also, I get to know Metrohm people from around the world and from all levels—from apprentice to VP.»
Chemistry or Choir: An Easy Career Choice
Even though Muna has been dancing and singing from young age—from ballet to tango and from ancient to contemporary music—she never considered making a career out of it. She felt the chemistry (pun intended!) from the first class she ever had in the subject: «It just felt intuitive to me.» And so she became a chemist. At the Competence Center Service, Muna is mainly concerned with the adherence of Metrohm equipment and software to industry standards: She works on IQ/OQ documents for the pharma industry.
Norbert has never played any instruments (he’s «tried some, but failed miserably») but, just like Muna, many of his hobbies revolve around music: in addition to singing, he used to compete in ballroom dancing during his studies. They are a good way to tune out work after a long day: «You have to concentrate on singing and dancing. That makes it impossible to ruminate on work problems.»
Norbert’s «career» in ballroom dancing interestingly started out in a chemistry lab at university. «We had to wait during a chromatography experiment in the analytics lab and the radio was playing. So a girl from my class and I tried out some dance steps right there, in the hallway of the chemistry department», Norbert remembers. They started taking dancing classes offered by the university sports program and participated in competitions, which were held between several universities, mainly from Germany and the Netherlands.
Taking the Next (Dance) Steps
«Unfortunately, there are no ballroom dance associations in Herisau or close by», says Norbert. But Muna and he are already planning to try out something new: «There’s a growing Tango Argentino community in St. Gallen. We’re thinking about trying that out together sometime.»