Medical Sciences Orchestra performance earns conductor prestigious prize

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health’s Medical Sciences Orchestra helped propel one of its conductors to first place in the American Prize in Conducting’s community orchestra division. Ji Hyun (Jenny) Yim, the conductor, is a doctoral student at the UW–Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

Yim submitted a recording of the Medical Sciences Orchestra’s first ever performance — the first movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 — for the American Prize, which announced its awards over the summer. She also tied for second place in the college/university orchestra division for her conducting of the UW–Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Ji Hyun (Jenny) Yim conducting the Medical Sciences Orchestra
Ji Hyun (Jenny) Yim, doctoral student at the UW–Madison Mead Witter School of Music, conducting the Medical Sciences Orchestra. Photo by Clint Thayer

The Medical Sciences Orchestra was formed in 2018 and had their inaugural concert that December. The group welcomes students, faculty, staff, and alumni from the school and normally performs two concerts a year. It is not currently rehearsing or performing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans to resume when it is safe to do so.

The American Prize in Conducting recognizes and rewards the best orchestral, choral, band/wind ensemble, opera, and musical theater conductors in America, based on submitted recordings.

“All of us in the orchestra just love to make music and it’s been so fun and rewarding,” says Susan Killips, Director of Business Services in the Department of Pediatrics and a bassoon player in the orchestra. “I’m amazed at what we’ve pulled off. Jenny’s conducting has been outstanding, and we are so proud to have played a role in her getting this well-deserved recognition.”

Former SMPH student Joohee Son, MD ’19, was the leading force behind gauging student interest and getting the orchestra started. Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Elizabeth Petty is the group’s faculty sponsor. Petty helped secure funding and build a partnership with the School of Music to have student conductors get experience leading the orchestra. The group’s second conductor was Michael Dolan.

Petty says the orchestra is a great asset to the school in terms of creativity and wellness. She adds that she also hopes to expand musical opportunities in the school to explore choirs, jazz ensembles, chamber groups, and more, depending on SMPH community interest, once it is safe to resume rehearsals.

An image of the orchestra members and conductor playing onstage during a performance.
The Medical Sciences Orchestra’s first concert on Dec. 2, 2018 at Mills Concert Hall on the UW–Madison campus. Photo by Clint Thayer

“Faculty, staff, and students from across the many disciplines of SMPH sit next to one another, working together in interprofessional teams collaborating to make music, so it’s a great way to build connections and community,” Petty says. “It’s also an important outlet for creativity and other aspects of wellness that are so important for our community. Several studies have shown practicing and thinking about music broadens your ability to think critically. Music can also prompt reflection of emotions like compassion and empathy in both performers and audience members.”

Killips echoes this, explaining that it’s been great to dust off her instrument and discover the rich talent present in the school. In a fun twist of fate, the bassoon she plays in the orchestra is the one she played in high school.

“I feel more connected to the school community because I get to interact with students, residents, fellows, faculty, and other staff,” she says. “There are a few others from Pediatrics in the group and it’s also great to be able to bond with them in a different way, outside of our normal work.”

Medical Scientist Training Program student Jack Hunt has been part of the orchestra since 2018 and plays the French horn. He played in high school and in ensembles in college. He even considered pursuing a career in music but found himself more drawn to medicine and research. Hunt says playing in the Medical Sciences Orchestra is a great social and creative experience.

“When I learned about the Medical Sciences Orchestra and that they needed more French horn players, I was so excited for the chance to play in a large ensemble again,” he says. “It is one of the few times during the week when I can put the pressure of medical school and graduate school completely aside. I get to spend a few hours each week creating something beautiful that is bigger than myself.”

– by Kaine Korzekwa