FOCUS ON: Cello-Playing Dentists

Dentistry Today


Brothers Emil and Dariel Liakhovetski are unique dental students. Emil is in his second year of periodontal residency at the University of Kentucky, and Dariel is in his third year of dental school at the University of North Carolina, class of 2025. You may have seen their cello performances on America’s Got Talent (AGT), and they opened the ADA SmileCon meeting this year in Orlando. We talked to them about their shared passions of music and dentistry. 

Q: How did you get your start in music? 

Dariel: Our introduction to music and playing the cello came first, when we were 4 years old. Our grandfather (who was standing by our sides when we auditioned on America’s Got Talent) is the one who taught us how to play. He is the reason we get to share our love for this beautiful instrument with the world, and he will always be our hero. We were fortunate enough to get daily cello lessons, which was a real gift—having been able to learn from somebody at such an elevated level of mastery of the craft was the ultimate privilege.

Emil: Growing up, we always played classical duets together until, one day, we realized we could have fun playing rock and metal music on these cellos. We decided to add a few cool toys like guitar amps and some drums, which was around the time we started posting videos on YouTube. When we started experimenting with things outside of the norm, we were not sure how our grandfather would react to all of this. To our surprise, he turned out to be a huge fan and said, “Keep doing this—it is awesome!” One thing led to the next, and we found ourselves on America’s Got Talent playing Radio City Music Hall.

Q: When was this?  

Dariel: In 2014, we were 13 and 16 years old. It was amazing and fun to play in front of such a large audience. Before this, we mostly played in front of small gatherings in libraries, restaurants, and the like. But then AGT really opened our horizons—it was life-changing.

Q: What is that like going on stage and looking around at the mass of people?

Emil: There are few things in life that can be as electrifying. There is just this rush of excitement. When you are playing music, you feel their energy. They feel your energy. It’s an exhilarating time.

Q: How do you get past those first 6 seconds of flutters? 

Dariel: Whenever I feel that jittery excitement, it pushes me to jump into it even more—like this is it. This is the moment, and just go out there.

Emil: The way I can relate to it now is thinking back to the first time you ever gave a mandibular block in dental school: There’s a little bit of stress before you start, but then, once you get going, the adrenaline kicks in.

Q: At the end of your last performance on AGT, you had a little issue with Simon Cowell. After you shared your dream of becoming a dentist, and not a star, he rolled his eyes and made a stabbing gesture to his chest with a pen. He then said, “you can’t just say you want to be a dentist.”

Dariel: Perhaps Simon did not understand how we were not pursuing a full-time career in the music/entertainment business. I said, “We come from a family of dentists (on our father’s side), and we want to follow that path. Our dream is to practice dentistry together as a team.” We are very proud to be in this profession, and Simon’s attempt at mocking our choice to pursue dentistry did not go down particularly well for him, which made some interesting headlines. The outpouring of support from the dental community (including the ADA), musicians, and fans was just incredible. You can find our performances by searching “AGT cello” online to see our journey on the show and the fun we had making it up to the final round. 

Q: So tell me about the dental journey. Emil, you are in a postgrad periodontal program at the University of Kentucky?

Emil: We are the third generation of dentists in our family, and the 2 of us are honored to continue our family’s legacy. I am currently a PGY-2 periodontology resident at the University of Kentucky. After Dariel is done with dental school at the University of North Carolina, he plans to pursue a residency in prosthodontics. We have a massive overlap in interests, particularly in implant dentistry; however, we also have our different talents and things we excel at individually. We have ambitious aspirations and are fully committed to our clinical training. Our ultimate dream is to have a “perio pros” practice together.

Q: How do you think you will be able to balance both dreams once your practice is established? I know that right now you cannot just drop your handpiece and grab your bows due to classes. 

Emil: Performing has taught us a lot about troubleshooting things on the fly. In a few of our live performances, we have had situations where we had to make quick decisions. Music has also taught us so much about nonverbal communication and emotional connection, which is such an important part of being a clinician. We will still find time to perform, share our message, and show that you do not have to fit inside a box.

Dariel: We never think of either/or. We love performing with our cellos and all the artistry that entails, and we love the hands-on, life-changing impact we can have through dentistry. We really feel blessed that we can share our message with the dental community and be an example of what is possible to kids who want to pursue a profession in health care while maintaining their artistic passions.

The above is excerpted from an interview with Dr. Paul Feuerstein.

Click here to watch the full video.