CU spring concert unites music, medicine

Med students, staff and faculty showcase their artistic talent in send-off to choir director
April 26th, 2016

The Spring Concert for the Melomania Orchestra, Arrhythmias Choir and Soundscape Accordion Trio was a beautiful but bittersweet event.

The event, held in the auditorium of the Education II South Building on the Anschutz Medical Campus on April 19, was the last concert for Christina Bishop, conductor for the Arrhythmias, the choir group she built from the ground up and has led for the past seven years.
Arrhythmias Choir conductor Christina Bishop poses with her husband, Nick Bishop, at her final campus concert as conductor.
“It’s super sad,” said Nina Esch, who conducts the Melomania Orchestra. “She’s a pleasure to work with – always enthusiastic and kind. It will be a loss not to have her there.” For her part, Bishop said she’d still like to be involved with the group in some capacity.

During her time as director, Bishop not only gave the choir the stability it needed, she also gave birth to three boys. The demands of child-raising – shared with husband Nick, who is starting his third-year rotation as a doctoral student with the University of Colorado School of Medicine – and her commitments to a thriving private studio practice and service to two other community groups, meant that “something had to give,” she said.

For her final concert last week, the choir performed a French chanson by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck; a quirky little number called “Animal Crackers,” by Eric Whitacre; and closed out the night performing with the orchestra for a Colorado premiere medley of two pieces: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning.”

The right notes

Flutists
Four flutists, including orchestra faculty advisor Karlotta Davis, MD (far left), open the Spring Concert with a piece by Mozart.

The Arrhythmias are one of three campus musical groups comprised of University of Colorado medical students, faculty, and staff and their friends. They have been playing two concerts a year together, one in spring and one in fall, since 2009.

Bishop is basically responsible for these regular concert collaborations. She took over the Arrhythmias Choir at a time it was “falling apart” as a student run/led CU School of Medicine Club, she said. With the turnover of classes every four years, it was hard to keep momentum going, despite strong interest among the student body, Bishop added.

Nick, a tenor in the choir, recruited Christina to take the job when he first came on campus and learned of the issues plaguing the group. One of the first things Christina did as choir director was to call the then-director of the Melomania Orchestra and arrange for the two groups to perform together.

Nina Esch and orchestra
Conductor Nina Esch leads the Melomania Orchestra.

That partnership laid the groundwork for the choir and orchestra to later join forces with the Soundscape Accordion Trio. That group, which includes Madalynn Neu, RN, PhD, FAAN, associate professor of Nursing at the University of Colorado College of Nursing; her husband John Neu; and their friend Larry Miller, all had played previously with the Melomania Orchestra.

“They steal the show every time,” said Bishop of the trio. John Neu, she said, is able to take a musical piece written for a whole orchestra and adapt it for three accordions. The group played three pieces April 19; one of them was “Ave Maria.”

“People always expect us to play polkas,” said Madalynn Neu. “But we don’t play them. We play recognizable classical music that includes some show tunes and jazz.”

Music hath charms…

The spring performance opened with four flutists playing “Alleluia,” from Mozart’s “Exsultate Jubilate.” One of the performers was orchestra faculty advisor Karlotta Davis, MD, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at CU.

Davis has been involved with the orchestra as a musician since 2008 and stepped in as faculty advisor in 2010.

She, like many others in both the choir and orchestra as well as all three members of the Accordion Trio, played her instrument in high school and college but had neglected it for many years before starting up again.

“I don’t have all those skills that I did when I was younger but I think life experience has allowed me greater interpretation and the ability to make more out of the music than I could previously,” said Davis.

The music has produced another welcome benefit, she added. Participating in musical groups offers people who are accustomed to scientific, medical and clinical work and classes an outlet that has nothing to do with their often physically and emotionally draining day-to-day dealings. They get to be creative, and escape the stress and pressure that goes along with working in medicine or attending medical school.

“It’s a very relaxing non-medical way to enjoy my evenings. It’s my relief for compassion fatigue,” Davis said.

Hard-earned rewards

Still, making music requires commitment. Irene Schauer, MD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes and a staff physician at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center, has been singing soprano, and sometimes second soprano, with the Arrhythmias for the last few years.

Sometimes, she said, she struggles to fit in rehearsals with her busy schedule, but once she’s there, she’s always happy she made the effort.

Schauer, who sang in her high school choir, learned about the group from an email announcing that Arrhythmias rehearsals were starting up on campus.

Bishop Choir and Orchestra
Christina Bishop guides both orchestra and choir to harmonious perfection.

“It said no audition required, which was key,” Schauer said. “And I thought it sounded fun so I went. It’s a nice break from the usual work that we all do with the science and clinical and teaching stuff.”
If you’re interested in joining the Melomania Orchestra – all skill levels and all instruments welcome – you can visit their website for more information.

If you’d like to sing with the Arrhythmias or get more information, send an email to amcarrhythmias@gmail.com.

About the author

Joelle Klein is a Colorado-based freelance health and lifestyle writer. She regularly writes for UCHealth Today, Colorado Health & Wellness Magazine and Bottom Line Health. Her articles and blogs have appeared in 5280, Skiing, Fit Pregnancy, Pregnancy, the Denver Post, PBS Next Avenue, AARP, and the American Lung Association, among dozens of other health-related print and digital publications.
 
Joelle earned her bachelor’s degree in English at New York University and her master’s degree in journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) and American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). Joelle lives in Denver with her husband and their two daughters. In her limited spare time, she enjoys cooking, reading, hiking, biking, camping, theater, travel, and spending quality time with her family.