Dr. Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, director of the Duke University Wind Symphony and assistant professor of the practice of music, leads the Duke Medicine Orchestra, an organization of Duke University Medical Center affiliated musicians. Born in Austria, Bryant came to the United States to study music and conducting at Michigan State University where she received her master's degree and at the University of Texas at Austin before arriving at Duke to conduct several campus orchestras. She has been the conductor for the Duke Medical Orchestra since its beginning and believes that bringing music to patients in this unique way helps patients and hospital staff alike. The Chronicle spoke to Dr. Mösenbichler-Bryant about the program.
The Chronicle: What is the Duke Medicine Orchestra and what sets it apart from the other musical groups that you conduct for?
Verena Mosenbichler-Bryant: The Duke Medicine Orchestra strives to unite members of the Duke Medical community with those of the broader community in the pursuit of musical excellence and cultural enrichment to really inspire and renew its audience and members. It’s also the only ensemble that I conduct that is not primarily students—the members come from the medical community and they are there because they want to be there to make music while having a very different profession.
TC: Where did the idea for the orchestra first come from?
VMB: The orchestra was actually started in 2010, when Dr. Barbara Kamholz, a professor of psychiatry, decided to work with Dr. Nicholas Bandarenko III, a professor of pathology, to create a musical group modeled after one they had seen in Michigan. Luckily, everyone was on board with the idea and when they were looking for someone to lead the orchestra, Barbara reached out to me and we hit it off very well. I’ve been conducting the Medical Orchestra ever since.
TC: What kinds of venues does the Medical Orchestra perform at?
VMB: Most of the venues are on campus. In the past couple of years when Baldwin was under renovation, we performed in Reynolds Theater, but starting this fall, we’ll be back in Baldwin Auditorium. In addition to performing in concert venues, we also do dress rehearsals in a medical facility. So we’ve performed in the Cancer Center, we’ve performed at the Durham Regional Hospital, in Duke North, and we’re looking to perform in the Children’s Center as well. We’re really trying to get to all the medical facilities that we can.
TC: Who are the performers in the orchestra? Are they students, DUMC faculty, professional musicians?
VMB: There are definitely students—we have a lot of med students, as well as a lot of MD/PhD students in the group. The medical background of the performers is a very unique aspect of the orchestra. Everyone in the orchestra has some sort of affiliation with Duke Medicine, so we have doctors, nurses, students, staff working for Duke Hospital, as well as spouses and children of employees at the medical center. The orchestra is basically open to anyone affiliated with the medical center. We don’t have many undergraduates, however, simply because there are undergraduate specific orchestras like the Duke Symphony Orchestra.
TC: What kind of value does the orchestra add to our community and what has the response been from patients and the hospital staff?
VMB: Our goal is really to inspire and renew the lives of our audience and our members, and to bring together people from diverse areas of the Duke medical community in a shared activity. The feedback has always been extremely positive. Patients as well as other staff have often been very surprised and delighted to discover that their doctors, colleagues and students are performing in an orchestra. It helps them see these professionals on a more personal level.
TC: What role do you think that music and the arts plays in the field of healthcare?
VMB: I think it’s very important to have the arts and music available for patients and for the staff as well. I think it’s very beneficial to have an artistic outlet, regardless of what profession you’re in, to express yourself and relieve yourself from some of the stress that builds up during the day. I believe that music and the arts can achieve that, so I fully support the intersection between these two fields. We put a smile on a lot of faces, and that shows just how much music can connect to people. It’s been real a privilege to work with the medical community through this group and I look forward to many more performances in the future.