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Sound of Charlotte Blog

Inspiring the Next Generation



A decades-long partnership between the Charlotte Symphony and Northwest School of the Arts continues to inspire the musicians of tomorrow. 

After a quick tune, the musicians of Northwest School of the Arts Orchestra split into sectionals the cellos follow Charlotte Symphony cellist Denielle Wilson to work on the opening bars of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition while the first violins work on fingerings and technique with Kathleen Jarrell, assistant principal second violin for the Charlotte Symphony. These coaching sessions are part of a decades-long partnership between the Charlotte Symphony and Northwest School of the Arts, a CMS Magnet School that provides specialized arts instruction for students in grades 6-12. 

The CSO's Northwest Residency Program is an immersive music education program in which NWSA students work intensively with professional Symphony musicians through individual, sectional, and ensemble settings. 

"The students look forward to seeing the coaches come in," said NWSA Orchestra Director Erica Hefner. "I see students taking more ownership over their role in the ensemble, whether it's by being a leader, or by identifying their strengths and challenges."

Denielle Wilson, who recently joined the CSO, worked with NWSA cello students for the first time last month. "The students were very responsive and flexible. On the first day I was trying to get an idea of their playing levels and what they were comfortable with, and I found that they were all good at figuring out how to make music with their instruments independently, and that makes me excited as a coach!"



Kathleen Jarrell, on the other hand, has been coaching violin at NWSA for more than ten years. "It's been exciting to see the orchestra program's growth. I love helping kids feel more successful at violin, and helping them enjoy being a part of an orchestra. Performing is one of the great joys of my life, and helpings students find that joy and excitement is fulfilling."

Outside of regular coaching sessions, NWSA students attend CSO concerts and rehearsals and work with the Symphony's talented conducting staff. They can also enroll in Recital Seminar, a class unique to the region which focuses entirely on chamber music. CSO musicians serve as both coaches and mentors, focusing on the communication between players, music analysis, and expressive playing. 

Erica has seen first-hand how this partnership has impacted the lives of her students both musically and personally. "Having someone who is a professional on your specific instrument tell you how, when, and why can be incredibly validating to a teenager. In a world where they are constantly questioning their choices and finding themselves, having a professional say 'Yes, that's it!' is motivating."

For Kathleen, it's about creating an experience that is enlightening and inspiring. "I hope the students come away from a coaching session with increased skills and with new confidence and a sense of accomplishment."

"Most of our students do not take private lessons, so having coaches work with them on solo audition material, as well as college audition material, is not only valuable it can be life changing!" ~Erica Hefner, NWSA Orchestra Director

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Posted in Education & Community. Tagged as Education, Northwest Residency Program.

SLIDESHOW: Spoon River Anthology


The Charlotte Symphony kicked off spooky season with the premiere of a new stage adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, a series of monologues that collectively tell the story of Spoon River, a fictional small town in Illinois, spoken from beyond the grave by the town's former residents who provide accounts of their lives, losses, and deaths. Charlotte's Elmwood Cemetery provided the perfect backdrop for this supernatural performance.

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The audience gathers around tombstones in Charlotte's historic Elmwood Cemetery, surrounded by the graves of those that lived, worked, and died in the same era as our Spoon River residents.
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Nearby, the cast and crew assemble for a quick photo op (From L-R: Frank Dominguez, Melissa Bowden, Nancy Cottingham, Haley Harkins, Nick Asa, Morgan McDonald, Anthony Neal, Isabel Gonzalez, Tyler Hope Milton, Kat Brown, Chris Stonnell, Hank West, Gray Rodgers)
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Writer and Director of the production, Chris Stonnell, who is also the CSO's Director of Education and Community Engagement, sets the stage before the performance begins.
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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - Michael Hosford, Joe Brown, Scott Hartman, and Tom Burge - pose for a quick photo. The unique trombone quartet brings the show to life, weaving music throughout the dialogue.
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In the distance, actress Morgan McDonald stands next to her character's resting place - poised to return to Spoon River and speak of her earthly travails. 
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The audience sits at attention as the spirits of Spoon River gather once again to spin old tales.
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The Four Horsemen delight with tunes evoking turn-of-the-century America including selections by John Phillip Sousa, Scott Joplin, and W.C. Handy.
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As the final strains of "Going Home" from Dvorak's New World Symphony die down, the ghosts of Spoon River head back to their eternal resting places while the audience erupts in applause.
 
 
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Posted in Community. Tagged as community.

In Her Own Words: Jirah Montgomery



A former member of the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra, Jirah Montgomery also received musical training through the Symphony's Northwest Residency Program. Now, as an assistant with the Charlotte Symphony helping with the Youth Orchestra program, Jirah shares how early access to music education has shaped her into the person she is today.  

My name is Jirah Montgomery, and I've been playing the violin for close to 13 years. Throughout the years, I've learned countless things about how to play the violin both skillfully and artistically. I've learned that playing every note in a piece of music perfectly does not equate to you mastering the piece. There may be a number of "rules" as a violinist, but it's the sole act of playing the violin that helps me feel liberated as I continue to grow up. 

I started playing the violin in 3rd grade in a community program at my elementary school. It's where I met my first violin teacher, a woman I still learn from and now work with today. I had liked the act of playing/learning the violin, but I was not too keen on learning how to read sheet music. I would simply remember how a piece sounded as the class played it all together, go home, and play around on the violin until I found the correct notes by ear. I didn't get very far with this method, as the more challenging the music grew, the more challenging it was to "fake it till I made it". However, once my teacher found out my method, she made sure to spend time with me, showing me how to read music. Not only did she teach me how to read music, but she helped me find my passion for music. She taught me how to take the joy and motivation I felt from actually learning the notes and apply them to the music, literally. 

That feeling continued throughout elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, and then on. That joy I felt from my first year of playing the violin continued to grow through intense music camps/events, music auditions (both the successful ones and not so successful ones), good seating auditions, and not so good seating auditions. No matter what challenge I encountered and no matter how I came out at the end of the challenge, that joy stayed there, and eventually, through opportunities I was blessed to receive, I was able to share that joy with others. 
 

Jirah Montgomery performing side-by-side with the Charlotte Symphony as part of the Northwest Residency Program

I mentioned those music camps/events where I would be able to share my joy of music with others, but those were usually for a weekend or a week (at the most). It was the events through CSA, CSYO, and my middle/high school orchestra that helped me make longtime friends who also have a passion for music. I would look forward to the days where I would leave school and head to "reunion class" or CSYO rehearsals. Some of my fondest memories come from my reunion class days where we would have potlucks every once in a while. We would all bring our food of choice (it didn't matter whether it was homemade, KFC, or a cultural dish) and we would all sit and eat like a huge family (which we definitely were). I also have countless memories, all of them fond, from CSYO. The rehearsals were held at my high school, so every Tuesday my friends and I would meet in the orchestra room (where the rehearsal took place) before walking out to my car in the student parking lot. We would drive through after-school traffic to a cookout not too far from the school, and we would do this every Tuesday without fail. We would get back to the school, eat, and then help set up. It may seem simple to some, even a little "too much" to others, but it was something I genuinely looked forward to every week. What's better than a meal with close friends followed by playing beautiful but challenging music alongside other friends? 

Even in the hardest times, I vividly remember music always helping me in some way. It could be listening to music, playing music, or downloading random sheets of music from IMSLP; without fail, music has always been there for me. A lot of people wonder where they would be had they not done something when they were younger; I have never wondered what my life would be like had I not continued to play the violin in elementary. 

Right now, as a junior in college, I major in Criminal Justice and minor in Psychology. I've been asked what made me "stop liking the violin". I stand by my answer that I never stopped liking the violin and that I just found something else that I'm also passionate about. Music has always been, and will always be, a monumental part of my life. It's because of music that I've made the friends I have today, who in turn have shaped me into the person I am today. Music has quite literally had an effect on everything in my life, and I honestly wouldn't have it any other way. 

~Jirah Montgomery  Read more

Posted in Education & Community, Youth Orchestras. Tagged as CSYO, Education.

Welcoming Back Our Youth Orchestra Musicians

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The Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra is back for the 2021-22 season! On September 7, our Youth Orchestra Programs returned to in-person rehearsals at Park Road Baptist Church. Rehearsals resumed in the Gymnasium allowing for a greater number of students to socially distance while masked. Despite the larger rehearsal space, our attendance has grown and necessitated splitting the orchestra into two smaller groups for rehearsal purposes. Those mini orchestras are rehearsing the same repertoire and will later be combined for full rehearsals and concerts. Everyone on site was overjoyed and smiling beneath their masks at the prospect of making music again. Read more

Posted in Education & Community, Youth Orchestras. Tagged as CSYO, Education.

Meet the Charlotte Symphony’s Newest Musicians, Part I



You might notice a few new faces in the Orchestra this season! We caught up with six of the new members to welcome them to the CSO and learn a little more about who they are. Stay tuned next month when we meet the remaining four. 

Drew Dansby, Acting Section Cello

 
How were you introduced to music and the cello?
My parents, neither of whom played an instrument, started me on violin lessons on my fourth birthday after I begged them to start playing when I saw a violinist perform at our church. Six months later, I saw another student having a cello lesson before me, and I begged my parents again to add cello. My teacher rented us both instruments and split my lesson time into half violin and half cello. I continue to play both instruments to this day!

What do you look forward to most about living and working in Charlotte?
I'm really looking forward to spending a year in my hometown with family very close, and exploring more of this constantly changing city.
 
I grew up going to CSO concerts and already feel like I know so many of the people, and it's surreal to finally get to join the orchestra myself. It will also be pretty intimidating to be colleagues with many of the musicians I studied with and was coached by when I was a kid.

What do you do for fun when you're not performing/practicing?
I'm an avid reader, and I also love spending time in nature, doing Sudoku puzzles, volunteering for Crisis Text Line, and continuing my quest to find the best chicken and waffles in Charlotte.

>> Learn more about Drew

Leah Latorraca, Acting Section First Violin

 
Where were you born? 
I was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin.

How were you introduced to music and the violin?
I started playing violin when I was four. My older sister had started taking violin lessons, and naturally, I wanted to copy everything that she was doing!

What do you look forward to most about living and working in Charlotte?
I am looking forward to meeting and playing with a new group of wonderful colleagues. Outside of work, I am excited to explore Charlotte and see what North Carolina has to offer! 
 
What do you do for fun when you're not performing/practicing?
Outside of violin, I enjoy running, baking, traveling, and hanging out with friends!

>> Learn more about Leah

Margaret O'Leary, Acting Section Bassoon

 
How were you introduced to music and the bassoon?
When I was in fourth grade I started guitar lessons because I wanted to be in a rock band. However, practicing took way more discipline than I expected and after a year or so I gave up. In middle school I decided to give playing music another try and joined the school band program on the clarinet. A few months later I went to a Boston Pops concert, which was my first time ever seeing or hearing a bassoon. I was intrigued by how many keys it had, and liked the way it sounded. I doubled on clarinet and bassoon for about a year before deciding I wanted to focus on bassoon.
 
What do you look forward to most about living and working in Charlotte?
I'm looking forward to trying new restaurants and visiting Charlotte's museums, but I am most excited just to be playing in an orchestra again. Like most musicians, I haven't had many chances to play with other people over the past year and a half, so I really can't wait to perform more regularly. I feel lucky to be a part of this community; everyone in the orchestra has been very warm and welcoming, and I can't wait to make music with everybody!

What do you do for fun when you're not performing/practicing?
I really like to read, and I'm lucky to live just a short walk away from a branch of the Charlotte Public Library. One new hobby I have picked up recently is playing chess. I'm slowly studying up on strategies, but I also enjoy just playing for fun and seeing what happens.

>> Learn more about Margaret

Alice Silva, Acting Section Violin

 
Where were you born? 
I was born and raised in Fortaleza Brazil and came to the U.S. in 2007 to go to college.

How were you introduced to music and the violin?
I was introduced to music and the violin in my hometown through an afterschool program for underprivileged children. 
 
What do you do for fun when you're not performing/practicing?
Performing is my fun! Besides the symphony, I love playing Broadway shows, operas, weddings, Christmas concerts, chamber music, and in new music ensembles. But I also like to hang out with friends, discover different coffee shops in town, and travel when I can. I am a licensed Realtor in NC and SC and I am also a reservist in the U.S. Army. I am very excited to join CSO for the season!

>> Learn more about Alice

Denielle Wilson, Acting Section Cello

 
How were you introduced to music and the cello?
I was primarily introduced to music at church. My father loves singing, and started me and my siblings on piano lessons when we turned five years old. The classical station was often our radio listening of choice, and by the time I was ten, my dad started taking me to cello lessons.

What do you look forward to most about living and working in Charlotte?
I look forward to getting to know the outdoor beauty of Charlotte, making new friends, and growing more familiar with the feelings of playing in an orchestra full-time. I am hoping to find at least one good vegan/vegetarian Caribbean restaurant.
 
What do you do for fun when you're not performing/practicing?
I enjoy eating out, listening to music, reading, and having long telephone conversations with my siblings. An occasional visit to the movie theater is also nice.

>> Learn more about Denielle

Naho Zhu, Acting Section Bassoon

 
Where were you born? 
I was born in Kyoto, Japan, where I lived until I was 7 years old. After that we moved to Massachusetts, where my parents still live.

How were you introduced to music and the bassoon? 
My mom had me start piano lessons when I was three years old and, apparently, I fell asleep at my first lesson. The bassoon was something I became interested in after I joined the middle school band on the flute. We were working on a piece that had several measures of silence where a bassoon solo was supposed to be but we had no bassoonist at the time, so I volunteered to play it!
 
What do you look forward to most about living and working in Charlotte? 
I got a pandemic puppy last year, so I'm excited to explore parks and walking trails around Charlotte with him! Coming from Boston, I'm also looking forward to warmer weather, especially during the winter.

What would like the audience to know about you? 
That I'm so grateful for their passion and interest in music! As much time as we spend practicing by ourselves, what really gives our work meaning is the fact that we have people in the audience who are receptive to it, and who hopefully each take away something personal from the collective experience.

>> Learn more about Naho Read more

Posted in Community. Tagged as CSO Musicians.

Christmas in July? Yes, please!

There is no doubt about it, summertime in the Carolinas is HOT. What better way to manifest cooler temperatures than by taking a look at what the CSO has in store for you this fall and winter? Make your selections now and be ready for our big Christmas in July sale, beginning July 19.

Home Alone in Concert

Kevin! Your family will delight in John Williams's beloved score performed live while the heartwarming holiday classic is projected on a screen above the orchestra. November 26-27 in the Belk Theater. 

Handel's Messiah

Handel's stunning masterpiece is back by popular demand. Join your CSO, Charlotte Master Chorale, and four soloists on December 3-5 in the Knight Theater for this enduring oratorio full of passion and exquisite beauty. "Hallelujah!"

Magic of Christmas

Delight in the wonder of the holiday season at the annual Magic of Christmas concert with sing-alongs, falling snow, and so much more! NEW this year, we welcome vocalist and entertainer Tony DeSare back to Charlotte to help us spread holiday cheer. December 10-19 in the Knight Theater. 

A Very Thorgy Christmas

Thorgy Thor brings her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent back to Charlotte this holiday season! Experience the world premiere of this holiday show in the Queen City, brought to you by the queen of Classical Music. One-night-only, December 22 in the Knight Theater. 

Cirque de Noël

The circus meets the symphony! Back with a fresh show filled with awe-inspiring acrobatics and musical holiday favorites, this event will fill your family with the wonder of the season. December 29-30 in the Belk Theater. 

New Year's Eve with Melinda Doolittle

Ring in the New Year with an unforgettable evening of music featuring American Idol finalist and soul-stirring songstress Melinda Doolittle. Your ticket includes a post-concert party with champagne, dancing, and a countdown to midnight! December 31 in the Belk Theater.  Read more

Tagged as holidays.

SLIDESHOW: Celebrating America

The Charlotte Symphony welcomed over 4,000 fans to Truist Field to Celebrate America with an evening of patriotic favorites and fireworks. Concertgoers enjoyed the North Carolina premiere of Fanfare for Democracy, a work performed at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration; works by Aaron Copland, John Williams, and more; an appearance by Charlotte Knights' mascot Homer the Dragon; and a spectacular fireworks finale. (Photos by Laura Wolff for the Charlotte Knights)

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It's a beautiful day to Celebrate America in Uptown Charlotte as CSO musicians take their places on the field and begin their warm-up.
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Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees and the Charlotte Symphony kick off the concert with a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
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Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy receives its North Carolina premiere in front of an audience more than 4,000 strong. The work was commissioned for the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris in January 2021.
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The audience cheers as the CSO performs Morton Gould's American Salute performed tonight in tribute to the bravery of America's frontline and essential workers.
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Christopher James Lees came to play, showing off the Charlotte Knights jersey he stealthily hid under his white jacket before launching into works by Aaron Copland and Leroy Anderson.
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A night at the ballpark is never complete without the 7th inning stretch! Tonight, Homer the Dragon leads the crowd in a boisterous performance of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
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Christopher James Lees takes back the baton to lead the Orchestra in Grainger's "Molly On the Shore," "A Chorus Line" by Marvin Hamlisch, and Duke Ellington's "A Medley for Orchestra."
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Not to be outdone, Homer the Dragon returns to the field to conduct one of Sousa's most well-known marches, "The Thunderer," while an enthusiastic crowd clapped along.
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Christopher James Lees brings the concert to a close by acknowledging three retiring musicians, each of whom has been a member of the CSO for over 40 years!
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Violinist Judith Ledbetter, a member for 42 years.
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Cellist Janis Nilsen, a member for 41 years.
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Bassoonist Lori Tibero, a member for 44 years.
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A fireworks finale lights up the night sky in Uptown Charlotte.
 
 
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Posted in Community, Summer. Tagged as community.

Celebrate America with Your Charlotte Symphony


The Charlotte Symphony takes the field on June 25 to Celebrate America with an evening of patriotic favorites and memorable anthems and marches. Truist Field, home of the Charlotte Knights, will be rocking with an all-star lineup of works by Aaron Copland, John Williams, Duke Ellington, and more. And what better way to cap off a celebration of America than with a spectacular fireworks display in the home of America's favorite pastime!
Resident Conductor Christopher James Lees will kick off the concert by leading the CSO in Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy, a work premiered at the historic inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris in January 2021.

World Premiere of Jim Stephenson's Fanfare for Democracy at the 59th Presidential Inauguration, Jan. 20, 2021.

The concert continues with Morton Gould's American Salute, a tribute to the bravery of America's frontline and essential workers.

The United States Air Force Symphony Orchestra performs Morton Gould's American Salute.

Christopher James Lees and the CSO will dedicate John Williams's "With Malice Toward None" to the memory of those who have lost their lives during the pandemic. This piece comes from the critically acclaimed film Lincoln and the title refers to a line from the second inaugural speech of former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. John Williams chose to set a trumpet solo for this scene -- which will be performed by Principal Trumpet Alex Wilborn -- to remind listeners of its evocations of bugle calls, trumpet annunciations, and the death call of Taps. 

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band Performs Williams's With Malice Toward None from Lincoln.

The evening will also include popular works by power hitters Leroy Anderson, Aaron Copland, Percy Grainger, Marvin Hamlisch, and Duke Ellington. And we'll keep an eye out for pinch-hitter and Charlotte Knights mascot Homer the Dragon.  


In the bottom of the ninth, the CSO will serve up a grand slam of marches by John Philip Sousa, including Stars and Stripes Forever, followed by a spectacular fireworks display that will light up the Uptown sky. 

We hope you and your families will join us for a fantastic evening of music and fireworks under the stars!
Celebrate America is presented in partnership with

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Posted in Community, Summer. Tagged as community.

Youth Orchestras Get Back to In-Person Rehearsals

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Dr. Jessica Morel leads the CSO Youth Philharmonic in their first rehearsal of the seasons.
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The CSO Youth Orchestra in their first rehearsal in more than a year.
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Dr. Jessica Morel leads the CSO Youth Philharmonic in their first rehearsal of the seasons.
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The CSO Youth Orchestra in their first rehearsal in more than a year.
 
 
 
After 12 months apart, the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras got back to in-person rehearsing thanks to the generosity of Park Road Baptist Church, which allowed the groups to safely gather in their parking lot. Spirits were high as the groups came together to rehearse works by Chance, Mozart, Mackey, Bryant, Beethoven, and more! The outdoor location allowed for lots of music while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

The Youth Orchestra's sounded so wonderful that neighborhood families came by to watch them rehearse from a distance! 


CSO Resident Conductor, and Youth Orchestra conductor, Christopher James Lees shares his excitement at the first rehearsal


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Posted in Education & Community, Youth Orchestras. Tagged as Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestras, CSYO, Education.

How Atrium Health Helped Keep the Music Playing


As Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Atrium Health, Dr. Katie Passaretti has been on the frontlines of the war against the spread of COVID-19 in our community. She's also worked closely with the Charlotte Symphony to advise on safety protocols; keeping our staff, musicians, and audiences safe and keeping the music playing throughout the pandemic. 

What was your path to becoming the Medical Director of Infection Prevention? 
I think it started when my mom was a home health care nurse and took me on patient visits from a young age. I was always drawn to and excelled at math and science, so going into the field of healthcare seemed like a natural path for me. I studied biology at Johns Hopkins and ended up staying there for medical school, residency and an infectious disease fellowship -- a total of 16 years. I found that infectious disease and hospital epidemiology had a great mix of patient care, interesting stuff, data nerdiness, detective work and the ability to impact larger populations. In 2011, I left Hopkins and came to Atrium Health to take a health system role as medical director of Infection Prevention and never looked back. It's been a wild, but gratifying ride.

How has your day-to-day changed since the pandemic began?  
No one day has been the same for the past year it's been a whirlwind of activity without a doubt! There have been more meetings, emails, phone calls and media interviews than I can count, combined with caring for patients with COVID and other infectious diseases. The days and months have been long and emotional, but worthwhile, and the support and commitment of my leaders at Atrium Health to do what's best for patients, teammates and our community has been inspiring every step of the way!

"A huge part of healing our community is to bring the arts back."


How have you been helping the Charlotte Symphony ensure a safe environment for staff, musicians, and audience?  
My specialty is how to prevent the spread of infections, so I've helped serve as a subject matter expert on reopening safely. That work includes everything from when to start letting people back in, testing symphony staff, masking requirements and ways to make the experience as safe as possible in this time of COVID.

Why do you feel it's important for performing arts institutions to continue their work during this time?  
Artists and the institutions that showcase them and their works are the heart and soul of our community. While the steps taken this past year were necessary to protect our community, there have been tremendous losses and the lack of access to the arts is very much one of those losses. While re-opening performing arts institutions must continue to be done safely, a huge part of healing our community is to bring the arts back.

Learn more about the everyday heroes at Atrium Health.
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