Violins in the O.R.? French horns in the lab? U-M Life Sciences Orchestra blends music & medicine

Free concert April 27 features U-M doctors, scientists, dentists and others

Dr. Ellen Janke, LSO

Dr. Ellen Janke checks her violin’s “vital signs”

When patients and visitors come to U-M’s medical campus, they often hear the sound of music provided by the Gifts of Art program – whether it’s a harp playing in the waiting area near the operating rooms, a guitarist visiting the room of a hospitalized child, or a jazz band playing a free lunchtime concert on a Thursday in the main lobby of University Hospital.

But on Sunday nights, some of U-M’s doctors, nurses, scientists, dentists and  students gather to make music of their own — in the Life Sciences Orchestra. For the last 14 years, the LSO has given these health and science professionals an outlet for their own musical talents — and let them meet people from across the vast U-M life science community.

This Sunday, April 27, the LSO will play a free concert for the community at U-M’s famed Hill Auditorium.

Recently, some of the orchestra’s members took their instruments to work, for a series of photos that symbolize their dedication to both medicine and music.

Like Ellen Janke, M.D., the U-M anesthesiologist pictured above taking her violin’s “vital signs”, they had a little fun with photographer Bern Muller, M.D., an alumnus of the U-M Medical School and retired lung specialist.

Uziel Mendez

Uziel Mendez, biomedical engineering graduate student and LSO cello player

For instance, Uziel Mendez brought his cello to the lab where he is working toward his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering – a demanding discipline that blends engineering and medicine to develop new devices for use in treating disease.

Mendez and more than a dozen other graduate and medical students take time from their busy study and training schedules to play in the LSO.

The experience of playing alongside senior professors, hospital staff and alumni of U-M’s medical and science programs gives them a view of how busy professionals balance work and life.

The LSO’s mix of members includes everyone from medical economists and dentists to medical physicists and environmental researchers.

David J. Brown, M.D.

Dr. David Brown helped found the LSO

That blend of professions, and people from different stages of their careers, was just what David J. Brown, M.D. had in mind when he helped launch the LSO in 2000, when he was a resident. He had played in such a group while in medical school at Harvard, and wanted to create the same experience at Michigan.

Now, he’s an associate professor at the Medical School, specializing in children’s ear, nose and throat surgery at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. That’s where the photo of him playing his flute under the lights of an operating room was taken.

Brown helps run the LSO together with other veteran players, and the director of the Health System’s Gifts of Art program.

Gifts of Art runs the programs that brings musical performances and visual arts to the halls and patient rooms of U-M’s hospitals, so the LSO fits naturally into its programs. It also raises the money that supports the LSO, which pays for its costs entirely out of donations and member dues.

Gabriella Sterne

Gabriella Sterne, a neuroscience graduate student and LSO viola player

Another LSO member, neuroscience graduate student Gabriella Sterne, represents the wide range of science that the LSO’s members engage in.

She studies nerve cell development in fruit flies at the U-M Life Sciences Institute, in studies that may lead to discoveries about the causes of neurological diseases and disorders such as Down syndrome.

She brought her viola to the lab where she works with Medical School faculty member Bing Ye, Ph.D. and others.

Erica Scheller

Erica Scheller, DDS, Ph.D., plays for an unappreciative skeleton in the lab where she studies bone biology

Meanwhile, Erica Scheller, DDS, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in the Medical School’s physiology department, brought her French horn to the lab where she studies the influence of hormones on bone development, with professor Ormond MacDougald, Ph.D.

Trained as both a dentist and a scientist, she  has played with the LSO for years.

But the skeleton she’s pictured with still doesn’t seem to appreciate her playing.

Amy Kilbourne, Ph.D.

Amy Kilbourne, Ph.D., mental health researcher and bassoonist

Amy Kilbourne, Ph.D., one of the LSO’s three bassoonists, studies mental health care as a researcher at U-M’s Department of Psychiatry and the VA Center for Clinical Management Research. She’s also a member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation.

She brought her bassoon to work to see if it might respond to a bit of psychotherapy on the couch in her office.

Alas, it just couldn’t tell her how it felt.

Despite their busy schedules and demanding jobs, the LSO’s members keep coming to rehearsal eight months of the year, and give two concerts in winter and spring at the famed Hill Auditorium.

They’re led by U-M graduate students who are studying to become orchestral conductors at the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, including current music director Adrian Slywotzky. He came to U-M from Yale University, where he led another orchestra made up of science and medical professionals and students.

In fact, several LSO alumni have gone on to start new orchestra of the same kind at other universities. Other groups of the same type have cropped up everywhere from Detroit to Austin, Texas.

You might call it an epidemic of medical and science orchestras. But this is one epidemic that can just keep spreading — and bringing music to communities across the country.

Take the next step:

  • Get more details on the free LSO concert on Sunday, April 27 at Hill Auditorium
  • See more photos of LSO members with their instruments in their workplaces
  • Learn more about the LSO on its website
  • Check out the list of LSO members to see where they work or study
  • Find out how to give to the LSO to help keep the music coming

    LSO logoThe U-M Life Sciences Orchestra, founded in 2000, is part of the Gifts of Art Program, which brings arts and music to the U-M Health System. The LSO includes dozens of faculty, staff, students, alumni and family members from across the U-M medical and science community, and is conducted by students from the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. The LSO gives two free concerts a year, and holds annual auditions in September.


For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has bnew_logos_180x1806een a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.