Last week, two of Houston’s many community orchestras joined forces with Robert Franz and the Houston Symphony for two evenings of side-by-side rehearsals. The Houston Civic Symphony rehearsed with the Houston Symphony on Tuesday, September 2, and the Texas Medical Center Orchestra rehearsed with them on Wednesday, September 3. Each member of each community orchestra was pared with a member of the Houston Symphony for a side-by-side read along intended to give some of Houston’s active amateur musicians access to insights and tips from the professionals.
As both a violinist in the Houston Civic Symphony and the new Digital Marketing Coordinator for the Houston Symphony, the evening had an even more special significance for me. I have been a fan of the Houston Symphony for many years, but I never thought I would get to play with them on the stage of Jones Hall. When we first arrived at the read-along rehearsal, I think we were all very excited, but also a little nervous. After all, we were going to be sitting next to the best musicians in town, people who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their technical and artistic skills, and for us amateurs it was a little intimidating to think that these guys were going to be sitting next to us hearing every mistake we might make.
Once we got started though, Robert Franz instantly made us feel welcome and helped us get over our initial jitters. Half-way through our rehearsal, we took a break, and I got to chat with my Houston Symphony stand partner. As it turned out, she was very friendly and knew my old violin teacher from when they had both been students at the Rice Shepherd School of Music. As we played through Gershwin’s An American in Paris during the second half of our rehearsal, all we were thinking about was having fun and making some great music. After the rehearsal was over, I went up to take a look at the conductor’s podium and remembered all of the amazing artists I had seen perform right at that spot: John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Sarah Chang, Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming, Christoph Eschenbach, Itzhak Perlman, Hans Graf, and now Andrés Orozco-Estrada (just to name a few) had all given me so many unforgettable performances over the years. With our new music director beginning his tenure this weekend, I felt even more excited about all the concerts yet to come.
After I graduated from college, I did not at first find many opportunities to play my violin with others. Without the obvious choices of college or high school orchestras, I sadly began to play my violin less often than I had when I was in school. Then, two years ago, I joined the Houston Civic Symphony at the insistence of an old friend of mine who had been my stand partner back when I played violin in high school. When I realized that orchestra didn’t have to end in high school or college, it was a revelation: I could still experience the joy of making music with other adult amateurs, make new friends, and gain a greater appreciation for some of my favorite music. Houston is home to many community orchestras: in addition to the Houston Civic Symphony and the Texas Medical Center Orchestra, there are the Houston Heights Orchestra, Symphony North of Houston, the Houston Sinfonietta, and the Clear Lake Symphony. Chances are there is a community orchestra near you.
With the success of these rehearsals, the Houston Symphony is looking forward to continuing this program in the future. Who knows? Perhaps next time you could be on the stage of Jones Hall, too.