Keeping in Touch with the Houston Symphony

Keeping in Touch with the Houston Symphony

Social distancing is hard for everyone, but it’s especially challenging for musicians who live to play music together and share it with others. At the Houston Symphony, we cannot wait until we can safely play concerts for you again, but until then, here’s an update from the members of the orchestra.

What activities have you been doing to keep busy at home?

“Besides practicing, I’ve been going for walks with my dog, Joe; calling parishioners from church to check on them; writing letters to friends far away; and weeding in the yard. I also have done some occasional baking, although it’s not as much fun when you can’t share it with others. The second violins are famous for their baking; there is almost always something yummy backstage to sample. I did clean out the spice drawer, though. Some of those spice cans are antique and perhaps belong in a museum!” —Martha Chapman, second violin

“Since we’ve been home, I’ve been practicing music, Skype teaching, cleaning, and exercising outdoors. The yard and the house look a lot better after organizing things for the first time in years! We’ve been making lots of phone calls to stay in touch with people. I also like to listen to new age music while trying to fall asleep—it’s very soothing at a time like this.” —Scott Holshouser, principal keyboard

Mark Hughes, principal trumpet, and his Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Henry and Winston.

“In addition to the obvious—practicing—I have spent time on my favorite hobby, pottery. I have worked with clay for years, but this extended time at home is giving me more opportunity to work on my pots in my garage studio. It is very therapeutic to play with clay! I also try to exercise regularly. I work out with a trainer, now online, and use the treadmill or take walks. I have really missed my Houston Symphony colleagues, so I set up a Zoom virtual happy hour with my horn section cohorts. It was fun, and so good to see them!” —Nancy Goodearl, horn

“My wife Marcia and I have been practicing Tai Chi and online yoga. We’ve been doing lots of texting and emailing, and I also received a handwritten letter from a dear friend. To take my mind off things, I listen to the Beatles!” —Daniel Strba, viola

“Like many other musicians, I’m spending a lot of time learning how to use technology! Teaching virtual lessons, editing and uploading my own videos, etc. I’m also trying to learn Spanish. I play games online with my sister, and talk on the phone daily with my mom. It’s been a good time to catch up with old friends I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve done a little reading, but mostly I’ve been binge-listening to a lot of music. I love listening to French impressionist piano music, like Debussy and Ravel. Mozart and Haydn string quartets are also especially bringing a lot of joy to my life!” —Kathryn Ladner, piccolo

“I’ve been practicing more, teaching online lessons, working on several home projects, and grilling out. We’ve also been cooking more and spending more time with our two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Henry and Winston. I stitch needlepoint when I have spare time (which is in more abundance now), and I also listen to music, of course. I have an eclectic listening taste which involves a wide variety of styles, including Sinatra and other big band crooners, bluegrass, pop music from the 1970s, anything by the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, Voces 8, and of course, classical orchestral music!” —Mark Hughes, principal trumpet

“In addition to my normal hobbies, which are language learning (I recently started French), reading, and exercising, I have started to cross-stitch, play video games, and I am currently taking an online computer science course. Sometimes, I go for a ride on my bike, or I walk my dog, Smudge, and I am careful to stay at least six feet away from other people! Even though everyone is physically far apart, when I see others on the street, we almost always smile and wave to each other. Oh, and I teach Smudge new tricks. She has learned to ‘snoot’, which is to put her snout through the circle I make with my hands.” —Jarita Ng, viola

Jarita Ng, viola, and her dog, Smudge.

“At this point, any drum I hit on calms me down. In addition to practicing, I’ve been exercising. I bike in the park, and I found a spot on my building’s parking garage where I can hit the wall with my soccer ball and tennis ball. I’ve also been teaching Skype lessons mostly to students in South America.” —Leonardo Soto, principal timpani

“To ease my disappointment when the Houston Symphony had to cancel work, I decided to commit myself to two handwritten letters a day to family and friends until we began working again. Now one month since our last work day, I have mailed over 60 letters! These daily moments sitting down to write and reflect on people I care for has given structure and peace in this time of heaviness and uncertainty.” —Joan DerHovsepian, associate principal viola

Have any “silver lining” moments come out of these extraordinary circumstances?

“My family and I have been calling pretty frequently. Friends and I now Netflix and distant-chill: we would make a video call on one device, and then use Netflix Party to watch a movie or a show together. I also write to friends and family—I love drawing and writing. It makes me happy imagining my friends receiving something handwritten, and how it would put a smile on their face.” —Jarita Ng, viola

“Having my daughter home from college has been great! We celebrated her birthday two weeks ago, and I wasn’t expecting to spend it with her. My son is appreciating watching TV and movies together after everyone has finished their online classes and work. I am too!” —Nancy Goodearl, horn

“My boyfriend, who is a member of the Indianapolis Symphony, has been with me the entire time. We have been doing a long-distance relationship for 4-and-a-half years and cherish this time together.” —Elise Wagner, bassoon

“I have a group of friends from high school that met up on a video chat the other week. We live all over the country now, and it had been years since all five of us were able to hang out together. It was really fun catching up with them!” —Kathryn Ladner, piccolo

Leonardo Soto, principal timpani, shows off his at home practice space.

“As my daughter prepares to head to college in the fall, I’m grateful for some calm moments together before she departs. One of the things that this whole situation has made so clear to me is how important live performance—the connection with our audience—really is. That experience of making music live, with other people and, most importantly, for other people, is really why our music exists. I realize this more than I ever did after losing it. I’m listening to a lot of old live performances with audiences to recapture some of that spark and energy. In particular, Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations from Poland on our 2018 tour has been particularly profound and meaningful to me. I keep listening to it on repeat. That was another difficult time—we’d started that season with the floods of Harvey. The profundity of that music reminds me that something deeper than our current situation binds us with all of those who are alive and have ever lived.” —Brinton Averil Smith, principal cello

“Spending time with my baby and seeing him grow every day is the best thing I can ever ask for.” —Annie Chen, second violin

“My husband and I are grateful for the unexpected time together with our 15-year-old daughter, Clara. Each day, the three of us go on a family walk in our neighborhood before sitting down at the dinner table together—memories Erik and I will cherish after she’s gone off to college.” —Joan DerHovsepian, associate principal viola

“These circumstances made me appreciate what we do as musicians. I cannot wait for the first concert when we get to share music with everyone again.” —MuChen Hsieh, principal second violin

What are you watching?

Doc Martin.” —Daniel Strba, viola

The Crown.” —Mark Hughes, principal trumpet

30 Rock, All or Nothing, Brazilian national football team, Ken Burns’s Jazz, and Suits.” —Leonardo Soto, principal timpani

The Crown, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the MET’s nightly opera stream.” —MuChen Hsieh, principal second violin

Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos.” —Brinton Averil Smith, principal cello

The Office, Veep, and Westworld.” —Annie Chen, second violin

Anne with an E, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Picard.” —Nancy Goodearl, horn

Brooklyn 99, Manifest, and New Amsterdam.” —Scott Holshouser, principal keyboard

Ozark, Schitt’s Creek, and Unorthodox.” —Elise Wagner, bassoon

Call The Midwife and Dark.” —Martha Chapman, second violin

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