How music is helping these healthcare workers get though the pandemic

7 December 2020, 17:02 | Updated: 8 December 2020, 11:21

The healthcare workers making music during the pandemic
The healthcare workers making music during the pandemic. Picture: National Virtual Medical Orchestra

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

These medical professionals have turned to music to find healing in lockdown – and their videos have been a tonic for music lovers around the world.

One medical ensemble has swapped scrubs for concert blacks, in a Venn diagram that’s not as niche as you might think.

The National Virtual Medical Orchestra (NVMO), an ensemble of 50 doctors, nurses, frontline workers and medical students from around the United States, was founded in May as orchestras around the world suspended their performances amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while many orchestras remain silent, the NVMO has been making music together online ever since.

Founder John Masko, a Boston conductor and music director of the Providence Medical Orchestra, wanted to give medical professionals who are also classical musicians the chance to play together.

“Over the years I’ve worked with medical musicians, one thing that’s always been clear to me is the indispensable, spiritual role music plays in their lives,” Masko told Classic FM.

“Collaborating with these health care providers to rekindle the flame of orchestral music in such a harrowing, dark time has been the greatest privilege I’ve yet had in music.”

Read more: Intubated COVID-19 patient plays violin to thank medical staff >

John Masko leads the National Virtual Medical Orchestra
John Masko leads the medical ensemble. Picture: NVMO

The ensemble has been growing throughout lockdown, and now features musicians from 16 medical orchestras around the country, as well as several independent players.

A dab hand at instruments both medical and musical, the performers have been racking up hundreds of thousands of views on their videos, many posted on Classic FM’s Facebook page.

Some of their music so far includes a wonderful ‘Nessun dorma’ fronted by trained nurse and former professional opera singer Tracey Welborn, and an appropriately-costumed performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique for Halloween.

'Nessun dorma' by the National Virtual Medical Orchestra

Nurse and medical orchestra perform a virtual 'Nessun dorma' 💔😭 Bravo to tenor and nurse, Tracey Welborn, who had a touring career as an opera singer before he started working with the Central Virginia Veterans Affairs Health Care System. He sings alongside the National Virtual Medical Orchestra, an ensemble of healthcare workers founded by conductor John Masko. You can support their wonderful music-making here 👉 This video was produced by Charles Staples, Jason Staniulis and SkoVenture.

Posted by Classic FM on Monday, October 5, 2020

“Many of us have been musicians longer than we’ve been doctors, scientists or nurses. I started playing when I was four years old,” violinist Dr Erica Hardy tells NPR.

For Dr Hardy, it’s also about escapism. “The music gives us an outlet; we use a different part of our brain,” she says. “It’s a time for us to do something else and take our mind off medicine. We try to play all the notes but if we hit a wrong one, it’s not life or death!”

The musicians say they are dedicating their music-making to all the professionals who’ve helped us heal over the last few months.

Read more: Doctor plays violin serenade after patient’s COVID-19 recovery >

Virtual medical orchestra plays Berlioz's thrilling Symphonie Fantastique

It’s also been a chance for medical musicians to connect. Masko tells NPR: “Very few of these ensembles at least before we entered the pandemic, really knew about each other. One of the things that’s already happening is medical musicians around the country are discovering each other and many are reconnecting with old friends.

“Our hope is that even if we’re not producing virtual performances because we’re able to be back together in person, the unifying effect of this ensemble can continue in some way.”

The videos have been resonating on social media with all those missing the joy of live music.

“Hello world! We are together in music,” a viewer commented on one of their performances. Another wrote: “Thank you for the gift of excellent music! It’s a breath fresh air and humour in the midst of the madness.”

Watch the NVMO live from Carnegie Hall on 17 December, with their show ‘Music as Medicine’.