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Professional School Orchestra provides musical outlet for students at Ohio State

Musicians of all skill levels play for themselves and their communities

Veterinary school, like so many other programs, comes with its share of stress, said Amanda Midkiff, who is studying to be a veterinary medical oncologist. One of the ways she manages that stress is through music: Midkiff plays French horn in the Professional Student Orchestra at The Ohio State University.

The group’s weekly rehearsals serve as a welcome break from demanding schedules.

“I spent the first half of rehearsal feeling jittery and anxious about the time I was spending not studying,” Midkiff said about one particularly tough day. “By the end of a fun rehearsal, though, I felt like I had my emotions and stress levels back in check and was ready to be more productive for the rest of the evening.”

The Professional School Orchestra welcomes students – as well as medical residents, fellows and established professionals – from the College of Medicine, College of Nursing, College of Veterinary Medicine, Moritz College of Law, College of Dentistry and other professional and graduate programs. In addition to weekly rehearsals, the group performs four times a year: twice in the fall and twice in the spring. Smaller parts of the orchestra also perform at campus events.

“Our general audience is the communities where our students come from,” said Akila Venkataramany, an MD/PhD dual degree student who plays the violin. “The orchestra practices in Meiling Hall, so anyone who walks through the halls can also hear the music. In addition, we have livestreamed performances into patient rooms.”

The orchestra is part of the College of Medicine’s Humanism in Medicine initiative, which seeks to merge health and creativity.

“Solid data exist that music and other art forms have tangible benefits to patients, both physically and mentally,” said Matt Lordo, another MD/PhD student. Lordo plays the euphonium, a brass instrument related to the tuba. “I am so glad to attend a college that acknowledges that and funds efforts to expose students to that idea.”

And, as Midkiff noted, there are benefits to practitioners as well. Beyond the music, participants can meet other professional students who may be experiencing similar trials and triumphs.

“One night on the way out of rehearsal, I talked to another vet student, who was two years ahead of me,” said Midkiff. “He gave me some pointers on how to do well and helped me figure out some things that had me stumped.”

A common theme among all participants is a love of music, said Venkataramany. The group welcomes musicians of all skill levels.

“We have an environment that’s open,” she said. “We just want people to be happy to be there. We play together in an orchestra, and we get to share that experience of making music together.”

If a student needs help molding a piece to their skill level, the group works to do that. More recently, students from the School of Music have assisted the orchestra, serving as conductors. They also help less skilled students navigate pieces.

“We benefit from our School of Music conductors who know about different types of music we can play,” Venkataramany said. “They’re better able to assess the playing ability of the group and find ways to showcase that ability and then elevate it. They’ve become really strong supporters of ours.”

All three musicians agreed that the Professional School Orchestra and the music it plays help them celebrate their humanity and that of others.

“It draws our attention back to the greater human experience outside of disease and medicine,” Midkiff said. “We play music from different cultures and from different eras that were all written to express something about the human condition.”

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