Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Celebrating a Life: Dr. Susan Spencer

On Saturday evening, December 5, 2009, Longwood Symphony performed its first concert of the season in NEC's Jordan Hall.

Our Community Partner was the American Epilepsy Society, which collaborated with the LSO with the specific goal of raising funds to launch a new fund, the Susan Spencer Clinical Epilepsy Research Fund, in memory of Dr. Susan Spencer. Dr. Spencer's stellar accomplishments included Chair of the Yale Medical School's Neurology Department, with a specialty in epilepsy and past-President of the AES. She was married to Dr. Dennis Spencer, Chair of Neurosurgery at Yale Medical School, and was the mother of twin daughters, Dr. Andrea Spencer and Dr. Joanne Spencer.

Dr. Susan Spencer was an oboist and harpist, deftly balancing her music and medicine. Her daughters followed suit: Joanne is a flutist and Andrea is a violist. Both were music majors at Yale; both then went to medical school at Columbia and Harvard, respectively.

"The apple does not fall far from the tree"

Like her mother, Andrea Spencer is a master at juggling many balls at once.
Andrea joined the LSO in 2003 as a 1st year medical student at Harvard Medical School. She devoted her summers to working with traumatized children in Honduras and elsewhere, sharing her medicine and music wherever she went. With the LSO, she helped organize a symposium on International Women's Day that showcased the work of ten remarkable young medical professionals. Last year, she organized an even more ambitious symposium exploring the intersection of medicine and music, "Crossing the Corpus Callosum" [see blog entry January 2009], that included her own distinguished father as a speaker. Even through the notoriously busy years as a 3rd year student and as an intern (when we expect to see little of our LSO musicians), Andrea found a way to perform in most of the season's concerts. The Spencer family, Dennis, Susan and Joanne were often there in the audience.

In October we launched the year with LSO on Call, bringing music to patients across the city who can no longer attend concert performances. Andrea's group performed at Sarah Care in Dorchester, a senior day center for Vietnamese refugees who have settled in Boston. Their choice of Dvorak's "American" String Quartet had a special poignancy for these new Americans.

As a member of the Board, Andrea Spencer was working closely with other colleagues to refine our "Healing Art of Music" program that selects and then works with medical nonprofits to raise awareness and funds around our concert performances.

How difficult yet how profoundly fitting it was that, after the sudden loss of Dr. Susan Spencer in late spring, the Spencer family requested that our first concert be dedicated to establishing a new fund in Susan's name to further research on epilepsy. Thus the American Epilepsy Society was named an LSO Community Partner. We were proud and moved to make a contribution in this way.

The concert drew nearly 900 people, including 325 neurologists from across the country. Many others sent donations to the Susan Spencer Clinical Epilepsy Research Fund.

The music (chosen over a year ago) was also profoundly fitting - the New England Premiere of Giya Kancheli's "STYX", a work for mixed chorus, large orchestra and a viola soloist. Written in memory of some of his dearest friends, Kancheli has created a work depicting Charon, the boatman who ferried souls between the land of the living and the dead, across the river Styx.

There is a clear parallel between Charon's role and that of our own as physicians and musicians, We are privileged and challenged to serve as healers and comforters as we walk with our patients and audiences to the shores between life and death.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

LSO on Call: Health and Harmony in the City , Part 2

One week from now, on October 17, 2009, 57 musicians of the Longwood Symphony will travel across greater Boston to bring music to 20 health care facilities.

The 1000 patients are living with Alzheimer's, ALS, or dementia or healing from spinal cord injuries, burns, or brain injuries. We have tried to match our caregiver musicians with their areas of expertise, in order to give them and their colleagues even more insight and meaning to the experience. One pediatrician is taking her music into a NICU, an oncologist is offering music in a hospice.

At the performances, our audiences will not be regarded, as they so often are, as patients with disease states. Instead they will be audience members, music-lovers, and arts appreciators. Equally, the musicians of the Longwood Symphony will not be regarded, as they so often are, as doctors, therapists, and scientists. Instead, they will be regarded as musicians, performers, arts healers. When words, or medicine, fail, there is still music.

These are the facilities we will be visiting, with a highlight on some of the groups, seen here rehearsing at the Boston Latin School

This group will be visiting

Group 1: Hearthstone Alzheimer's Care at Height's Crossing

Brockton, MA

Albert Chow, violin

Student, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Sherman Jia, violin
Student, Harvard Medical School, MIT, Howard Hughes Research Fellow, Broad

Jennifer Grucza, viola
Senior Software Engineer, Digital Advisor

Martha Davis, J.D., cello
Northeastern University School of Law
Stephanie Wingfield, J.D., cello

Wingfield Audio Inc.

Mark Gebhardt, M.D., Ph.D. , clarinet
Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, HMS; Chief of Orthopaedic Surgery, BIDMC, CHB, DFCI

Stephen Wright, M.D., bassoon
Chief of Medicine, Faulkner, BWH, TUSM, HMS

Vanessa Gardner, french horn
Concerts Manager, MIT

I am looking forward to seeing the reaction of the audience participants to the performance, which for them, I suspect, will be just as much visual as auditory. Watching players as they prepare to make an entrance, and the sound that comes out from each instrument, might be the more accessible part of the event for certain patients. -Steve Wright

This group will be visiting

Group 8: Sancta Maria Nursing Facility

Cambridge, MA 02138

Tobi-Ann Kocher, flute
Flute instructor, Wayland Public Schools

Jeffrey Berman, M.D., clarinet

Prof. of Medicine, BUSM, Pulmonary/Critical Care/Allergy, BMC, VA Medical Center

Janice D. Walker, R.N., M.B.A.

Division of Medicine, BIDMC

Amy Seibel, bassoon

I am very excited about performing next weekend at a skilled nursing facility! I will be playing a variety of works with long time friends and a new friend (flutist Tobi-Ann Kocher; my wife, Jan Walker, a researcher in the Section of General Internal Medicine at BIDMC on piano; along with new friend Amy Seibel, a bassoonist). Preparing for this performance has allowed me to play great music (much of it I have never played before), while allowing us the opportunity to share our music with others who might not otherwise have the opportunity to go to a concert. As a physician I interact with sick people every day, but sharing the healing properties of music allows me to communicate and heal using techniques quite different from the ones I use in my "day job". Dr. Jeffrey Berman

This group will be visiting

Parmenter Hospice

Wayland, MA


Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Boston, MA

Mabel Chan, violin

Data Manager, Neurology Research, Massachusetts General Hospital

Jennifer Chang, violin
8th year, M.D.-Ph.D. program, HMS

Angela Moss, M.D. viola

Surgical Fellow, MGH, HMS

Gregory Crist, cello

Computer Graphics

Complete list of healthcare facilities hosting LSO on Call performances

Barbara McInnis House

Boston Medical Center

Elizabeth Seton Residence

Golden Living Center-Chetwynde

Hearthstone Alzheimer's Care at Height's Crossing

Hearthstone Alzheimer's at New Horizons

Hebrew Rehabilitation Center

Norumbega Point

Parmenter Hospice

Sarah Care Adult Day Health Services

Sancta Maria Nursing Facility

Sherrill House

Shriner’s Hospital for Children

South Cove Manor

Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

The Stone Institute

Waban Health and Rehab Center &

Wingate Brighton

Women’s Lunch Place

Sunday, September 20, 2009

LSO on Call: Health and Harmony in the City, Part 1

On Thursday September 17, 50 Longwood Symphony musicians gathered at Boston Latin School. Rather than sitting in their familiar spots in the BLS Band room --cellos to the left, violins to the right, winds on the risers--they divided into 14 unfamiliar groupings. Three oboes gathered in one room, and octet of winds and strings in another, two horns and string quartet in yet another. In four short weeks, these new groups will be much more familiar with each other, both musically and personally.
- - - Flutist Dany Krause "at play" after performing at Shriners Hospital last spring

Armed with that training, on October 17, they will travel together to health care settings across the Commonwealth.

This is an opportunity for new, shared experiences.
~It is an opportunity for musicians to get to know their patients better
~It is an opportunity for musicians to get to know each other better
~It is an opportunity for musicians to get to know themselves better
~It is an opportunity to consider what difference the experience will make on them as caregivers.

In an effort to measure these changes, LSO has created questionnaires for the musicians, the staff, and the patients. We're exploring our own pre-conceived ideas, our medical perspective, and our expectations.

Midway through the rehearsal, we stopped to gather and each musician shared his/her experiences with music and the intimacy of playing music in a health care setting.

Schubert Octet under Einstein's watchful gaze

One said: "As a child, my family always played music in hospitals and convents. I loved playing my violin for patients. It is one of the reasons I've applied to medical school."

Another shared: "While I have not played in a formal health care setting, I remember performing Bach for my grandmother as she was dying. It was a very moving experience for me."

Many recalled that it had not been since high school that they had the opportunity to play for patients and to play in chamber music groups.

Next step: Matching these 14 groups with patients and health care settings, and matching the repertoire to the audience.

This is a journey. It may not be taking us as far away geographically as our London tour (see June 2008 blogs), but it will challenge our internal compasses nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Announcing our 2009-10 season

Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO)—the award-winning organization of highly trained musicians from Boston’s medical community—announces an ambitious 27th season. Under the baton of Artistic Director Jonathan McPhee, the musical season will feature a Boston premiere by Giya Kancheli, rarely heard works of Sibelius and Ginastera and will culminate with LSO’s debut concert in Seiji Ozawa Hall in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Maestro McPhee will welcome the New World Chorale and soloists Roger Tapping, viola; Tai Murray, violin; and Philip Fisher, piano to the stage.

Dedicated to “Healing the Community through Music”, LSO continues its tradition of helping medical charities raise funds and public awareness through its Healing Art of Music™ program.

Longwood Symphony Orchestra received the 2007 MetLife Excellence in Community Engagement Award from the League of American Orchestras.

This season’s 2009-10 Community Partners will be:

· Dr. Susan E. Spencer Memorial Epilepsy Research Fund

· The Food Project – an urban farming program for inner city youth

· ATASK – Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence

· Berkshire Children and Families

October 17, 2009

LSO on Call: Health and Harmony across the City

Longwood Symphony Orchestra will be launching its 2009-10 season with an unusual "concert" to demonstrate the healing power of music. On Saturday October 17, 2009, rather than starting the year with a formal orchestral concert LSO will send 15-20 groups to15-20 health care facilities with the goal of playing for 1000 patients across greater Boston in ONE DAY.

LSO on Call, launched in the 2008 by a pilot grant from Merck Research Laboratories-Boston, is a monthly outreach program that brings music directly to patients who can no longer attend concerts.

December 5, 2009

New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall – 8:00pm

New England Premiere of STYX by Giya Kancheli

Roger Tapping, viola

New World Chorale, Holly MacEwen Krafka and John Zielinski, co-directors

Sibelius, Kancheli, Shore

In this evening of mystery and mythology, Maestro Jonathan McPhee and the Longwood Symphony take the audience with them on a musical journey. Jean Sibelius’ Tapiola and Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings depict the world of wood sprites and the dark mysteries of Middle Earth, while the highlight of the evening is Giya Kancheli’s Styx for Viola, Chorus and Large Orchestra. Hailed as “a masterwork of the 21st century,” the solo viola represents Charon, who ferries souls down the river Styx, between the land of the living and the dead.

LSO’s Community Partner is the Dr. Susan Spencer Memorial Epilepsy Research Fund established in memory of Dr. Susan Spencer, a highly respected pioneer in the field.

March 13, 2010

New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall – 8:00pm

Tai Murray, violin Boston Debut

Ginastera, Barber, Debussy

Artistic Director Jonathan McPhee paints three distinct panoramas from the palettes of Barber, Ginastera and Debussy. LSO introduces Boston to rising star Tai Murray who will join Longwood Symphony Orchestra for Samuel Barber’s beloved Violin Concerto. The concert also includes Alberto Ginastera’s rarely heard Ollantay and Claude Debussy’s epic La Mer.

LSO’s Community Partner is The Food Project whose mission promotes social and personal change through sustainable agriculture.

May 1, 2010

New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall – 8:00pm

Philip Fisher, piano Boston Debut

Nielsen and Rachmaninoff

The best known of his symphonies, Carl Nielsen wrote of his 4th Symphony “ I have an idea for a new composition, which has no programme but will express what we understand as the spirit of life or manifestations of life…that which is Inextinguishable.” This moving work will be paired with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s towering Piano Concerto No. 3, featuring British pianist Philip Fisher.

LSO’s Community Partner is ATASK, Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence which is dedicated to preventing domestic violence and promoting hope among survivors.

June 12, 2010

Seiji Ozawa Hall, Lenox, MA – 8:00pm

Scheer, Nielsen, Debussy

Celebrating music, healing and the inextinguishable human spirit, LSO opens its Ozawa Hall debut with a performance of Albert Schweitzer Portrait by Gene Scheer (2009). This work was co-commissioned by Longwood Symphony Orchestra and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in 2009 to honor Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, musician, physician and humanitarian. The concert will also include Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 and Debussy’s La Mer.

LSO’s Community Partner will be Berkshire Children and Familes, a Pittsfield-based service organization that supports some of the most vulnerable families in Western Massachusetts through service, advocacy and education.


Season tickets for Longwood Symphony Orchestra’s concert series are $108-$120, on sale now online at longwoodsymphony.org, or by phone at 617.667.1527.

Individual concert tickets range from $20-$40 and are available online at longwoodsymphony.org or by phone at 617.667.1527.