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Doctor musicians from across the globe perform at children's hospital

Nick Lippa

Doctors from around the world are in Buffalo this week not to discuss medicine, but to play music. With some help from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, they performed music at Oishei Children’s Hospital for patients and parents. It’s part of the hospital’s Healing Arts Initiative which focuses on bringing performances and visual artworks into their facilities. WBFO’s Nick Lippa has more.

In 2014 the Doctors of the World program raised $15,000 for the Healing Arts Initiative at Oishei Children’s Hospital. This week, they were able to see the program in action while playing for some of the patients. 

Bassoon player and retired cardiologist Fred Albrecht was in Bonn, Germany playing at the Beethoven Festival when he and members of the World Doctors Orchestra decided they would do some outreach projects to get more exposure and include more doctors, which is ambitious given the diversity of players Albrecht has already encountered.

“I’ve played with the clarinetist in Yokohama, Japan before,” he said. “I’ve played with the French horn (player) first in Armenia, then in Cleveland, as well as Seattle.”

The Doctors of the World program came to fruition when Albrecht pitched the idea to the BPO several years ago. He’s happy to see it making a difference.

Albrecht, who has been playing music since he was 3, could be seen after his performance doing his best to convince a very vocal toddler to take up bassoon in the future.

“We get to break up their day a little bit. They get to see something they haven’t seen before. How many kids get to sit three feet away from people playing not only a musical instrument, but interacting with musical instruments trying to share their musical ideas amongst a group? I think it’s a very good experience for the children and hopefully some of them will be inspired by it,” he said.

Soon after the music stopped, you could find young Noah Cahill crying in his father’s arms.

“He enjoyed the music he’s sad it’s gone,” dad at work Christopher Cahill said. He added it isn’t just the kids who enjoy the music.

“It was definitively a great distraction for the children and for the parents alike,” he said as Noah started crying louder. “It was really nice they were able to come up and share some time with us.”

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
A quintet made up of doctor-musicians performing on the 11th floor at Oishei Children's Hospital

“With classical arts… you know it’s a thing that is decaying in our generation and it’s good to have some enriching music that he can listen to. I’m sure if you brought the Cello player out he’d be all smiles,” he laughed.

Parents like Cahill are in luck. Oishei Children’s Hospital plans to take what is currently an initiative and turn it in to a program according to Vice President Andrew Bennett.

“A program would be having music, art classes, painting… those kind of things offered on a more regular basis throughout the year,” Bennett said.

These doctors pay for their own expenses to perform across the globe. That includes hall rentals and travel costs.

“I had a chance to meet some of them last night and they are from all over the (country). A lot from Germany,” said Bennett. “Their backgrounds in terms of medicine are not that dissimilar to the physicians we have here at the hospital. They love music. You think they’re professionals on a regular basis (and) it’s what they do for their day jobs.” 

The doctor-musicians had only two days with their respective ensembles to prepare for their Wednesday performance at the hospital. The BPO helps out by providing a week of coaching under the direction of Music Director JoAnn Falletta.  Albrecht said the musicians get something out of it too.

“Once you practice a lot you think you are pretty good. Then you sit next to a professional then you learn something. It’s a great experience. Everybody gets to learn. (The professional musicians) get to learn a little medicine. All those questions they never had answered. They get to talk to us directly and we get to pick up all the tips from the professional players to (make) our music playing much better.”

Bennet plans to have more community outreach like this in the future.

“We hope that this is really just the beginning of extending the relationship with the Buffalo Philharmonic. With the Burchfield Penny and the community. Bringing more programming like this to the hospital on a regular basis,” he said.

In 2020, Albrecht would like to bring the World Doctors Orchestra and their 1000 plus members to Buffalo to raise more money for the hospital. For him and many of these performers, the foundation of music and medicine go hand in hand.

“Medicine is very much a lot of hard work and lots of reading and lots of effort,” said Albrecht. “That all began with the base of me starting my musician career when I was three years old. The constant dedication to practicing and trying to improve yourself carries through right in to medicine.”

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO

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