National Symphony Orchestra soothes health workers at Walter Reed, beyond

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes NSO at hospitals (Part 1)

The coronavirus pandemic has been a harrowing experience for health care workers.

So, the National Symphony Orchestra is giving back with NSO In Your Neighborhood, performing private concerts at hospitals to lift the spirits of brave health professionals.

“We chose to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering a special In Your Neighborhood series this fall and bring live performances to our region’s frontline health care workers, first responders and heroes as a way of offering them a little bit of music and a little bit of thanks,” NSO Executive Director Gary Ginstling told WTOP.

This week includes Inova Schar Cancer Institute (Tuesday), Sibley Memorial Hospital (Wednesday), Inova Loudoun (Thursday) and Howard University Hospital (Friday).

Next week brings Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (Oct. 14), Children’s National Hospital (Oct. 15), Inova Fairfax (Oct. 16), Grand Oaks Assisted Living Facility (Oct. 16) and the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (Oct. 22).

“I should stress that these are all mostly outdoors, small groups of musicians physically distanced, taking precautions and working with our health care partners to make these opportunities safe as a way of just sharing music with these folks,” Ginstling said.

What kinds of performances have they done?

“We’ve had every combination of musical ensembles,” Ginstling said. “We’ve had string quartets, wind quintets, wind trios, marimba players from our percussion section. … We’re being a little cautious about winds and brass these days obviously because of COVID-related issues, but it really runs the gamut [with] Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven.”

The health care workers have been extremely grateful.

“We’ve gotten some really emotional feedback so far from hospital chaplains [and] from workers in one hospital where they just lost one of their colleagues to COVID,” Ginstling said. “Just really powerful, emotional responses reacting to having a chance to hear some music and bring some beauty into their lives.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes NSO at hospitals (Part 2)

Little did they know that Walter Reed would make national headlines.

“I don’t think any of us thought that the president would be spending time at Walter Reed when we made arrangements to be there a few weeks ago,” Ginstling said. “People are suffering in all of these locations and the workers, they really are heroes in a real definition of the word. It’s just such an honor for us.”

It’s also refreshing for the NSO musicians who have been sidelined for months.

“Over 45 members of the NSO have participated,” Ginstling said. “This is something the members of the orchestra are really passionate about. … There are typically about 100 members of the NSO on stage at the Kennedy Center, and while we can’t do that, they are more hungry than ever to have chances to make music and touch people.”

There’s also hope on the horizon, as the Kennedy Center is one of six venues participating in a D.C. pilot program to slowly reopen for limited crowds.

“The Kennedy Center is slowly resuming live performances,” Ginstling said. “We had our first performance on stage at the Opera House of the Kennedy Center [last] Friday night for a socially-distanced audience of about 40 people. There’ll be a few more activities this month as we try to cautiously and safely resume live activities.”

Listen to our full conversation.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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