Full Circle: Dr. David Brown and the Life Sciences Orchestra
When the 70 musicians of the Life Sciences Orchestra take the stage of Hill Auditorium on April 14, the soloist they’ll accompany will be a familiar face. David J. Brown, M.D., helped found the orchestra nearly 20 years ago during his otolaryngology residency and has played in the flute section for many years.
Now, he’ll stand in front of the LSO, at the side of conductor Chelsea Gallo, to play a virtuoso-level solo.
Like all the musicians of the LSO, Brown’s title and professional specialty will fall by the wayside when he picks up his instrument. He may be U-M’s associate vice president and the Medical School’s associate dean for health, equity, and inclusion. He may be an associate professor, and an accomplished ear, nose, and throat surgeon at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
But for the time it takes to play Carl Nielsen’s “Concerto for Flute and Orchestra,” he and the others on stage will just be one thing: Musicians.
From first-year medical students to graduate-level bioengineers, and from junior faculty to retired hospital staff, they come together each week to leave behind the stress of studying, teaching, providing patient care, or running experiments. None of the LSO’s regular musicians are making a living from playing their instruments – but playing their instruments helps make life more balanced. Together, they have presented 37 free concerts of challenging classical masterworks, from Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven to Adams, Daugherty, and, this year, Salonen.
Each one has been under the baton of doctoral and master’s degree students in orchestral conducting from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance – one of the top programs in the country. For Gallo and her assistant, Régulo Stabilito, the chance to conduct a high-level amateur orchestra in addition to their experience with music student ensembles is a unique opportunity.
The LSO’s story started when Brown approached Elaine Sims, director of the Gifts of Art program at Michigan Medicine, about starting an orchestra like the one he had played in during his training at Harvard.
The Longwood Symphony Orchestra, made up mainly of physicians, may have been the inspiration. But from the start, as a program of Gifts of Art, the U-M LSO invited participation from across the spectrum of U-M’s medical, science, and health professions. This inclusivity may have contributed to a phenomenon that the LSO seems to have inspired: the launch of orchestras like it at other universities with major medical centers, from Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, to the University of New Mexico. Many have been co-founded by former LSO musicians who have left U-M for new chapters in their careers.
Brown returned to U-M as a faculty member in 2011, and rejoined the ensemble he had helped found. Now, the LSO is preparing to close its 19th season of blending science and music with Brown’s performance as co-winner of the orchestra’s biennial Concerto Competition. It’s part of a program that includes Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 4 in F minor,” Mozart’s “Magic Flute” overture, and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s complex 2005 piece, “Helix.”