Community Engagement in a “New Normal”

Community Engagement in a “New Normal”

“It’s incredible that through the power of technology we can continue to interact with the students and stay connected to this community. Even though it is through a different platform, I can see that the students are very excited and eager to continue learning about the violin. In this unprecedented time of isolation, our interaction with the students goes beyond musical education to restore a sense of invaluable connectedness.” —Rainel Joubert, violin Community-Embedded Musician

Lewis Elementary students perform in the Jones Hall lobby before a Houston Symphony Family Concert in April 2019.

The Houston Symphony improves the quality of life in Houston by presenting over 1,000 concerts and activities in schools, hospitals, senior centers and social service organizations, addressing priority community issues including education, healthcare, diversity and inclusion, and social impact. The success of these programs relies on the unwavering passion for music that our orchestra members and Community-Embedded Musicians bring to this work and the special relationships they are able to forge with community members, young and old. Kathryn Ladner, piccolo, recently shared some insight about why this work is so important to her: “I remember being in high school and how exciting it was any time I got a chance to work with a professional musician. I like going out into the schools and being able to help with the same problems and questions I had when I was that age. I also love bringing music to senior centers and other places that don’t always have access to live music; those are always the most kind and appreciative audiences.”

In this “new normal” of virtual programming, the musicians’ engagement with the community carries on. Schools are closed and hospitals can’t have visitors, so the musicians are experimenting with new ways to connect. We want to give you a glimpse of how two of our programs—the Elementary School Residency at Lewis, presented by BBVA and the Music & Wellness Initiative—have been revised in response to the current situation.

Christopher Neal, violin, performs music at a patient’s bedside at Texas Children’s Hospital during the 2018–19 season.

Students from Lewis Elementary usually see Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musicians at least twice a week at their school. With everyone stuck at home now, the Community-Embedded Musicians are creating practice videos for the students, encouraging them to continue playing their violins and perform for their families. They continue to build relationships with students and inspire them virtually through Google Meet, a video conference system that musicians have creatively turned into a group lesson platform.

Our musicians are also usually regular visitors to the Texas Medical Center, playing at patients’ bedsides several times a month. Normally, musicians go room to room, asking patients to choose what kind of music they play at their bedsides. Now, musicians are gathering patients’ song requests virtually and creating videos to send through private YouTube links to the hospitals’ virtual programming platforms, so that they can still respond to the patients’ choices during this time when the patients’ voices need to be heard most.

The Lewis Elementary Residency is presented by BBVA.

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