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December 2012
 

IN OTHER NEWS
 

Music to the docs' ears


by Vanessa Caceres EyeWorld Contributing Writer
 

 

 



World Doctors Orchestra Source (all): Anne Berghöfer, M.D.

Stefan N. Willich, M.D.

Orchestra combines love of music with love of medicine

Maintaining grace under pressure. Intense concentration. A relaxed confidence. Those sound like the characteristics of a good surgeon, right? That description also aptly describes players in the World Doctors Orchestra, a group of musically minded physicians who gather regularly to play music, give concerts, and raise money for health organizations around the world.
The idea got started about 5 years ago by cardiologist Stefan N. Willich, M.D., president, Berlin Academy of Music, and professor of medicine, Charité University Medical Center, Berlin. Like many others who play in the orchestra, his main profession is medicine, but he always found time to maintain his interest in music. "I had been a conductor, and I often came across doctors enthusiastic about music. I thought we should combine medicine and music with an international orchestra demonstrating global medical responsibility," he said.
Thus began the World Doctors Orchestra, which now has over 700 physicians from all different specialties in 50 countries. The orchestra performs two times a year, Dr. Willich said. He usually invites 120-130 players long in advance of scheduled performance dates. Performers, who may be accomplished amateur players or semi-professionals, arrive at their concert destination 5 days before show time. "They work hard, but doctors are used to hard work," Dr. Willich said. Since its inception, the World Doctors Orchestra has given 10 concerts in locations such as Berlin, Washington, D.C., Taiwan, China, Armenia, South Africa, and Cleveland. The concerts benefit a number of charitable organizations in their location cities; health epidemics close to the hearts of players include AIDS, tuberculosis, leprosy, and malaria, according to the World Doctors Orchestra website. The orchestra performs in well-known concert halls, such as the Berlin Philharmonic Hall, and occasionally plays with other area performers. For instance, the Berlin Philharmonic Choir was part of their 2010 Berlin concert and the National Philharmonic Chorale was part of the September 11, 2011 concert in Washington, D.C.



The ophthalmic connection

The World Doctors Orchestra has at least 15 ophthalmologists that actively perform with the group, said Jonathan H. Lass, M.D., director, University Hospitals Eye Institute; and Charles I. Thomas Professor and Chair, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland. Dr. Lass, a cellist, helped to plan the group's 2009 concert in Cleveland. (That particular concert raised $20,000 for Cleveland's Free Medical Clinic.) He also oversees a nonprofit group called the World Doctors Orchestra Inc., which hopes to find ways to raise money for charitable groups beyond what the concerts can provide from concert attendance.
Dr. Lass ran concerts for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) for 15 years, starting in the mid-1980s. Because of that experience, he was invited to join the orchestra. He praises the orchestra's mission. "It's truly advancing the mission of healthcare and treating those who are underserved. It uses the vehicle of concerts and sponsorships to help promote medical care in the communities where those concerts are staged," Dr. Lass said.
Trumpet player and ophthalmologist Joseph I. Markoff, M.D., global director for scientific affairs in ophthalmology, Merck, Whitehouse Station, N.J., joined the orchestra about 3 years ago. He has played the trumpet since he was 10 years old and had practiced music daily while working as an ophthalmologist. "My day job paid the bills," he said.
On the side, he played at nightclubs, with orchestras, and even with musicians like Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis. He also played numerous times at AAO concerts and did gigs with phaco inventor Charles Kelman, M.D. After working in private practice with Philadelphia Eye Associates for 35 years, he left 2 years ago to work with Merck.



Concert prep, surgical prep

As mentioned before, players have a short amount of time to prepare as a group for a performance. Although 3 days is not a long time for members to practice pieces like Bruckner Symphony No. 7 or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, being a physician has prepared them well. Because of their intense preparation, medicine is rarely part of their chitchat.
"We get there on a Wednesday, start to rehearse on Thursday, and we have to perform at a high level by Sunday in some of the top concert halls in the world to a sophisticated audience," Dr. Lass said. "We are intensely focused on the music, but we are doctors so we know how to perform under significant pressure." Being physicians also helps members take a teamwork approach to performing great works, he added.
"In the OR and when you play, you have to be very confident. The similarities are great—relaxation, confidence, and communication with an audience," Dr. Markoff said. Just as surgery requires resolution of complications, so does the performance of a music piece where the occasional note might be played inaccurately, he added.
"There's so much passion involved," Dr. Willich said. "It's a fantastic atmosphere, and great friendships are formed as we meet colleagues from around the world. Music is an amazing language."
Dr. Willich's love for music led him to become president of the Berlin Academy of Music earlier in 2012. Much of his time is now spent working for the conservatory, although he is still part of the medical staff as well at his institution.
Interested physicians are invited to join the World Doctors Orchestra, Dr. Willich said. For an application, more information, or to hear samples from previous concerts, go to www.world-doctors-orchestra.org/home/.



Contact information

Lass: Jonathan.Lass@uhhospitals.org
Markoff: joseph.markoff@merck.com
Willich: 49-173-340-1990, stefan.willich@gmx.com







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