The Dallas Symphony Orchestra may have suffered pandemic-sized losses like most local cultural institutions, but they’re not sitting around playing a sad violin — at least not for their own benefit.
While the organization was forced to furlough 17 employees with the remaining administrative staff taking salary cuts, the musicians were not affected, says Kim Noltemy, DSO president and CEO.
Now, orchestra members are focusing their talents on spreading joy through music, but at a distance. In May, the organization sent two violinists to serenade a former DSO member on her 100th birthday.
“When we stopped performing concerts as an orchestra back in March, it became clear that new ways to reach and serve our community were needed,” says Scott Walzel, who's been associate principal bassoon with the DSO for 28 years and also serves as the organization’s director of community development and outreach.
Through their current project, the DSO One 2 One program, orchestra members are serenading hospital patients via video. Some of the videos are prerecorded, as part of a series of “socially distanced ” chamber videos recorded on the Meyerson stage, Walzel says.
After doing a woodwind recording session, Walzel says he had a conversation with Noltemy in which they agreed to share these videos, along with other selected DSO videos from past concerts, with two local hospital systems.
“The purpose was to offer something of value to both patients and those on the front lines fighting COVID and other health issues in the hopes that we could somehow help in the healing process,” Walzel says.
In the last few months, orchestra members have performed outside of hospitals, and the company is sending videos to others who could use a bit of healing through classical music.
“The positive impact of these video and audio files prompted us to contact and establish a relationship with the other hospital systems in Dallas and soon thereafter many senior and assisted living facilities,” Walzel adds.
Walzel says that VP of communications Denise McGovern sent him an article about a doctor who asked a violinist friend to use FaceTime to perform for COVID patients who were isolated and critically ill. This story served as inspiration for the One-2-One program, where musicians perform for patients via Zoom or FaceTime, sometimes pre-recorded, to be accessed at the patient’s convenience.
Each of the videos, recorded at musicians’ private studios or homes, are clips between 3-6 minutes in length.
“Currently we have three different playlists, each consisting of nine video selections, utilizing 21 DSO musicians in 11 hospital systems throughout the metroplex,” Walzel says.
“The feedback we have gotten from both of these programs has been overwhelmingly positive and very appreciative,” Walzel adds. “Assisting caregivers and comforting and aiding in the healing process for patients is something that the DSO can do, and is something we will continue to do beyond the current crisis.”
Most recently, Walzel says his contact at Baylor Hospital, a trained music therapist, called to tell him of a patient who was unable to speak.
“The patient wrote on a piece of paper that he loved classical music ... specifically Baroque music,” Walzel says.
The caregiver pulled up the selection for the patient, who chose the arrangement of “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppets Movie.
“He instantly teared up, held the arm of the caregiver and continued to listen to each and every video ... start to finish,” Welzel says of the patient.
After hearing this, Walzel decided to surprise the patient by performing a live solo bassoon concert via Zoom.
“I hope the patient benefited as much from the experience as I did. … It was very special,” the musician says.
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Walzel says musicians have been keeping busy with Meyerson concerts that are available via streaming, providing lessons to students and performing in people’s front yards, on streets, and in neighborhoods.
Some of the community efforts are non-musical, Walzel says. The group has donated devices for children who need them for online lessons and every other week he says they donate food and other necessities to families in need. The CEO makes the deliveries herself, Walzel says.
“We have always served our community, but it was often from our stage,” Walzel says. “While we are away from the stage, we want to be sure that we are continuing to serve and show that music and the musicians in the DSO are neighbors and stewards in Dallas.”