New VCU Health Orchestra to play its first gig at annual fundraiser for The Doorways

Members of the VCU Health Orchestra’s strings section at their first rehearsal.
<br>Photos by Le...
Members of the VCU Health Orchestra’s strings section at their first rehearsal.
Photos by Leha Byrd, University Public Affairs

Lately on Wednesday evenings, there’s been a new sound coming from the second floor of the main cafeteria inside Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. It’s the sound of music.

The newly formed VCU Health Orchestra, which includes musicians who play bassoon, trombone, violin and many other instruments, has been rehearsing in the space for six weeks, in anticipation of its first gig, Dec. 8. The inaugural performance is part of the VCU Department of Music’s Holiday Gala fundraiser for The Doorways, a homestead where VCU Health patients and their families can stay before, during and after treatment at no charge.

The orchestra currently has 30 members and is comprised of VCU Health employees and some medical students. The volunteer orchestra is an opportunity for employees, who use music as a pastime, to share that talent in their workspaces and with the local community.

Orchestra manager Theresa Erichsen, who has played the French horn since age 12, said the group will play all kinds of music for all kinds of events. At VCU Health, Erichsen is a clinical nurse.

“The idea is that we are using our talents to help the community and VCU Health,” she said. “It’s about giving back and having fun doing it.”

The success of musical groups and orchestras at other health systems and health organizations, including the National Institutes of Health Philharmonia and John Hopkins University’s Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, created buzz around VCU Health to start a similar outlet.  

Francesco Celi, M.D., chair of the VCU Health Division of Endocrinology Diabetes and Metabolism, plays violin in the orchestra. Celi took up playing the instrument 15 years ago, after helping his young daughter with her violin lessons.

Playing in the orchestra provides a chance for camaraderie and collaboration, he said.  

“Playing in an ensemble is a fantastic way to meet people in a very relaxed setting with a common purpose. Sharing our passion is a great relief from our daily anxiety,” Celi said. “The opportunity of playing in public can provide visibility to our institution and show that we have a shared artistic interest.”

Members of the VCU Health Orchestra (they hope to soon agree on an official name) are eager to schedule more engagements, whether it’s playing in the Gateway Building at VCU Medical Center or in the community. Rondy Lazaro, M.D., a resident physician in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, is the orchestra’s conductor.

Members of the VCU Health Orchestra’s brass section at their first rehearsal.
Members of the VCU Health Orchestra’s brass section at their first rehearsal.

Erichsen said she’s still recruiting members, based on their previous playing experience. Rehearsals are Wednesday evenings from 7–9 p.m.

Friday’s event, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” Andy Williams’ “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “Symphony No. 40” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, among other pieces. As more performance opportunities arise, Erichsen said the orchestra’s reach will be measured by how the musicians and outside audiences are affected. 

“Enjoying each other and giving back to our community, that is success,” Erichsen said.

Currently there are 160 residents at The Doorways which, in addition to private rooms, offers amenities like shuttle service to and from VCU Medical Center, laundry facilities, a chapel, a fitness center and Wi-Fi. The Holiday Gala is an important, staple event. Having the VCU Health Orchestra as part of it this year is an added bonus, said Regan Gifford, community outreach manager at The Doorways. Last year, the Department of Music, which has organized the gala since 1987, raised $3,600 through the sale of tickets and poinsettias.

“Funds raised through events like this one go directly back to providing those services and amenities that mean so much to those we’re hosting,” Gifford said.


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