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NU medical orchestra adds new prescription

An image from the orchestra's website.

The doctors are calling in some specialists. And a prescription for technology to make a “hybrid” concert possible, part live, part recorded.

The Northwestern Medical Orchestra has about 70 members, from students at the Feinberg School of Medicine, to alumni, and to doctors and other health care professionals in NU’s hospital/medical system.

Conductor, clarinetist, and med student Michael Wang says in this era of COVID lockdowns, social distancing, and remote learning, “Now more than ever, people need music.”

During the pandemic, concerts have been virtual. Musicians performed at home, and a final video mix was produced by editing all of the different parts into one orchestral whole.

The final concert this year, on April 30, will be different. Thanks to software called “Upbeat,” live performances will alternate with recorded ones.

There will not be an in-person audience for the live portion. The concert will still have to be viewed virtually.

Because everyone involved is in the medical field, they’ve all had their coronavirus vaccines. That has allowed string performers to rehearse and perform in person, masked and socially distanced.

Wind players still have to stay in their individual homes, rehearsing and performing virtually, because, well, it’s impossible to play a horn while wearing a mask.

This concert features chamber music, with composers from Argentina, Japan, as well as pieces from Brahms, Mozart, and others.

Plus, for the final concert, specialists taking part are vocalists. For the first time since the orchestra was founded in 2018, singers will share the spotlight with instrumental musicians.

Rosalind Hurwitz, a research speech language pathologist at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, is one of the singers. Hurwitz has a degree in vocal performance from NU. Once she learned about the musical medical group, “I said what, there’s a Northwestern medical orchestra? I want to sing with them.”

Now she and pianist Youngran Chung will perform a 4-1/2 minute song by Brahms. The pair rehearsed virtually, and recorded the performance. If you listen carefully, “there’s a guest appearance” by the pianist’s dog, Enzo. “He barked a few times,” Hurwitz says.

There’s definitely a “connection between health care and musicians,” Hurwitz adds.

Wang, who helped found the medical orchestra, says he “hopes the shared love of music and community has been a source of joy and stress relief” for participants.

Perhaps because playing music can be a stress reliever, Music Director Taichi Fukumra says orchestra membership during the pandemic has actually grown.

“Because of what the orchestra has been providing, people are reaching out to us,” he says.

Not only that, but Fukumura says “none of the vocalists and pianists knew each other” before being paired for the rehearsal and concert. “Now they’re becoming friends,” he adds.

Directing the medical orchestra, Fukumura says, “has always been one of the most rewarding things that I do.” It’s a joy, he says “to give people hope through music.”

The April 30 concert is free, and can be viewed on Facebook or via an NU webinar which does require registration.

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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