Press Room

The Houston Symphony and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music Partner to Establish New Brown Foundation Community-Embedded Musician Fellowship

HOUSTON, TX (Apr. 22, 2021) — The Houston Symphony and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music have joined forces to create the new pilot program: The Shepherd School–Houston Symphony Brown Foundation Community-Embedded Musician Fellowship. Providing one apprentice the opportunity to develop community engagement skills under the guidance of the Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musicians (CEMs) and Education and Community Engagement staff, the Fellowship goes annually to a Rice Graduate student, who then learns to work with children and other populations from Houston’s underserved communities. This exciting partnership aligns with the mission of the Shepherd School’s newly established taskforce, MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equality), which in part aims to engage with young musicians from underrepresented groups.

“This joint effort between the Shepherd School and Houston Symphony aims to expose young, underserved minority students to the richness of music education,” said Rice University Shepherd School of Music Dean Robert Yekovich. “Our organizations consider this to be among the most important responsibilities we have.”

“We were very excited when the Shepherd School approached us about this joint initiative,” said Houston Symphony Executive Director, CEO, and holder of the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair John Mangum. “It was great to know that the MUSE taskforce viewed our CEM program as a model for engaging with underserved communities in Greater Houston, and that they wanted to partner with us in this pilot program. It will allow both institutions to broaden and deepen the impact of this critical work.”

Commencing in April 2021, the Brown Foundation Community-Embedded Musician Fellowship extends through December 2021, at which point the Fellowship will be evaluated before moving forward with choosing the next Fellow.

The inaugural CEM Fellow is double bassist Joseph Nuñez. Having studied at the University of North Texas and the Colburn Conservatory before attending the Shepherd School where he studies with former Houston Symphony Principal Bass Timothy Pitts, Nuñez has played with the New World Symphony and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, as well as participating in the Aspen Music Festival. Nuñez was selected through an interview and audition process that included musician and staff representatives from the Houston Symphony alongside colleagues from the Shepherd School.

The CEM Fellowship initiative builds on a longstanding partnership between the Symphony and the Shepherd School, that most recently brought the expertise of Rice scientists to bear on an exhaustive research study of the air flow created by wind instruments and singers, using high-speed imaging to investigate proper social-distancing protocols for rehearsal and performance.

The Houston Symphony’s ground-breaking CEM initiative began in 2015, allowing the Symphony to expand its education and community engagement individual and small-group activities from approximately 200 to 1,000 per year. In hospitals, schools, community centers and myriad other venues, the Symphony’s CEMs educate, engage, and inspire thousands of children and adults through their interactions in underserved areas of Houston. In addition, the CEMs have up to 40 opportunities each year to perform onstage with members of the orchestra. The Brown Foundation CEM Fellowship gives the Symphony the opportunity to send more musicians out into the orchestra world with a passion to continue to do community engagement work, while giving the Shepherd School the opportunity to mold truly complete musicians, fully prepared with all of the skills demanded of a full-time musician in an American orchestra.

About the Houston Symphony
During the 2020–21 Season, the Houston Symphony celebrates its seventh season with Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada and continues its second century as one of America’s leading orchestras with a full complement of concert, community, education, touring, and recording activities. The Houston Symphony, one of the oldest performing arts organizations in Texas, held its inaugural performance at The Majestic Theater in downtown on Houston June 21, 1913. Today, with an annual operating budget of $25.8 million, the full-time ensemble of 88 professional musicians presents nearly 170 concerts annually, making it the largest performing arts organization in Houston. Additionally, musicians of the orchestra and the Symphony’s two Community-Embedded Musicians offer over 1,000 community-based performances each year at various schools, community centers, hospitals, and churches reaching more than 200,000 people in Greater Houston annually.

In March 2020, local and state government mandates dictated a full closure of the Houston Symphony’s activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the cancelation of 219 events in the 2019–20 season. The Symphony resumed activities in May 2020, opening the 2021–22 season on schedule in September 2021 with small audiences of 150, which the Symphony was gradually able to increase to its current COVID capacity of 450 audience members per performance. Due to the financial impact of the canceled 2019–20 season events, plus the reduction of sales capacity due to audience social distancing in 2020–21, the Symphony cut expenses, reducing the annual budget from $35.2 million in 2019–20 to $25.8 million in 2020-21. The Houston Symphony’s Education and Community Engagement team continues to fulfill its mission through creative and virtual means throughout this period.

The Grammy Award-winning Houston Symphony has recorded under various prestigious labels, including Koch International Classics, Naxos, RCA Red Seal, Telarc, Virgin Classics, and, most recently, Dutch recording label Pentatone. In 2017, the Houston Symphony was awarded an ECHO Klassik award for the live recording of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck under the direction of former Music Director Hans Graf. The orchestra earned its first Grammy nomination and Grammy Award at the 60th annual ceremony for the same recording in the Best Opera Recording category.

About the Rice University Shepherd School of Music
Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music cultivates the mastery of musical performance, combining a conservatory experience with the educational opportunities of a leading research university. Guided by the belief that talent manifests along unique paths, the Shepherd School limits its student body to 290 uniquely gifted young musicians. The School gives each music major access to world class teachers—all accomplished artists in their own right—dedicated to cultivating talent and professional success. The faculty is known for their individualized instruction and for equipping musicians with the skills and experience necessary to develop their own esteemed careers.

The Shepherd School’s alumni include Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winners. They have debuted at Carnegie Hall, appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera, and hold positions in orchestras and chamber music groups around the country and the globe. In just over four decades the Shepherd School has become a leading international music school, making it both one of the youngest and one of the most prestigious university-level programs in the country.

Eric Skelly: 713.337.8560,
Mireya Reyna: 713.337.8557,

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