No group could appreciate a return to (almost) normal after the year we’ve been through any more than people involved in health care, and that would include the majority of the VCU Health Orchestra. Members include physicians, nurses, administrative staff, medical school students, alumni and a few nonmedical community volunteers — such as Bruce Swartz — needed to fill gaps in certain sections.
VCU Health is one of the few academic medical centers in the United States with its own symphony orchestra, which was founded in 2017. A dozen or so musicians showed up for the first rehearsal. The roster now stands at about 60, and the orchestra typically performs with about 45 to 50 on stage, Erichsen said.
The orchestra plays a wide variety of music — from pop to classical — and generally performs stand-alone concerts in the community and for department events. Its last performance was in January 2020, a concert at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, which was also the last time the orchestra was together.
The orchestra rehearses — or did, before the pandemic — on Wednesday evenings in the upstairs hall of VCU’s Main Hospital cafeteria.
“Any patient or visitor can come,” said Erichsen, who works in workforce development in the division of community health at VCU Health. “That’s part of our mission.”
The value of the relationship between music and medicine — or even music as medicine — is on full display with the orchestra, and it’s not just about those listening. In addition to the benefits that research has found music has on the human brain, simply playing in the orchestra can be a great stress reliever for someone in a high-pressure job, Erichsen said.