In Decem­ber 2008, vio­lin­ist Yuan-Qing Yu’s 5-year-old son was diag­nosed with leukemia. What fol­lowed were months of help­ing her child deal with the intense treat­ments, and end­less trips back and forth to Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal, then Children’s Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal.

Mem­bers Yuan-Qing Yu and Ken­neth Olsen with Civic Orches­tra Fel­lows at Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal on May 12, 2016

Dur­ing the three years of treat­ment, I went through a very dark peri­od. When I final­ly felt emo­tion­al­ly strong again, I want­ed to be use­ful and give back,” Yu says. “Instead of being con­sumed by some­thing neg­a­tive, I want­ed to do some­thing pos­i­tive.”

That’s when Yu and her friends formed a cham­ber music ensem­ble that would play music in hos­pi­tals, as a way to lift the spir­its of oth­er patients and their care­givers who were going through sim­i­lar strug­gles.

Yu’s fel­low musi­cians — clar­inetist J. Lawrie Bloom (a can­cer sur­vivor him­self), cel­list Ken­neth Olsen, and pianist Win­ston Choi — found­ed Civ­i­tas in 2011. The group decid­ed that giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ty in this way would be a core part of its mis­sion.

In fact, the mem­bers chose the name Civ­i­tas — which means “cit­i­zen­ship” in Latin — to reflect their pas­sion for using music as a way to impart shared respon­si­bil­i­ties in the com­mu­ni­ty.

Since the group formed, they have per­formed more than 20 con­certs at Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal, some­times on the oncol­o­gy floor for the chil­dren under­go­ing can­cer treat­ment, and oth­er times in the Crown Sky Gar­den for any­one who wish­es to take a moment to lis­ten to the music. The ensem­ble also fre­quent­ly per­forms at the Fam­i­ly Life Cen­ter, where the pro­grams are broad­cast­ed live through the in-house tele­vi­sion sys­tem.

Yu says Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal has great facil­i­ties to help the chil­dren cope with their time in the hos­pi­tal, such as video games, art projects and more. But par­ents do not have as many oppor­tu­ni­ties to find dis­trac­tion from the stress and to help them get through the long stretch­es of wait­ing in the hos­pi­tal.

That’s why Yu thinks bring­ing music to the hos­pi­tal is a great way of help­ing both the chil­dren and their par­ents cope. “If the par­ents and the kids sit down togeth­er to lis­ten, they have shared expe­ri­ence through music,” she says. “For them, it’s a brief moment of escape from what they have to face.”

Also, some­times clas­si­cal music can give par­ents the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect and get in touch with some of their emo­tions. Yu remem­bers one woman who lis­tened to Civ­i­tas’ con­cert and wept the entire time. “I think she want­ed to have that moment with­out hav­ing to talk,” Yu says.

This year, Civ­i­tas has decid­ed to broad­en its reach by offer­ing free con­certs in retire­ment com­mu­ni­ties and oth­er health care facil­i­ties.

On May 11, Civ­i­tas per­formed a con­cert for res­i­dents of The Break­ers at Edge­wa­ter Beach, a senior liv­ing facil­i­ty in Chica­go. The group per­formed excerpts from Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-Flat Major, Glinka’s Trio Pathe­tique, Mucyznski’s Fan­ta­sy Trio, and Rabl’s Quar­tet in E-Flat, and then they answered ques­tions from the audi­ence.

Mem­bers J. Lawrie Bloom, Win­ston Choi, and Ken­neth Olsen per­form­ing at The Break­ers on May 11, 2016

Many of the res­i­dents, some of whom were con­fined to wheel­chairs or used walk­ers to get around, clapped vig­or­ous­ly and yelled out “Bra­vo!” after each piece. “Many can­not go out to the sym­pho­ny any­more. We want to be able to bring clas­si­cal music to them,” Yu says.

On May 12, Yu and Olsen per­formed at Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal with the fel­lows from the Civic Orches­tra of Chica­go, where they per­formed selec­tions from Mozart’s Oboe Quar­tet, Mozart’s Horn Quar­tet and a piece called “Tun­ji and the Giant.”

On May 22, Civ­i­tas is sched­uled to per­form a third out­reach con­cert at 7 p.m. at the Ronald McDon­ald House, locat­ed at 211 E. Grand Ave. in Chica­go. The Ronald McDon­ald House offers hous­ing for fam­i­lies whose chil­dren are admit­ted at Lurie Children’s Hos­pi­tal and who live too far away to com­mute dai­ly to and from their homes.

After they have been tak­ing care of their kids, they can come back to rest and have for a moment for them­selves,” Yu explains.



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