One of the messages the VCU Health System orchestra — known as Music and Medicine — conveys through its music and performances is that there is room in life for more than one passion.
“You can be a musician and be a nurse. You can be a doctor and be a musician,” said Theresa Erichsen, a VCU Health nurse who co-founded the orchestra with Francesco Celi, M.D., chair of the VCU School of Medicine Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. “You don’t have to give it up just because you majored in something other than music.”
The doctors, nurses, therapists, students and others who play in the orchestra have pursued careers in healthcare, and making time for other interests, especially in the arts, has been therapeutic for many of them as they navigate high-stress occupations.
One example is a bassoon-playing paramedic who was in the orchestra and has since gone on to medical school. “He told us when he left that the two hours he had with us each week laughing and playing at practice helped him maintain his mental health between preparing for medical school and working as a paramedic,” Theresa said.
For other orchestra members, the experience is just down-right fun. That was the case this month as the orchestra gave a Halloween-themed performance at Firehouse Theatre on Broad Street. Members donned costumes and played selections from superhero movies, Phantom of the Opera and pop culture.
This month’s performance was the first of the 2019-2020 season and the first in a new partnership with Firehouse Theatre. “We needed a theater home,” Theresa said. “We needed a place to perform where people would be able to come on a routine basis. So now, when we’re not playing for a fundraiser, we will be playing at the Firehouse Theater.”
The fundraisers and other shows the orchestra has been a part of in its two years have taken place at the VA Medical Center, the Jefferson Hotel, the Science Museum of Virginia, a military base and many other venues.
“The Music and Medicine Orchestra affords physicians and community members a chance to get together to build some of those relationships that are critical in providing healthcare to an entire city,” said Kara Dods, an M.D./Ph.D. student at the VCU School of Medicine and French hornist in the orchestra. “On top of that, we provide an outlet for creativity for a lot of people within in the healthcare community.”
While about 80 percent of the orchestra is made up of healthcare professionals, there are some members who are professional musicians and represent the wider community. Will Pattie, the orchestra’s conductor and music director, is a music teacher in Henrico County Public Schools who has been working with the group for two years. He is a VCU graduate and the grandson of a former MCV cardiologist.
“I came to a rehearsal and immediately saw that there was potential for growth. They had some anchor players who were normal, everyday working doctors, nurses and staff, but they had musical backgrounds,” Will said. “One of the key things that makes it work and makes it enjoyable for me is a grounding philosophy for us to keep it fun and light, to make it something that makes us want to be around each other.”
As the orchestra has spent more time together over the years, it seems it was always inevitable a group of healthcare workers and active community members such as them would develop altruistic goals, and that is exactly what has happened. One of the orchestra’s main objectives has become helping others through their music. They’ve participated in fundraisers previously, which they’d like to do more of, but they’d also like to begin organizing their own events for Richmond organizations like VCU Health, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, World Pediatric Project and others.
To reach a point at which it can fulfill its philanthropic goals, the orchestra needs resources for instruments, sheet music, programs and other items. To help the orchestra meet that potential, click the “Give Now” link at the top left of this page, find “Search for other funds” in the dropdown menu and search for “VCU Health Orchestra Fund.”