Striking the right chord: Amazon has its own symphony orchestra
Once a week, between 80 and 100 Amazon employees step away from their computer screens and tune up.
Accountants, graphic designers, software development engineers, and others from dozens of corporate departments gather in one of the company’s headquarter buildings in downtown Seattle to practice playing complicated, classical compositions.
Hsing-Hui Hsu, a software development engineer who was a music major at Rice University, is the music director and leads the ensemble. Everyone in the room is there, making music, simply because they can.
"People who haven't played an instrument in 5, 10, 15 years,” said Lauren Yu, a software development engineer and violist. “They didn’t think they were going to get to play again."
"So many people came up, just emotional and with tears, saying 'thank you,'" said Beau Buchanan, a musician and technical account manager. "They thought they had lost it, but now they have it again."
The Amazon Symphony Orchestra is one of the largest company ensembles in the United States. Musicians of all skill levels and backgrounds are welcome—no audition is necessary because no one is turned away.
"Our music director calls it the most peculiar orchestra in the world," said Christina Oaks, a technical recruiter in advertising at Amazon who hadn't played her flute regularly in almost seven years. "I remember I took a picture of that first rehearsal I sat in. I had to share with my family and all my friends. I was just really happy to be able to be part of a musical community again."
Founded in 2017 in response to an in-house email thread titled "Seeking classical music enthusiasts," the first public concert drew about 500 people. Today, the Amazon Symphony Orchestra performs several free concerts a year.
Their holiday show has become a fundraiser for Mary’s Place—a Seattle nonprofit that provides shelter for homeless women, children, and families. The volunteer orchestra has raised more than $40,000 for Mary’s Place. They recently add to that total with the 2019 holiday benefit concert for Mary’s Place on Friday, November 22 at the Amazon Meeting Center.
"We come together, and problem solve. If we hear something that needs to be tweaked, we are able to collaborate and make it better moving forward," said Oaks. "At Amazon, my own team, we collaborate often and we have our end customers in mind, creating that best experience. That's exactly our goal as an orchestra."
"The sense of community and support for each other is really remarkable," said Buchanan, who is a founding member. "It's hard to not get emotional about it."