Nearly 60 years ago, a group of Los Angeles doctors with a love of classical music created a symphony orchestra. Today, the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra is still enriching lives through the healing power of music.
Surgeon Ivan Shulman joined the orchestra in 1979 as an oboist. Today, he conducts the group of more than 70 musicians. "I usually tell people that if I'm doing this job, if they put MD after my name, it has nothing to do with medical doctor. It has to do with music director," he said.
The orchestra met one recent evening for a rehearsal at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, an historic venue in Los Angeles.
When the symphony was formed, it included doctors, nurses, veterinarians, dentists, and members of other medical professions. Today, it has expanded. Trombone player Karim Elmahmoudi is a composer, and the orchestra commissioned a piece from him, which he calls Ancient Dreams, for its first performance of the season.
Elmahmoudi was born in Egypt and raised in the United States, and he says the musical composition was inspired by a papyrus called The Dream Book, which was used to decipher dreams in ancient Egypt.
"I've always been drawn to these grand stories, these epic stories, and wanted to write something that used mythology, and this story just connected with me because it immediately sounded musical," he said.
Helen Brown does research on the HIV virus at the University of California, Los Angeles. For the past 12 years, she has played violin in the Doctors Symphony in her spare time.
"It's such a diverse group of people, but we've just [been] brought together by that singular love of music, and we just do it for the sheer enjoyment of it. And I think it's great to be among people who might be different ages, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, all kinds of diversity, but they just love music," she said.
Francesca Bori has been attending Doctors Symphony concerts since she was five years old nearly 50 years ago. Her mother was the group's principal cellist, and today, Francesca fills that role. She says volunteer orchestras like this one are important.
"The preservation of music, especially of classical music, really lies with these types of orchestras, the community symphonies. It's an important part of any community to have an orchestra, to have community symphonies. It's an outlet not only for the players but for the audience," she said.
Some of these musicians have serious musical training. Francesca Bori is a music therapist and teaches at the prestigious Colburn School Conservatory of Music. Music director Ivan Shulman has credentials in two fields. The surgeon returned to the university to get a master's degree in orchestra conducting.
Others are serious and skilled amateurs, who say they come together and play because they love music.