Shannon Orme, a Detroit Symphony Orchestra bass clarinet for the last nine years, was recently honored by the League of American Orchestras for her charitable outreach work.
Orme, 37, was one of five orchestral musicians nationwide to win this year’s Ford Musician Award for Excellence in Community Service, which will be presented May 27 at Orchestra Hall during the program with superstar violinist Joshua Bell. The Detroit News caught up with Orme to chat about the bass clarinet, making music and doing good.
First off — what’s a bass clarinet?
It’s similar to a tenor saxophone, though an octave lower. There’s a curve at the end — a bell. With the symphony, I typically play with the basses and cellos and trombones, another low voice in orchestra.
How did you happen on this instrument?
We had one in our basement when I started fifth-grade band, so I didn’t have to buy a new instrument. Now it’s a lamp in my office.
What sort of outreach work do you do?
I play for those who are immobile or don’t have the means to come to Orchestra Hall. They’re always so appreciate and happy, even if it’s just for an hour! One of my favorites is playing for the music-therapy department at Detroit Medical Center, where I just add another flavor to their therapy sessions.
Why were you so enthusiastic about volunteering for this?
I connected immediately with the music therapy work at Children’s Hospital. It brought me back to a difficult time when my mother was in the hospital when I was 18, before she passed. Playing in her hospital room was the best way I knew how to thank her for being my mom, and to tell her that I would be OK. Hospitals are such as dreary place. There needs be a lot more music in all of them.
When you play at Children’s Hospital, do the kids get to play?
Yes! They have castanets, shakers or other percussion instruments. It’s natural for younger kids to want to make noise. As soon as you give them the opportunity to perform with you, every hand goes up. Once in middle school or high school, however (She laughs), it’s all silence.
What do you play for small children?
With little kids, I bring in nursery rhymes. Or we play name-that-tune. Or I do TV show medleys. I play “The Simpsons” and “Hawaii 5-0” and a lot of Disney tunes, though I still need to learn “Frozen.” After those, I might move on to a little classical music, but I only do about a minute of that.
Do you do outreach with other groups?
Sure. The other week, three of us played at American House, a senior center in Dearborn. We asked them to sing “American the Beautiful,” and they were really shouting it out.
Apart from doing good, what do you like about these performances?
When I play in hospitals or schools, there isn’t that barrier of the stage between us. And you can see first-hand how powerful the music can be. You can see it makes people feel better — or feel something.
And by the way, what are the best composers for the bass clarinet?
My favorites are Shostakovich and Mahler. I’m just very busy in those pieces!