Symphony in scrubs
Texas Medical Center Orchestra makes beautiful music
Who would have thought that an indoor garden and lobby of a hospital would be great places to hear music?
Elevator music, maybe.
But not an orchestra of 75 medical musicians dressed in scrubs and enthusiastically performing Anton Dvorak's "New World Symphony" No. 9 in a cathedral-like space at the Methodist Hospital.
What could have been a tough visit to see her father in the emergency room was made just a little bit easier for Cindy Ratcliffe when she stopped to listen to the soaring sounds of violins, cellos, flutes and trumpets from the Texas Medical Center Orchestra.
"The beautiful music made me so happy," Ratcliffe said.
She was one of a number of visitors and employees who stopped by to listen to "First Tuesdays at Methodist Concert," a monthly free concert held at lunch time or rush hour and open to the public. Some visitors, like Ratcliffe, listened for a few minutes. Others watched from the balcony and joined in the calls for an encore when the performance ended.
Even conductor Libi Lebel was surprised by the response of the audience and the acoustics of the space.
Ten years ago, Lebel founded what was formerly called the Doctor's Orchestra of Houston, inspired by similar groups around the country. Recently the name was changed to the Texas Medical Center Orchestra to better reflect the professions of the orchestra members.
"Ninety-nine percent are in the medical field, but they are not all doctors," Lebel said. "There are interns, residents, nurses, medical technicians, secretaries and therapists. Some have played all their lives, others picked their instruments up again after many years.
"But this is serious work. I now consider them semi-professionals and I am very proud of their work."
These days Lebel considers the group a full orchestra, with a woodwind section, brass, percussion, strings and even a harp player. Auditions are serious business, as recent applicants for the first opening in five years discovered.
TMC Orchestra's concert master Dr. Daniel Musher remembers that when the orchestra began, he was one of the better violinists.
"I can't say that now," Musher said proudly. "They are all good."
After the 45-minute performance, Todd Frazier, a composer and managing director of The Methodist Hospital Center for Performing Arts Medicine, invited the audience to stay an listen to an open rehearsal of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with internationally known pianist James Dick. Dick will perform in a rare Houston appearance with the TMC Orchestra Sunday at Wortham Center and Nov. 21 at Festival Hill, Round Top. Dick is the founder and artistic director of the International Festival Institute at Round Top.
Frazier began the free concerts at Methodist a little more than a year ago. Doctors and nurses with the Center for Performing Arts Medicine work with artists and musicians from around the world on injuries and health problems related to their work. Frazier wanted more people in the wider medical community to recognize the therapeutic benefits of the performing arts.
"The main idea was to provide a venue for the arts community to share what they do with the medical world and to bring them the benefit of music on site and in their working environment," Frazier said.
"We also want them to see what art and music can mean to people's lives when they are going through a wide variety of challenges, like doctors and patients dealing with illness and injuries. The idea was to give them time for repose and reflection."
Frazier set up 100 chairs and several tables for the TMC Orchestra's concert. The attendance and response was so good that he plans to provide more seats for the next concert with the brass ensemble of the Houston Symphony Dec. 1.
"I'm excited that we are building a bridge between artists and the medical community and that as a composer I can help make that connection," Frazier said.