In the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, AdventHealth staff found solace in music – not by listening to it, but by playing it.
Now the AdventHealth Orchestra — in which doctors sit alongside finance executives and a nurse may play alongside an accountant — will perform its first public concert this weekend. Featuring a repertoire of Christmas music, the approximately 60-member ensemble will perform on the Disney Springs Outdoor Stage at 5 p.m. on December 11.
“I’ve already invited everyone I know,” said Ivanna Mirabal Molina, an Orlando-based patient care technician who plays the viola.
And while gamers are eager to share their music, that’s not why Richard Hickam started the band last year.
“I realized the great need for connection and for the arts to help us in dark times,” said Hickam, director of music and arts for the health system.
With the AdventHealth team working overtime on healing bodies, Hickam thought staff members could use a boost for their souls.
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“Even when you’re tired, there’s something music does to your mind,” he said. “You get this feeling of renewal. It restores you.
He began by recruiting string players; the answer told him that his instincts had been right.
A doctor, Hickam recalled, had been working in the COVID unit all day but reassured her that she would not miss the orchestra rehearsal.
“I have to drive to Dr. Phillips and get my cello back, but I’ll be there,” he recalled saying. “She needed this outing. It was really significant.
That was Molina’s experience, too — especially when the ensemble’s first piece was a requiem, recorded at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, posted on YouTube and dedicated to those lost to the pandemic.
“I was trying not to cry,” she said as she played Samuel Barber’s famous “Adagio for Strings,” often heard at funerals and remembrance ceremonies. “I was at the bedside [with COVID patients] and I really know how it feels.
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Among the violinists: Dr. Vincent Hsu. As the Region’s Executive Director of Infection Prevention, not only has he been entrenched in AdventHealth’s response to COVID-19, but through regular public briefings, he has become a key speaker on the pandemic.
“For those of us who were frontline caregivers and also leading a lot of the COVID efforts, it was really meaningful,” he said of the ‘Adagio’ game. “We have seen death with our own eyes. We really wanted a way to express our grief but also our hope for the future.
For Hsu and many of his colleagues, music is a family affair. Hsu’s wife, Grace, a nurse, also plays violin in the AdventHealth Orchestra. And their two children also study the violin.
“For them, seeing their parents practice is good for them,” Hsu said. “They don’t just hear us telling them to train, they see us.”
Molina, who as a child in his native Venezuela played under the direction of the famous conductor Gusavo Dudamel, trains his younger sister on the viola.
Paul Adeogun, a Kissimmee-based operations manager, plays tuba in the orchestra but keeps his kids on track with their piano lessons. He knows the importance of early musical education; he learned the tuba while his family lived in Nairobi, Kenya.
The big instrument was given to him by a demanding teacher because Adeogun “was on the bigger side”.
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“He was very tough,” Adeogun said of the instructor, with whom he keeps in touch. “Typical music teacher.”
As is often the case in arts education, a very tough teacher equals a very good teacher.
At Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Adeogun turned his snorkel into a scholarship. But then “I got married, got a job, life just happened,” Adeogun said. “I never thought I would play again.”
Until he joined a church in Nashville that had a band that needed a tuba. He bought his own instrument and has been playing regularly ever since.
Molina performed with the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestras after her family moved to Orlando.
And Hsu’s mother was a music teacher, so he also played piano and violin from an early age. He helped pay for medical school by playing the organ at weddings and other events.
“It beat flipped burgers,” he said.
Of course, maintaining skills takes practice – and with demanding jobs, it’s not always easy to find the hours – or even the minutes – to make music.
“I would be lying if I said I like spending more time training,” Hsu said. “But after practicing, I feel good.”
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It’s worth finding the time, said Adeogun, who heads the department that provides support services to nurses.
“We minimize work stress as best we can,” he said. “Music helps.”
Although there can be unintended consequences when snorkeling.
“I’m sure my neighbors are wondering what’s going on in this house,” Adeogun said with a laugh.
Hickam keeps time in mind when choosing music and planning rehearsals.
“I’m very aware that they are working professionals and family members,” he said. “I have to find the balance between enough practice for us to do well but not enough to deter people from joining us.”
Rehearsals offer other benefits besides improving performance: they build camaraderie among colleagues who don’t usually interact. It is a musical form of team building.
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You can find a music therapist playing the clarinet and an accountant nearby on the flute. AdventHealth’s chief investment officer plays bass, while the CEO of the West Florida division plays timpani. There’s a lawyer in the viola section, a trumpeting procurement office worker, and a supply chain manager playing the violin.
Among the percussionists: nurses, a computer scientist and a pharmacist.
“We are people who wouldn’t normally sit together in a room for several hours,” said Adeogun, who plays next to the chief investment officer. “It really breaks down the walls that naturally exist in organizations.”
Together they learn “Sleigh Ride” and “We Three Kings” and selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” for two performances on Sunday; before the orchestra performs at Disney Springs, it will perform at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.
And while musicians are eager to spread holiday cheer, their efforts come with the realization that creating music is joyful medicine for themselves.
“It’s very therapeutic,” Hsu said. “It’s a prescription for us.”
Find me on Twitter @matt_on_arts, facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or write to me at email@example.com. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts. For more fun things, follow @fun.things.orlando on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
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