Community Orchestra Makes A Healthy Dose Of Music

A lawyer, a doctor and an engineer walk into an orchestra rehearsal. It's not the set-up of a joke, it's what happens every week at rehearsals for the National Institutes of Health Community Orchestra. The volunteer group draws it's members from all over Washington, D.C., and is a creative outlet for government and private sector employees alike. NPR's Serri Graslie is a member of the group and has an audio postcard from their latest concert.

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So a lawyer, a doctor and an engineer walk into an orchestra rehearsal, which actually happens every week at the National Institutes of Health Community Orchestra. It's the kind of place where CIA operatives and political operatives make up the string section. NPR's Serri Graslie is a member of the group, and she sent us this audio postcard.

SERRI GRASLIE, BYLINE: A few weeks ago, Dan Walshaw took the podium to conduct his fourth concert with the group.

DAN WALSHAW: Good afternoon. Welcome to our winter concert.

GRASLIE: If he sounds a little nervous, it's probably because he's worried about how to effectively conduct a group that's grown so big it spills into the wings of this high school stage.

WALSHAW: All right. Enjoy. Here's the (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRASLIE: Despite the National Institutes of Health name, the group is open to everyone. In fact, it has nearly tripled in size in just a year thanks to word of mouth and a flood of 20-somethings looking for a place to play after college. Its members range from interns to high-level government employees with top secret security clearances.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm a lawyer...

...like many people in D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I work as a lawyer for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We're not all lawyers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I am an engineer, and I manage research for the National Science Foundation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I'm a paralegal moonlighting as a bartender.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I'm a consumer safety officer. I protect the nation's food supply.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: My day job is I'm a toxicologist, chemist in the National Cancer Institute (unintelligible) cancer prevention.

GRASLIE: In a city that's all about who you know and what you do, this is one of the few places where neither seems to matter. Walshaw says it's one of the things he loves about the group.

WALSHAW: The thing here, we have so many brilliant people who do amazing things with their lives, and then they come here every Wednesday night and play music. It's really wonderful.

GRASLIE: I talked to some of the orchestra members after the concert about what brought them here and why they stay.

TOM HOLTZMAN: I'm Tom Holtzman(ph). I'm a biologist.

JANE CODA: I'm Jane Coda(ph), and I play second violin.

ANGELA GARONEY: My name is Angela Garoney(ph) and I play the upright bass. I wasn't able to play in law school, and I missed playing. I felt law kind of drains any creativity.

JAY CODA: I played as a kid in elementary school. But I gave it up, and I always regretted it. I said, when I'm retired, I was going to do that as my hobby. So, I did.

GARONEY: And I like that it's all ages because to me it's kind of precious to look over and see like a little old person playing with you. And...

HOLTZMAN: You know, at my age, I don't get to interact a lot with younger people, and they're a lot of fun.

CODA: It really reminds me that you can keep playing your whole life.

GRASLIE: For its conductor, the orchestra is more than just a creative outlet for Washingtonians.

WALSHAW: To me, this represents the future of classical music in America.

GRASLIE: Again, Dan Walshaw.

WALSHAW: Major orchestras are losing their budgets. And because of that, if we don't have the community orchestras, the smaller ensembles, the amateurs playing, classical music will die because professionals out there won't have other classical music lovers to play for. So groups like this are the only thing that will save music in this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRASLIE: For NPR News, I'm Serri Graslie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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