Haitian music students, Denver-area dialysis patients, and local dog lovers: all benefited from the talents and generosity of more than two dozen Colorado Symphony (CS) musicians in 2018. In June, two CS musicians made their third trip to Haiti to mentor young musicians. Regionally, DaVita Dialysis Centers became miniature concert halls in September for “A Day of Music.” On October 7, the Concert for Canines fundraiser in Englewood brought dog lovers together to fight canine cancer.
Haiti Youth Orchestra
In late June, when CS Violist Helen McDermott and Assistant Principal Clarinet Abby Raymond left Denver to work with the Haiti Youth Orchestra (HYO), they were prepared. It was their third annual visit to the HYO in Mirebalais, an hour northeast of Port-au-Prince. They distributed donated instruments, coached sectionals, and performed chamber music with the eager students. “We were all very happy to see how the students were progressing,” Raymond said.
Two other musical ambassadors joined the pair, McDermott’s daughter Anna, a violinist, and bassist Zach Harris. Harris’s parents, Rich and Lisa Harris, founded The Road to Hope, a Denver non-profit supporting US–Haiti relations. The organization covered some of the trip expenses.
“Seeing many of the same students over these past years in their journey of developing as musicians—often with amazing speed—was rewarding to see,” McDermott said. “Their dedication and enthusiasm are exciting, and on a level I seldom see here in the United States.”
In addition, meeting two advanced string students was a welcome surprise to McDermott. “My daughter and I performed quartets with them. It was thrilling and gave me confidence that the program could one day be staffed entirely by Haitians.”
An unwelcome surprise came when fuel-price protests, a part of life for their students, kept McDermott and Raymond in Haiti three extra days. But the inconvenience only strengthened their commitment to their friends and the music that is helping to transform their lives.
DaVita Day Of Music
The “DaVita Day of Music” serenaded staff and patients at 25 DaVita Kidney Care centers across the Front Range on September 5. Nineteen CS musicians from eight sections, including all five horn players, performed mini-concerts as part of a new alliance with the Denver Young Artists Orchestra.
CS Assistant Principal Oboe Nick Tisherman traveled to DaVita locations in Loveland and Greeley, an hour north of Denver. He performed solo works ranging from Telemann to Barret.
“From a performer’s perspective, the day was a lot of fun. The nurses, caregivers, and patients all seemed really glad that I had come to play for them,” Tisherman said. “In a couple of years, it would be great for the partnership to grow, and musicians could regularly perform at the centers.”
DaVita has been a financial supporter of the Colorado Symphony for several years.
Concert for Canines
Cancer, sadly, affects dogs more often than many people realize. In just one month of 2017, four CS musicians lost three dogs to hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive canine cancer of the blood vessels that frequently spreads undetected.
On October 7, thirteen CS musicians performed chamber music in Englewood at the Concert for Canines. The event raised more than $4,200 for Morris Animal Foundation, a Denver non-profit that funds over 200 animal studies globally.
Several of the performing musicians had each lost a beloved dog to some form of canine cancer.
For Principal Flute Brook Ferguson, an onstage photo of her cherished Boston terrier, Nugget, inspired her performance of Bach’s Partita in A Minor, BWV 1013.
CS Principal Harp Courtney Hershey Bress said it was uplifting to participate in the project. “Being involved with Concert for Canines filled me with hope. Losing my dog, Zen, over a year ago was very difficult and still is hard for me,” Bress said. “It was an honor to be a part of a concert that raised money exclusively for the research of cancer in canines.”
Production costs were generously underwritten by Artists for Animals, co-founded by Dallas Symphony Principal Oboe Erin Hannigan, and Englewood Arts, led by former CS cellist Eric Bertoluzzi.
The projects, some of many undertaken by CS musicians, fit into a larger trend among orchestras: extending the scope and reach of classical music outside the concert hall. People who might never hear a live classical performance now have that experience, courtesy of outreach. In Denver, CS musicians have been engaging with the community regularly since 2011. Given the positive responses to these 2018 projects, the impact of their time and talents will be remembered for years to come.
Note: The author plays oboe and English horn in the Colorado Symphony.