The National Virtual Medical Orchestra plays “Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini, sung by Tracey Welborn, registered nurse and tenor. The orchestra performs its Christmas concert December 17, presented by Carnegie Hall.
Tracey Welborn, RN, did not expect he’d be singing “Nessun Dorma” — the well-known aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot — with a national orchestra made up of healthcare workers, especially not from the home of his accompanist in Richmond, Virginia.
But, as with so many things during the pandemic, restrictions on gatherings had put an end to in-person performances for orchestras across the United States, leaving many without a creative outlet.
Enter John Masko, the conductor of the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. Masko also directs the Providence Medical Orchestra in Rhode Island, which is one of many medical orchestras across the country. Although Masko himself is not a healthcare worker, he has been working with medical orchestras since almost the start of his career.
“My parents were both doctors,” he said. “They taught me a fair amount about how the medical world works, enough to know I did not want to go into medicine myself but to give me a profound appreciation for it.”
Soon after the pandemic started, Masko started to hear from medical orchestra members who were desperate to get back to playing music at one of the most stressful times in their careers.
So, with the help of Richard Logothetis, manager of the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra, he reached out to see if any other medical orchestras were interested in collaborating. With a few members from each of those groups, the National Virtual Medical Orchestra was born.
Musicians rehearse on their own, with a recorded track that coordinates the tempo.
Once they are ready, the musicians are recorded and filmed individually, and then audio and video engineers put the whole thing together in an impressive montage that is streamed on the medical orchestra’s page on YouTube. The group has so far recorded six pieces of music.
When Welborn was asked to perform the aria — first with the local Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Health Orchestra when a tenor friend called in sick, and then with the National Virtual Medical Orchestra — he was “dumfounded” to discover just how many of his peers in healthcare were also musicians.
But, he added, it makes sense. The best caregivers are the ones who are able to connect on an emotional level, and “making an emotional connection is part of performing.” For him, both medicine and music are “all about feelings.”
Before becoming a nurse, Welborn studied math, then music, and performed professionally for about 15 years. He embarked on a career in healthcare because he wanted to feel like he “was helping someone else.”
Music has a way of opening the mind and creating avenues to learn and be inspired, Welborn said. And there is a difference between singing with professional orchestras and medical orchestras, he added.
“Knowing that these folks are doing it out of love, not as a job, is really inspiring,” he added. “In a lot of ways, it’s much more rewarding for that reason.”
Escaping the Pandemic
For some healthcare workers, the medical orchestra has provided a welcome respite from the pandemic. Danielle Portz, RN, has been working with COVID-19 patients longer than most of her collea