Orchestra Mixes Music And Medicine

Duke Medicine Orchestra performs free concerts Nov. 30, Dec. 4

Physician Nick Bandarenko, right, and administrative assistant Angela Bloemeke, left, are enthusiastic members of the Duke Medicine Orchestra. Photo by Marsha A. Green

Verena Mosenbichler-Bryant rapped her baton on the podium. 

"Brahms' Academic Festival Overture. Measure one, please," she announced.

Nick Bandarenko raised his clarinet to his lips and prepared for an entrance in measure 17. 

A physician in Duke's transfusion service, Bandarenko is a member of the Duke Medicine Orchestra, a volunteer ensemble that taps into the musical talents of staff, faculty and students at Duke. 

"This orchestra is a perfect way for me to use talents I hadn't been using for many years," he said.

The 52-member orchestra will perform a dress rehearsal concert in the Duke Hospital Atrium Cafeteria at 4 p.m. Nov. 30. Its formal fall concert is at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in Reynolds Theater in the Bryan Center on West Campus. The performances include the Academic Festival Overture by Johannes Brahms, the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar and Georges Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1. Both performances are free and open to the public.

Olivia Woodford, director of Health Arts Network at Duke, which co-sponsors the orchestra, attended a dress rehearsal in the hospital cafeteria last year. 

"It stopped people in their tracks," she said. "A lot of people thought it was piped-in music, and when they saw the live orchestra, there was a look of wonder on their faces." 

Founded in 2010, the orchestra is a collaboration between the Health Arts Network at Duke, the Multicultural Resource Center of Duke Medical School and founding member Dr. Barbara Kamholz, a physician at the Durham Veterans Association Hospital. Kamholz modeled the orchestra after the Life Sciences Orchestra at the University of Michigan. Members either work or study at Duke or are related to someone who does.     

The orchestra rehearses from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Sunday under the baton of Mosenbichler-Bryant, a professor of music at Duke who has a special place in her heart for community music ensembles. 

"The energy is so wonderful," she said. "Some players have more experience than others, but they come to play just because they love the music."

Mosenbichler-Bryant handles the varied musical abilities of orchestra members with ease, sometimes singing their parts with them, at other times stopping to describe the effect she wants the orchestra to achieve.

"I want a big organ sound here," she told the orchestra last week while rehearsing the Enigma Variations. "Let's have some passion."

Near the end of the rehearsal, Mosenbichler-Bryant gave the orchestra homework. 

"The Brahms is sounding good," she said. "But you'll need to focus some practice time on the Elgar."

Bandarenko, the physician clarinetist, squeezes three to four hours of practice time in each week, but considers the Sunday evening rehearsal a special time.  

"Music is a wonderful way to be with people but not be at work," he said. "Now that I'm playing again I love it so much I can't imagine not having time to do it."