Orchestra tapshidden talent

Paul Sanders

Conductor James Riccardo guides the Health Sciences Orchestra through rehearsal, drilling its members. While the woodwinds and brass are heading for the door, the string section is kept late to work out a difficult passage.
“No, no, no! You’re still a half a bar behind! Look at this,” he says, waving his baton to emphasize the time signature. “That’s the only reason I’m here! One more time please. …”
Strains of Mozart and Beethoven resound through the basement of the Boynton Health Service building every Thursday after 5 p.m., where members of the University Hospital Health Sciences Orchestra can be found practicing their music instead of medicine.
Riccardo, a professional violinist who, as conductor, is the orchestra’s only paid member, said that after a rough start, the orchestra has made quite a bit of progress in its first year of existence. “We’re still struggling, but the players are wonderful. They range in skill from very skilled to just learning.”
Although many community and volunteer orchestras perform classical music in relative obscurity, it took the University Hospital’s Health Sciences Orchestra only one year to hit the big time. The orchestra has gained national attention recently after being featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.” The feature was filmed last fall on campus and aired March 31.
“It’s been a good year overall — tough sometimes, some growing pains, but overall I think it’s gone fairly well,” said Marvin Goldberg, radiologist and founding violinist.
Goldberg, who didn’t learn how to play the violin until the age of 40, got the idea to form the orchestra by recognizing an untapped resource of talent within the hospital community. “I knew there were all these people around who maybe had played an instrument when they were younger, and had put it down for one reason or another.”
He also recognized a need within the hospital for some entertainment. “I thought it would provide some relaxation for hospital patients and employees.”
Since the “Sunday Morning” feature, Goldberg says he has received an overwhelming response from people all over the country who want to start similar projects. The story also prompted the Whitney Young Magnet High School Concert Orchestra from Chicago to make the University a stop on its tour to perform at noon this Friday in Diehl Plaza.
Goldberg says although the orchestra is composed primarily of players from within the hospital community, it is open to anyone within or outside the University who would like to participate. It also is not, he said, exclusively a “doctors’ orchestra,” as it is commonly perceived. Dietitians, students and technicians, in addition to doctors and professors, fill out the orchestra’s ranks, and the orchestra is “currently looking for wind players to fill out the bassoon and oboe section,” Goldberg said.
The orchestra’s only funding comes from the University Hospital Auxiliary, a nonprofit group, which has donated $27,000 to help the group buy music and hire a conductor. The auxiliary a corporation independent of the University.
When Goldberg approached the auxiliary for funding in February 1995, he didn’t have anything more than a small ensemble, Auxiliary President Jolene Chou said, but the auxiliary believed the group’s mission was worth funding. “I think it’s been very good for the hospital and the community,” Chou said. “At the time, the hospital was undergoing a lot of changes … and the orchestra gave a sense of community to the hospital.”
On Friday, tables and chairs were pushed aside during lunch in the hospital’s Bridges cafeteria to make room for the orchestra’s first performance since the “Sunday Morning” feature. About 200 hospital patients and staff members watched as Riccardo conducted the musicians through selections ranging from classics such as Berlioz’s “Hungarian March” to more contemporary pieces like selections from Rodgers and Hammersteins’s “Carousel.”
Hospital patient James LeBlanc, who had been hospitalized for two weeks following heart surgery, watched the performance with his daughter, Shelly Grunklee. “I think that what they’re doing is great,” LeBlanc said.
His daughter agreed. “I think people really underestimate the value of what this does for patients and their families,” she said.