Weekly Features


IUSM Orchestra and musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra bring holiday joy to Riley

Dec. 12, 2013

IU School of Medicine students and faculty recently filled the air with the sounds of the season during a special concert to lift the spirits of children and families spending their holidays in the hospital.

The IU School of Medicine Orchestra, which features more than 40 musically talented students, residents, faculty and staff at the IU schools of medicine and dentistry, performed a holiday concert Dec. 10 in the atrium of the Simon Family Tower at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. The group was joined in the performance by musicians of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

This year's program featured holiday favorites such as "White Christmas"; "Joy to the World"; "O’ Come All Ye Faithful"; "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas Festival" by composer Leroy Anderson; "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite; and music from the feature film, "The Polar Express."

"It's hard to imagine a Christmas season without Christmas music," said Kate Hrynewycz, a fourth-year student at the IU School of Medicine who plays violin in the orchestra. "It's a part of what makes it such a magical time. As much as I wish no child had to spend Christmas in the hospital, I hope that we can do our part in making their holiday time a little more special."

A founding member of the IUSM Orchestra as well as an aspiring physician, Hrynewycz said she's seen firsthand the power that music holds for children, recalling an 8-year-old girl she met during a recent pediatric rotation who despite everything still looked forward to the chance each visit brought to play with a music-making app on her therapist's iPad.

On Tuesday, a different little girl had a smile on her face listening to the student's music.

"This was lovely," said Janet Arthur, whose infant granddaughter, Lochlan, a patient at Riley, spent much of the show with big eyes locked on the players. "My daughter only learned about this show this morning after spending all night here with the baby. We just loved it."

David Schurger, a master's student at Ball State University who serves as conductor and overseer of the IU School of Medicine Orchestra, called it a privilege to play for the children at Riley.

"It's certainly a humbling experience to perform music for kids who might not otherwise get out to experience the Yuletide season," he said. "We were honored by this chance to help bring some of the holiday's musical experiences to them in a big way. The chance to bring in a whole orchestra is really something special.”

It's a chance also appreciated by the musicians of the ISO, whose members have served as volunteer instructors with the IUSM Orchestra since fall of last year.

“Music really does heal,” said Geoffrey Lapin, a cellist with the ISO. He said the musicians work their hardest to reach every child at the hospital -- not only the children in the audience but also the patients who watched through windows in their rooms or via Riley's closed-circuit television network.

“Whether they spent the show in the audience or staying away from germs and ‘cooties,’ they were all in our hearts," he said.

The idea to perform holiday favorites at the children’s hospital was born two years ago after Hrynewycz and several friends volunteered to sing carols under the big glass elevators at Riley's old main entrance. But it wasn’t until this year that the group -- whose student membership has increased nearly 40 percent over the past year -- had enough members to stage a full orchestra concert.

“Our growth over the past few years helps a lot because older students and faculty, as well as the musicians of the IUSO, can fill in for the first- and second-year medical students whose exams fall during this time of the year," she said.

Hrynewycz added that the group's popularity is partly due to classmates' desire to reconnect to a passion beyond medicine after days and weeks spent pursuing a rigorous schedule of patient care, classes and exams.

"It's so much fun to perform with your classmates and your professors -- and I would never get the chance to sing opera or work with musicians of this caliber without this group," said Maria Solis, a third-year student at the IU School of Medicine whose crystal-clear soprano led the audience in a selection of carols in the second half of the show. After years spent singing in ensembles in high school and as an undergraduate at Marian University, she's finally back in front of an audience again after Schurger invited her to join the orchestra in 2012.

“A healthy physician is one who looks out for what nourished their soul, so that soul has something to give to others, said Nancy Butler, M.D., a member of the orchestra who plays the violin and piano and an assistant profession of clinical psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine. “Over a decade ago, the IU School of Medicine instituted a ‘Self-Awareness, Self-Care and Personal Growth’ curricular track that stated students ‘should be proficient in self-care to better serve their patients.'

"Students shouldn’t have to wait 25 years -- as I did -- to return to music."

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