CUMC Symphony Orchestra's First Concert in Almost a Decade

A weekend-long practice led up to an impressive performance

December 2, 2013

It was the musician’s equivalent of a marathon. Over one weekend in November, approximately 50 members of the CUMC community spent nine hours on Saturday and six on Sunday playing Beethoven. They were rehearsing for the first time as a group, in preparation for a Sunday afternoon performance, the CUMC Symphony Orchestra’s first in almost 10 years.

When students, faculty, and staff from all schools and many administrative offices walked in early on Saturday morning toting instruments, some were brushing up on skills used in many concert performances. Others had just tuned their instruments for the first time in many years. But for all orchestra members, the experience gave them a chance not only to make music, but to meet new people from across the community and to experience the campus where they work or study in a new way.

Before the Nov. 17, 2013, concert, the last orchestra performance was in the early 2000s. The group, which evolved from the Bard Chamber Orchestra, formed in 1992 by Drs. Julie Lin and Frank David, was a way to bring together musicians from across the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The orchestra may have stopped performing, but it was not forgotten. The current conductor for the orchestra, Hanjay Wang P&S '15, was in an admissions interview when he first heard about the group. So when the P&S Alumni Association approached him about working on its relaunch, he was excited to take it on.


A performance of the CUMC Orchestra in 2003, one of its last concerts.

A performance of the CUMC Orchestra in 2003, one of its last concerts.

He and a core group of students and staff worked to gather musicians and arrange a performance, this time opening up the P&S group to all CUMC musicians with all experience levels.

"We wanted to make it as inclusive as possible," said Mr. Wang.

Walking into rehearsal on Saturday, many orchestra members were meeting for the first time. Others were surprised to run into colleagues they never knew were musicians. Playing a different role on a familiar campus was exciting for Rachel Futrell, CUMC’s associate director of energy management and sustainability.

“When we convened on Saturday, we had professors, students, and staff, but we were all just there as musicians," said Ms. Futrell, who played in symphonies throughout college and her earlier working years. "It was energizing. I wasn't aware of how many hours we had put in until I got home and realized how tired I was.”

Rehearsals were not just exhausting, but challenging in the face of a 3 p.m. Sunday deadline—ready or not, an audience would be there, expecting a symphony orchestra performance. As rehearsals began, Mr. Wang quickly realized that the broad range of abilities needed to be addressed. He seated experienced performers alongside newer ones and spent time practicing with individual sections of the orchestra, focusing first on the wind players, then the string players. They practiced particular passages repeatedly, trying to close the experience gap as the concert hour drew ever closer.

And practice was not the only challenge: The group discovered that some stage lights in the auditorium were not working. They worried they would have to perform in the dark. Then a bass player thought on his feet and ran out to get an extension cord to connect another set of lights, which lit the stage dramatically. Finally, when the 150 audience members showed up on Sunday, the performance went off without a hitch.

"It was a challenging experience, but it came together well," said Mr. Wang. “I am very proud of each and every one of the musicians.”

The audience was impressed.

“I was thrilled to see how well the orchestra came together,” said Anke Nolting, PhD, associate dean and executive director for alumni relations and development at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, who played a key role in supporting the orchestra's revival, along with Anne L. Taylor, MD, vice dean for academic affairs in P&S, and Lisa Mellman, MD, P&S senior associate dean for student affairs.

“In my role, I get to work with many of our versatile and multi-talented students, but I did not realize how many great musicians we have across the medical center until I saw them on stage as a group," said Dr. Nolting. “I look forward to seeing their next performance.”

Read more about the CUMC Symphony Orchestra’s return here. If you are interested in  joining, send an email.