Rediscovering the Joy of Music

All-volunteer Durham Medical Orchestra performs free concert Dec. 10

Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, the Durham Medical Orchestra's conductor and artistic director, leads a rehearsal.
Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, the Durham Medical Orchestra's conductor and artistic director, leads a rehearsal.

Ask members of the Durham Medical Orchestra what they get out of performing with the roughly 100-piece classical music ensemble and their faces light up.

“With a larger group, we have the ability to create sounds with great range, texture and dimension,” said clarinet player Nick Bandarenko, an associate professor of pathology. “It’s fun to be part of that.”

Hearing the array of sounds come together to make beautiful noise is what thrills soprano Meredith Achey.

“As a soloist, it’s just so much fun to be borne up on that wave of sound,” said Achey, a third-year medical student at Duke.

The Durham Medical Orchestra gives its volunteer members a chance to indulge the love of music that their careers may have forced to the back burner.

Created in 2010, the group – which was initially called the Duke Medicine Orchestra and boasted just 35 members – was originally geared toward Duke Health System employees. Now, it features a mix of medical professionals – from Duke and elsewhere – and members of the Durham community.

While the orchestra, which is affiliated with Duke’s Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts, may play smaller events throughout the year, the high points of its calendar are the free concerts it puts on each semester. The next one is at 3 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Baldwin Auditorium.

Entitled “Once Upon a Time,” the concert will feature performances of Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

The family-focused event will feature an original piece composed by Duke graduate student Dayton Kinney inspired by the children’s book “The Orchestra Pit.” The book tells the story of a mischievous snake that gets into an orchestra pit and explores each instrument.

“I think that it’s so beautiful that there are so many folks out there that have such great talent, but they don’t necessarily get the opportunity to foster the relationship they have with their instrument,” said Duke Associate Professor of Music Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, the group’s conductor and artistic director. “This is a great opportunity for them to perform.”

Many orchestra members share stories like that of Bandarenko, one of the orchestra’s founding members and its current president. As an undergraduate at Duke in the 1980s, Bandarenko and his clarinet had no shortage of chances to hit the stage, performing with the Duke Wind Symphony and the Duke Symphony Orchestra.

But after college, things changed. As a medical student, Bandarenko found life too hectic to commit to a large group. Later, when he returned to Duke, he was unable to find an outlet until the orchestra took shape.

Achey has a similar tale. After majoring in vocal performance in college and planning to become a classical singer, she was prepared to leave performing behind when she went to medical school. But when she discovered the orchestra, she jumped at the chance to join.

“When I left a career in singing behind, I thought I might never again have this opportunity [to perform with an orchestra],” Achey said. “It’s been a real joy to do it.”