By Sara Peach

When Aaron Copland was first asked to write the music for the ballet “Billy the Kid,” he felt wary.

Copland had been born in Brooklyn, the son of Jewish and Eastern European immigrants, and he’d studied composition in France. “I knew nothing about the Wild West,” he would later write.

Despite his qualms, Copland managed to write almost cinematic music that evokes images of the prairie, old frontier towns, gun battles, and starry Western nights.

How did he do it?

With cowboy tunes.

Copland wove the folk songs of the West throughout his ballet. In some cases, he copied the tunes almost literally into the score. In other places, he fractured and distorted the melodies so much that they are hardly recognizable, much as Pablo Picasso used fragments of faces and bodies in his paintings.

In the examples below, you’ll hear a recording of several of the cowboy tunes that Copland borrowed, followed by a recording that starts in the specific place where the ballet suite quotes those melodies.

Take a listen, and then come hear the Durham Medical Orchestra’s live performance of “Billy the Kid” and other works on Sunday, December 10, 2017, at 3 p.m. in Baldwin Auditorium at Duke University.

“Great Grand-dad”


“Git Along, Little Dogies”


“The Old Chisholm Trail”


“The Streets Of Laredo”


“Goodbye, Old Paint”


“The Dying Cowboy”



On April 1 (no fooling!), the Durham Medical Orchestra hosted a wildly successful children’s concert, with the support of the WCPE Education Fund and in partnership with Lakewood Elementary School, the Emily K Center, and Girl Scout Troop 1158.

The DMO gratefully acknowledges the support of the WCPE Education Fund for this event.

Photo credit: Eric Monson

The concert began with an introduction to the orchestra and to the different instruments and instrument families.  Conductor Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant guided the audience through several examples of orchestral music, from Markowski’s Joyride to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and finishing up with several popular works like music from Frozen.

Children (and their families!) learned about different musical terms, how music can change speed and volume, and how the conductor helps the orchestra play together, using the same styles.  Some lucky children even got the chance to do their own conducting!

Photo credit: Eric Monson

The concert wrapped up with a raffle of door prizes and an instrument petting zoo, where children could try out different string and wind instruments.  We are grateful for the participation and donations from the following local organizations and businesses:

Children who attended the concert took home a DMO pencil, a kazoo, and a special booklet we created to help them remember what they learned.  The booklet includes lessons about orchestral music and games and activities that reinforce how fun it can be to play music!

The DMO is happy to share this educational booklet openly.  The booklet is available for download below, and it is being distributed with a Creative Commons license (specifically a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license) to encourage others to continue the important task of inspiring young musicians.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the DMO by emailing communications [at] with any questions.

Kathy Silbiger and Ellen Ciompi prepare some of the musical chairs for        exhibition in the Allenton Gallery on March 5.

Photo credit: Bobbie Hardaker

We’re happy to report that our first-ever benefit event, “Musical Chairs,” was—and still is—a fun and successful foray into the broader Durham community.  The Grand Finale and Auction, held at the Durham Arts Council on March 5th, raised over $6,000, which will be split between the DMO and The Scrap Exchange Reuse Arts District, our partner in this endeavor.  Seventeen imaginative chairs and several silent auction items drew enthusiastic bidders, the food was terrific, and the music, provided by two small ensembles from the DMO, created the perfect ambiance.

)  A large crowd enjoyed great food, beautiful music, and the chance to        view and bid on our fantastic musical chairs!

Photo credit: Mohamed Ibrahim

Several of the chairs will be on display in the lobby of Baldwin Auditorium during the spring DMO concert on May 5th for concert attendees to enjoy.  After the concert, the chairs will be exhibited at The Scrap Exchange, developer of the new Lakewood Creative Arts Re-use District.

See coverage of the event from Durham Magazine, including additional photos.

Weren’t able to make the auction?
See a live video below from Flo at We Chic’d It!

A Live Stream Video from the Musical Chairs Gala and Auction

Dear Friends of the Durham Medical Orchestra,

“Mandinka Stool” by artist Blaise Kielar and “Chair-lo” by Edmund Daugherty—two of the works-in-progress chairs that will be displayed and auctioned at the March 5th.We so appreciate your interest in and support of the DMO, and want to be sure you know about a fun- and friend-raising event coming up very soon that we hope you will want to participate in. MUSICAL CHAIRS 2017 is an “artful fund raiser” to benefit the Durham Medical Orchestra and The Scrap Exchange, our partner in this project. Artists from all over the Triangle have created musically-themed chairs using primarily repurposed/recycled materials, which will be displayed, judged, and auctioned at our “Grand Finale” gala on Sunday, March 5th, 2017, at the Durham Arts Council Building, 120 Morris Street, 5-7 pm.  A panel of three judges will award first and second place cash prizes, and you will be able to submit your vote for a “People’s Choice” cash award, too.

Artist Toni Mason, owner of Sew Crafty in Durham, works on sanding her chair at the artist workday held at The Scrap Exchange on February 5th.Guests will hear live music played by two small ensembles of Durham Medical Orchestra musicians, have an opportunity to meet the participating artists, nosh on buffet items provided by Croasdaile Caterers, and taste red and white wines provided by Mutual Distributing Company.  In addition to the live auction of the truly unique and creative chairs, there will be a silent auction for a basket of goods/services provided by many of Durham’s generous merchants, including The Washington Duke Hotel, Craven Allen Gallery, Winmore Salon, and others!

Ellen Ciompi, President of the Board of The Scrap Exchange, our partner in the Musical Chairs fundraiser, cuts fabric for the seat of the “Chair-lo” (cello chair) created by woodcrafter Edmund Daugherty.Duke students decorate auction paddles on February 5th to be used for the March 5th Grand Finale auction.

We hope you will be able to join us on March 5th! Advance tickets ($25/person) are available now.

Musically yours,
Members of the Musical Chairs Committee
Ellen Ciompi, Bobbie Hardaker, Lindsay Lambe, Beth Palmer, Richard McCleery, Kathy Silbiger

See the DMO website or the Musical Chairs 2017 Facebook page for more information.

The Durham Medical Orchestra proudly announces our new affiliation with the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts of Duke University.  We are grateful for this support of our Duke community connection, which will help to reinforce the DMO mission:

We strive to unite health-related professionals, Duke University, and the surrounding community, through musical performance and collaboration, to foster health, wellness, and cultural enrichment of our audiences and members.

The Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts works to realize Duke’s strategic plan initiatives in the arts. These include developing and strengthening the arts at Duke; integrating them more fully into the academic, co‑curricular, and extra‑curricular life of the university; and promoting greater collaboration among arts organizations at Duke as well as with arts organizations in the community.

We are happy to announce that, after six seasons of tremendous growth and development, the Duke Medicine Orchestra has changed its name to the Durham Medical Orchestra. The name change reflects our widening partnerships with health professionals and colleagues in the greater Durham area and our increasing collaborations with our community outside of the Duke Health system. We will continue our mission to unite musicians and community at the intersection of music and health.  Under the artistic direction of Dr. Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, we will continue public performances in Baldwin Auditorium, at other campus events, and throughout the greater Durham community.

The Durham Medical Orchestra is composed primarily of health care professionals and graduate students in life science disciplines, as well as friends and family members who share our goals of musical excellence and outreach. We have over 100 members, and we welcome interested musicians and volunteers.  Please see our website or our Facebook page for details about the orchestra and our supporters in the Duke University community, in Durham, and across the Triangle, and to learn more about our mission and projects. If you are interested in participating or in supporting the DMO, please contact us directly through either of these sites.

We look forward to this new season as the Durham Medical Orchestra, and we invite all to attend our free public concert on December 11, 2016, at 5:00 p.m. in Baldwin Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus.