2017-03-17 / Government / Neighborhood

Healing Harmonies, just what the doctor ordered

Commentary by Arnold Breman

At the very same time our country was swearing in a new president in January, another momentous event was taking place right here in Columbia.

Lifting a baton high into the air a practical nurse at the Veterans Administration Hospital conducted members of the South Carolina Philharmonic in a segment of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” before a packed room of veterans, doctors, and staff members.

The nurse with flowing white hair danced around on the podium as Leonard Bernstein did with the New York Philharmonic. The program, “Conduct The Phil” is a part of the diverse community outreach work of the South Carolina Philharmonic.

After the number, there were hoots and hollers from the room full of American veterans who delighted seeing their caregiver in command of such live music.

Next a wheel chair was rolled up to the music stand that had a sign reading “Conduct Me.” An elderly wounded veteran who served seven tours of duty between Vietnam and Iraq named Mr. Byrd was given the baton, and with a huge smile on his face waved his arms passionately in the air as the orchestra members followed his tempo to the “Caissons Go Marching Along.”

His peers didn’t want him to quit and cheered him on to lead an encore of “Anchors Away” as a salute to the Navy.

More patients, staff members, and caregivers lined up to pay musical tributes to all the armed services and the brave people who fought for this country. The room full of decorated patriots came alive with the sound of live music.

A caregiver told me a former Marine, who barely paid much attention to anything was listening attentively and smiling. We heard Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo,” and tears flowed when a vet conducted “America.”

There were lots of laughs when a hospital manager conducted a salute to the Coast Guard. Then the crowd cheered for Mr. Byrd to come back and conduct again. “Please bring live music again….anytime…” he said with a big grin on his face.

“Conduct the Phil” is one of several diverse community programs the orchestra members participate in. Just recently a quartet from the same orchestra set up in the aquatic underwater themed lobby of the Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital presenting a program called “Healing Harmonies.”

As “Whistle While You Work,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” and songs from Mary Poppins rang out, elevator doors opened, and children of all ages and sizes marched out attached to their intravenous pole buddies and parents and gathered round to listen and clap along to the live music. One little girl smiled as she looked up from her cozy bed in a Red Ryder Wagon.

Doctors, nurses, technician’s hospital workers leaned over the balcony to listen or dance to the juvenile tunes of the pipers.

A camera filmed every minute live, and it was broadcast to every room in the hospital. The children were encouraged to come forth and conduct a selection. At first there was hesitation, but little by little with the security of their medical poles by their side and encouragement of their parents, they grabbed the batons and waved them gleefully in the air. The applause was heartfelt and enthusiastic.

These were examples of two working days for members of the South Carolina Philharmonic. They do several dozen of these types of programs annually. They recently encouraged children in the Juvenile Justice System to conduct and hum along to the live music a far cry from some of their lives on the street.

But there is no rest for the weary. A month age there was a major collaborative performance engagement where the orchestra provided live music for The Columbia City Ballet’s production of Swan Lake and Madam Butterfly with the Palmetto Opera at the Koger Center.

There is a misconception that the South Carolina Philharmonic only plays six long haired concerts a year for the elitist element of the town. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Between the numerous school performances, “The Healing Harmony” events and “The Conduct The Phil” engagements, the orchestra members are constantly out in the community doing important work.

Recently audiences were treated to the down home Banjo music of Bela Fleck with the Orchestra. There is nothing elitist about hearing a 100 piece orchestra including two harps, full brass section, and a Celeste blasting out the familiar chords of “The Fanfare of the Common Man” in Aaron Copeland’s massive third Symphony that was performed for the Columbia audience.

On February 4, cameras adorned the stage as the orchestra performed the stirring music of List, Grieg, and Sibelius, and audience members were be able to see the musicians up close on large overhead screens.

Mr. Beethoven will be cheering from his grave when the audience is asked to come in blue jeans on March 11 to hear his powerful jubilant “Eroica Symphony.”

And finally on April 22, if you thought the sound of the church organ was grand, wait till you hear the thundering sound of the mighty organ used in “Saint Sean’s Organ Concerto” at the Koger Center.

This is not traditional elitist “Stuff.” It is music played by a superb group of players under the baton of a special Maestro that this town is so lucky to have: Morihiko Nakahara.

All the “Healing Harmonies,” the South Carolina Philharmonic provide throughout this region is just what the doctor ordered.

Arnold N. Breman, a retired Columbia newcomer with 50 years of experience in the arts, was voted as the advisory council’s first chairman. Breman’s experience includes executive and artistic directorships, including with the Joffrey Ballet in New York City and Chicago, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Fla. In 1992 he served as president of the International Society of the Performing Arts. His 2007 book, Laughter in the Wings, shares humorous anecdotes from experiences with superstar performers with whom he has worked.

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