For two hours each week, medical student Fred Langheim sets his books aside and practices his cello.
Langheim is one of 50 musicians who play in the Academic Health Center’s Health Sciences Orchestra.
The orchestra, founded in 1994, consists mainly of Academic Health Center employees but also includes social workers, a minister and non-medical faculty.
The orchestra provides many
members with an escape from their stressful and highly scheduled lives.
For Langheim, the thought of going to rehearsals and performances for the orchestra after a long day of school and research can be daunting.
“Getting there is stressful,” Langheim said. “But once I start playing, I remember why it is I’m doing it.”
The orchestra helps soothe the stresses of professional life through the pursuit of an enjoyable hobby, members said.
“There is something very meditative about playing and coordinating a performance,” Langheim said.
The orchestra plays three concerts each year in the lobby of Fairview-University Medical Center.
It also plays at the Medical School’s White Coat Ceremony and graduation events in July, said Dr. Marvin Goldberg, a violinist, radiology professor and the orchestra’s founder.
Rehearsing and performing show tunes, classical and holiday music means members have to temporarily put their hectic lives on hold, he said.
“If you do start thinking about other things, it will affect your playing,” said Goldberg, who has played the violin for 30 years.
Experience and age vary within the orchestra.
“I don’t think a beginner could handle it, but we also don’t demonstrate virtuoso stars,” Goldberg said. “The usual story is they did music, dropped it and then picked it up again.”
Some less experienced members learn while those with more experience are polished, said Jim Riccardo, a professional musician and the orchestra’s first and current conductor.
“It’s like juggling a chain saw, grape and rabbit at the same time,” he said of directing the diverse array of musicians. “You are adapting to them; they are not adapting to you.”
There is only a handful of this style of orchestra in the country, said Riccardo, who has also conducted the Jewish Community Center Symphony and the Kenwood Chamber Orchestra.
As with any amateur community ensemble, there is an unselfish level of devotion, he said.
“They all have extreme lives outside,” Riccardo said. “All of them seem to find a tremendous release and relief through their music.”
Bringing these things to Fairview-University patients is a more recent orchestra initiative, Riccardo said.
Aside from the hospital lobby concerts, groups of three to five members sometimes station themselves on hospital floors and play for patients.
“It has a real restorative effect for people who are struggling in this part of their life,” Riccardo said.
Carol Brunzell, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the University, has played the viola since 1968 and has been with the orchestra since its inception.
“It really takes me away because it’s so different than my job,” she said. “It is a nice diversion from the normal hospital