“I Am Coming to Houston”: A Look Back at Resilient Sounds

“I Am Coming to Houston”: A Look Back at Resilient Sounds

According to the Houston Chronicle, if Houston were a country, it would rank fourth in the world for refugee resettlement. Refugees are our neighbors, our colleagues, and our friends, but we do not always know their stories.

For more than 450 members of Houston’s classical music community packing White Oak Music Hall on June 13, 2019, all that changed. They experienced six refugees’ stories through powerful new works premiered by the Houston Symphony.

Resilient Sounds was born as a collaboration between the Houston Symphony and Composer-in-Residence Jimmy López Bellido, partnering with the Rice University Shepherd School of Music, the University of Houston Moores School of Music, and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston to celebrate the determination and hope of Houston’s refugee communities.

Houston Symphony Composer-in-Residence Jimmy López Bellido works with student composer Alejandro Basulto.
Composer-in-Residence Jimmy López Bellido and student composer Alejandro Basulto discuss a composition during a Resilient Sounds workshop in February. Photo: Carrithers Studio

A full year in the making, Resilient Sounds paired six young composers from Rice and the University of Houston with multidisciplinary artists and members of Houston’s refugee community. Together, the composers and artists told their refugee partners’ stories through the universal languages of art and music. Under the supervision and mentorship of López, each young composer created a unique chamber orchestra work celebrating how Houston derives strength and character from its diverse community.

The composers and their pieces were:

  • Alejandro Basulto, Personas Invisibles Dancer/choreographer Bethany Garcia’s movements interpreted the lonely and frightening history of a transgender Salvadoran refugee.
  • Kyle Rivera, Bella Laeta Writer Brendan Stephens’s poetry narrated tall tales told to children in the Democratic Republic of Congo to shield them from the terrifying realities of war.
  • Patrick W. Lenz, What It Takes to Thrive Narrator Muhammad Yunus-Khaerisman related the incredible story of one man’s journey from Pakistan to Houston via Nauru, with words by Logan Butcher.
  • Erin Graham, Refugee Resilience This piece, with words by poet Stalina Villarreal, employed the voice of Julie Moore in song to tell the harrowing childhood experiences of a refugee who witnessed firsthand the civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    Julie Moore performs a composition by Erin Graham.
    Julie Moore performs Erin Graham’s composition Refugee Resilience.
  • Victor Rangel, To Dream of Jasmines Filmmaker Eric Cheung juxtaposed a refugee’s nostalgic memories of Syria with film footage of today’s jarring reality.
  • Erberk Eryilmaz, Hoppa! 3 An energetic, ecstatic piece, Hoppa! 3 draws inspiration from the folk dances and songs shared by the cultures of Turkey and Syria, featuring violinist Evie Chen.

Each of the six works was met with a roaring standing ovation from the audience. Through the universal language of music, listeners experienced points of view very different from their own, forever changing their perspective on the world.

—Eric Skelly

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