Wayne State Professor Finds Rare Clarinet
Huntington Woods professor and urologist searched for rare basset clarinet to solo in Detroit Medical Orchestra concert.
By Barbara Lewis
Featured photo by David Dalton
A regular clarinet just wouldn’t do.
Michael Cher, a professor of urology at Wayne State University’s medical school, was planning to play Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major with the Detroit Medical Orchestra, an amateur group he helped start 10 years ago.
To prepare, he watched videos of performances on YouTube and saw some clarinetists playing very low notes by using an unusual instrument longer than a regular clarinet.
His research showed that musicologists think Mozart actually wrote the piece for the basset clarinet, which is about six inches longer than clarinets used today; it also has extra keys and mechanisms.
Mozart’s original manuscript has been lost and subsequent scores were written for a regular clarinet. In those scores, the piece makes several odd jumps — where you expect a run to go down, it goes up, said Cher, 59, of Huntington Woods.
But where to find a basset clarinet? Cher emailed Ricardo Morales, principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Morales immediately offered to lend him his own instrument for the concert. After receiving the basset clarinet, Cher had to learn to play the unfamiliar lower notes.
The free concert, which will take place at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19, at the Wayne State University Community Arts Auditorium, is Cher’s Detroit solo debut.
Cher comes from a musical family. His mother was a musician who passed her passion to him and his three brothers, who have raised musically talented children.
Five other Chers will join him for the May 19 concert: sons, Benjamin, 24, a medical student at University of Michigan, and Jonathan, 20, a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis; brother, Danny, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif.; brother, David, an attorney from Denver; and David’s cellist son, Eitan, an engineer from San Francisco.
Cher has been part of the Detroit Medical Orchestra since it began and is a member of its board.
The group now has about 60 members, all of whom work in the medical field as medical students and physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, researchers and professors.
The orchestra is “a great thing for a lot of people,” Cher said. “Music can be very healing, for the musicians as well as the audience.”
The group rehearses on Sunday evenings in a room at Wayne State’s medical school, under the baton of Zeljko Milicevic, who also conducts the Rochester Symphony and the Oakland Youth Orchestra and plays in the Flint Symphony. He is the orchestra’s only paid member. The group presents three orchestral concerts a year and one chamber recital. Smaller ensembles of orchestra members often play in healthcare facilities.
Violinist Edward Malinowski, a retired cardiologist from West Bloomfield who is a speaker and board member of the Holocaust Memorial Center, said he likes the rehearsals better than the performances. Playing in the orchestra provides relief from the often-stressful practice of medicine, he said. “It’s also very encouraging to see young members of the orchestra making music only for fun.”
Violinist Jeff Klein of Huntington Woods, an internist with a practice in Troy, agreed. “Music distracts me from the pressures of practice and an otherwise convoluted world,” he said.
Oboist Samm Wunderlich, 31, of Oak Park, joined the orchestra in 2015. An independent recreation therapist, she says she welcomes the opportunity to play in a quality orchestra. The orchestra’s mission, “Bringing Healing Through Music,” “takes playing in an orchestra from just being fun and gives it purpose,” she said.
Last week, Cher performed the Mozart concerto in Palo Alto. His brother Danny invited him to California to play clarinet in the Schubert Octet. Cher agreed but only if he could play the Mozart Clarinet Concerto as well. “It was a dress rehearsal where nobody knew me,” he said.
Cher said he thought about music as a career but decided medicine was a better bet. “It’s easy to be a doctor pretending to be a musician,” he said. “You can’t be a musician and pretend to be a doctor.”
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