Orchestra Receives a Taste of Duke Medicine

Duke Medicine musicians rehearse in preparation for free May 3 concert

Sweeping her arms back and forth to the beat, conductor Verena Mosenbichler-Bryant pursed her lips, her eyes scanning the rows of Duke Medicine musicians as her movements became more urgent, coaxing a fuller sound from their instruments.

Sunday evenings in the Duke music department's Bone Hall are reserved for doctors, researchers, staff and students who have played percussion since junior high or who can perfect sixteenth notes on the viola. Music may not be their day job, but they make the art form a priority.

"One, two, three, four, last four measures," Mosenbichler-Bryant said, tapping her finger against the black and white score. "More, big crescendo, please."

Every semester, the Duke Medicine Orchestra holds auditions and welcomes new faces into its cohort of more than 80 musicians. The players behind the music stands are diverse. Some are Duke alumni, others are high school students, talented children of Duke Medicine staff. They range from long-time researchers and doctors to new medical and graduate students. Even Durham community members and Duke employees from other departments are invited to join as associate members.

Despite differences in age and experience, they're all colleagues onstage.

On May 3, the Duke Medicine Orchestra will perform its free spring concert, "Other Worldly: Works of Wonder and Possibility," in Baldwin Auditorium. Orchestra members voted on the pieces for the spring concert, which will include "The Planets" by Gustav Holst and music from "Star Wars."

"This repertoire, how can you not like it?" Mosenbichler-Bryant said. "It's so passionate and just tells so many stories. That audience feedback is what we, as performers, live for and getting to perform for them is why we do this."

The orchestra has grown from 30 people in its "fledgling" stage to more than 80. The group opens its doors to players who may feel rusty after years of not looking at a piece of sheet music.

Dr. Laura Hale, a Duke Medicine researcher and professor of pathology, pulled her cello out of the closet 14 years ago. She joined the Duke Medicine Orchestra at its start four years ago, and she now serves as its treasurer.

While taking a break from examining microscope slides in her office one afternoon, she said music gives her a feeling of renewal.

"Science and music go together in a lot of ways," Hale said. "If you were to poll a class of incoming medical students, I bet a lot of them have a musical background. There's a reason for that. If you're going to be successful in music, you have to be disciplined, you have to practice, you have to work hard, and those are things that are rewarded."

Come dress rehearsal time, which takes place a week before the concert, musicians meet in Bone Hall and in public spaces at Duke, such as the Duke Cancer Institute, to perform in front of patients and others.

Adam Kuehn, an assistant director in Duke's Office of Research Support, said he's tried to give up music but can't do it. He's played timpani and other percussion instruments for years. He doesn't have a lot of time for it with four children and a high-volume position in which he reviews dozens of grants and contracts for the university, but he makes time.

"We were kind of small and nervous and just getting going," Kuehn said of the orchestra, "and now it's a big orchestra with an impressive sound and obviously some players who've done a serious amount of practicing over the last several years."