Making Spirits Bright: Bringing Music to Our Community

Making Spirits Bright: Bringing Music to Our Community

The Houston Symphony's Community-Embedded Musicians at Crespo Elementary School preparing to accompany the winter student production of Mulan.
The Houston Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musicians at Crespo Elementary School preparing to accompany the winter student production of Mulan.

At the Houston Symphony, nothing gives us more joy than sharing the music we love, and as an organization we are committed to sharing music with as many people in our community as we possibly can. This means that in addition to our busy concert schedule, our musicians are out and about all over Houston visiting schools, community centers, retirement homes and many other gathering places where they play music and teach people about the incredible richness of the orchestral tradition. Many people we reach through our community activities have never been to a Houston Symphony concert before and are discovering the music we bring to them for the first time. This holiday season, we wanted to share with you just a few of the experiences our musicians have had this past fall. If you like what you read, please share this article to help spread the word to bring a Symphony experience to your school and community!

Houston Symphony Musicians in Schools

The benefits of music in education are well known, and Houston Symphony musicians engage students in a wide variety of activities throughout Greater Houston. When our musicians visit schools, they inspire music students and hone their technical skills. Associate Principal Double Bass David Malone recently completed the second of five coaching sessions that will take place this year with Memorial High School double bass students in Pasadena ISD, helping them problem solve phrasings, fingerings, positions and practice techniques.

Houston Symphony musicians interact with students at Cypress Springs High School.
Houston Symphony musicians interact with students at Cypress Springs High School.

The Houston Symphony is also partnering with eight Houston area high schools this year as part of our High School Residencies program, in which Houston Symphony musicians visit music students monthly, providing insight and practice techniques for music that the students are currently playing. As part of this program, Principal Oboist Jonathan Fischer, Principal Second Violinist Sophia Silivos, Associate Principal Violist Joan DerHovsepian, and Associate Principal Cellist Christopher French also performed works by Mozart, Britten and Dotzauer for orchestra students at Cypress Springs High School. Co-Concertmaster Eric Halen, violinist Tong Yan, violist Sheldon Person and Principal Cello Brinton Averil-Smith also performed string quartets by Schubert and Ravel for students at Pasadena’s Sam Rayburn High School—another Houston Symphony High School Residency. Throughout the performance the students were in awe of the communication among the musicians and of their flawless technique. They also enjoyed hearing the musicians share stories about their musical development throughout their student years and professional careers.

Community-Embedded Musicians at Crespo Elementary School

Since launching our unique and innovative Community-Embedded Musician (CEM) program this fall, our four CEMs have been busy visiting many diverse communities throughout the greater Houston area. One of their most frequent destinations is Crespo Elementary School, where our new and exciting Houston Symphony School Residency at Crespo Elementary presented by BBVA Compass is well underway. With biweekly visits, the residency program at Crespo Elementary is our most in-depth partnership with a school yet, reaching approximately 420 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

Community-Embedded Musician Anthony Parce plays a student's composition.
Community-Embedded Musician Anthony Parce plays a student’s composition.

Recently, these students composed their very first pieces of music! Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musicians Tony Parce and David Connor introduced a unique rhythmic composition model to the students, who quickly learned to create and read rhythms. Not only did the students create and interpret works in front of the class, they got to premiere their friends’ new pieces. In the words of one of the 4th-grade students, “We’re going to be famous composers!” Thanks to our Presenting Sponsor, BBVA Compass and the BBVA Compass Foundation for making it possible.

For the first time ever, our CEMs also provided Crespo Elementary with live music for its winter student production this month. CEMs Jenna Barghouti (violin), Tony Parce (viola), Hellen Weberpal (cello) and David Connor (bass) enhanced the recorded soundtrack of this year’s production of Mulan. The quartet also brought a special intermission performance to the Crespo audience with lively Chinese Folk Songs by Zhou Long. The Houston Symphony is thrilled to have supported the Crespo community by participating in the Mulan production as part of the Houston Symphony residency at Crespo Elementary presented by BBVA Compass and the BBVA Compass Foundation.

Concerts at Jones Hall and Beyond

You may be familiar with our David Dewhurst Student Concert Series, in which students take field trips to Jones Hall to experience educational orchestral concerts that incorporate the curriculum they are learning in school. So far this year, over 35,000 students have come to one of our thirteen Student Concerts, twelve of which were at Jones Hall.

Twin sisters enjoy a free holiday concert at The Church Without Walls.
Twin sisters enjoy a free holiday concert at The Church Without Walls.

You may not realize that Houston Symphony musicians also perform at community venues throughout Houston. Recently, Tina Zhang (violin), Kurt Johnson (violin), Fay Shapiro (viola) and Kevin Dvorak (cello) performed a holiday program of works by Vivaldi, Dvořák and Corelli at Holly Hall Retirement Center, Brookdale Heights and The Buckingham Retirement Center. The entire orchestra also gave a free holiday concert with the CityWide Grassroots Chorus at The Church Without Walls (Queenston Campus) attended by approximately 3,000 people.

This holiday season, you can help support these and many other Houston Symphony performances and activities. To make a gift, visit www.houstonsymphony.org/donate. Stay inspired and happy holidays!

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