Fall 2006

Putting stock in where the wind blows

Hulkas endow Carolina Wind Quintet


What is it about music and medicine?

Carolina’s Department of Music seems to have a special exit door for undergraduates marked “this way to medical school.” The School of Medicine itself once had a group of players who met regularly to practice and perform for their colleagues. And Chapel Hill’s thriving community orchestra, the Philharmonia, has a healthy share of physician-players.
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Jerry and Barbara Hulka at home in their music studio (Photo by Steve Exum)

Whatever the source of this mysterious affinity, Barbara and Jaroslav Hulka certainly share it. The Hulkas, retired UNC faculty members in public health and medicine, recently gave a $200,000 endowment to support the Carolina Wind Quintet, a professional chamber ensemble-in-residence at the Department of Music in the University’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“We wanted to express our genuine appreciation for the music department and all it has done for us—providing the hall, providing the conductor, providing the [sheet] music,” said Jerry, who has played for years in the Chapel Hill Philharmonia, a community orchestra conducted by Professor Donald Oehler.

“These were things I used to take for granted,” Jerry said. “Now I realize it was an act of generosity on the part of the music department for a community activity. I wanted to say, gee, thanks for all the good evenings you allowed us to have at rehearsals and concerts.”

“And for enriching our lives,” Barbara said.

Provost Bernadette Gray-Little, until recently dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “I am delighted the Hulkas’ support of the Carolina Wind Quintet will give more North Carolinians the chance to hear really top-quality chamber music—and to enjoy the vitality of the arts at Carolina.”

A wind quintet is a standard instrumental grouping in chamber music: clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon and French horn. Two members of the Carolina quintet are UNC music professors: Donald Oehler (clarinet) and Brooks deWetter Smith (flute). Three are North Carolina Symphony players: Michael Schultz (associate principal oboe and English horn), John Pederson (principal bassoon) and Andrew McAfee (principal French horn).

Oehler and Pederson are the quintet’s founding members who got together in 1973 because, said Oehler, “It’s just what wind players do. We find each other and play wind quintets. We noticed over the years we were getting better and more serious.” Very good and very serious. Locally, only the Ciompi Quartet, a professional string quartet based at Duke, has been in existence longer. Still, the quintet’s members, with their demanding jobs and other outside activities, could perform only a few times a year.

The Hulkas’ gift will change that. Income from the Jaroslav F. and Barbara S. Hulka Carolina Wind Quintet Fund will free the three North Carolina Symphony members from some of their other outside ventures so that they can rehearse and perform more often with the group. The quintet members expect to tour and record.

“All of us are excited by this reality,” Oehler said. “The Hulkas have an understanding of what it takes. I can’t think of two people more supportive of the arts.”

Oehler also runs a week-long chamber music performance workshop each June in Chapel Hill. The Hulkas always attend—this year as the first week of four they spent playing at workshops up and down the east coast (an experience both “ecstatic” and “exhausting” Barbara said).

The Hulkas became a duo in life through music. In the 1950s, Barbara Sorenson and Jerry Hulka were members of the Harvard-Radcliffe orchestra. Barbara, a violinist, was concertmaster; Jerry played French horn. The two were selected to perform the Brahms horn trio (violin, French horn and piano). “That trio was the basis of our marriage,” Jerry said. “We’re still playing it.”

After a master’s degree at Juilliard for Barbara and medical school for both, they came to Chapel Hill in 1967. Jerry, on the School of Medicine faculty, pioneered laparoscopic surgery for gynecological disorders and invented the Hulka clip, a sterilization procedure and device. Barbara, in the School of Public Health, led the development of molecular biology as a new tool in epidemiology, chaired her department, was appointed a Kenan professor, and led the national panel evaluating research on a possible link between silicone breast implants and auto-immune disorders.

Meanwhile, the Hulkas also reared three children and managed to keep music in their lives. After both retired, it was full speed ahead in music.

As listeners the Hulkas care deeply about excellence. “We like to listen to top-quality performance,” Jerry said. “That’s when blissful moments of music occur.”

Both see the Carolina Wind Quintet, with proper support, as a source of many blissful moments of music for a much wider audience. The Hulkas also believe the professional ensemble on campus can raise UNC’s profile in the arts.

Today at Carolina the arts are flourishing as never before, with energetic collaborations among the Department of Music, other College of Arts and Sciences departments, and the new Carolina Performing Arts office. And Barbara and Jerry Hulka, in giving as in playing, are right on the beat.

Ginger Travis

The Carolina Wind Quintet performs next on Feb. 13 in Memorial Hall. For more information on the Department of Music’s concert schedule, visit music.unc.edu or call 919-962-1039. If you are interested in giving to the Department of Music, contact Emily Stevens at 919-843-5285 or emily_stevens@unc.edu.