Since 2008, it has been my privilege to play with ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra) in Houston, Texas. I love our audiences, our commitment to commissioning and premiering new music, our fearless spirit, and the experience of making music in rehearsals and performances with the other musicians in this extraordinary group. I have great respect for my ROCO colleagues, both as human beings and musicians, and I’m a better person for being a part of this organization.
It isn’t just about the musicians: The administrative team works harder and does more than any of the performers in the group will ever know. They consistently go above and beyond to make sure our needs are met before we have time to realize what those needs might be.
The relentless dedication of our leadership team has never been more evident than during the pandemic. Up against seemingly insurmountable odds, they have worked tirelessly to make it possible for us to carry on, providing much-needed work for our musicians, and live-streamed performances for world-wide audiences.
In mid-March, 2020, in response to the pandemic, the wise call was made to cancel the remainder of last season. There was so much we didn’t know about the virus, and everything we did know at the time made it clear that the best thing any of us could do was to stay at home. But by mid-summer, plans were in place for us to resume our new season in September as scheduled, in ways that were both familiar and new.
The new part of the experience includes COVID testing, wearing masks, and social distancing. We are all required to be tested no later than 48 hours prior to our first rehearsal. Everyone is nervous about this test, because no one wants to be responsible for creating an obstacle, or even shutting things down. So far, we have been fortunate that no one has tested positive this season. Our temperatures are taken prior to each rehearsal. We all sit a minimum of six feet apart from one another. This can feel strange for musicians but it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to play together again. The strings, percussionists, and our pianist are required to wear masks at all times. Wind and brass players are masked except while playing and we have puppy pads beneath our instruments to capture any condensation that leaks from our instruments. The staff disinfects everything that will be still long enough to be disinfected: In September I sat in one of the flutist’s chairs to go over a passage with a colleague. As soon as I stood up, someone was there to wipe down the chair because someone other than the flutist had sat down in it. No stone is left unturned.
The familiar part is the rehearsal schedule (with lengthened breaks to allow time for fresh air to circulate) and the practice of live-streaming our concerts, which we’ve been doing for several years. All the cameras and recording equipment have been a familiar presence for a long time. Of course, it is surreal to perform to an empty hall, and we miss our live audiences terribly. But each time we meet, we are thrilled to be able to make music together.
I hope you’ll be able to join us for our concert this weekend. As always, if you already have plans you can visit the Listening Room at www.rocohouston.org to hear all our performances. Here’s the press release for Saturday’s performance:
Join us online for ROCO In Concert: Shadows this Saturday, February 27th at 5:00 pm Central, livestreaming from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion presented by Huntsman—featuring the full 40-piece chamber orchestra in works exploring the musical interplay of light and dark!
ROCO’s principal winds spotlight in the world premiere of Alyssa Morris‘ Tlapalli Tlahuilli, based on the children’s book “Musicians of the Sun”—a retelling of an Aztec tale detailing how the world received its sound and color—narrated by members of the Calmecac Indigenous Arts Organization.
Led by conductor Ward Stare in his ROCO debut, Patrick Harlin’s dynamic Shadow Dancer, Franz Joseph Haydn’s joyous Symphony No. 101, “The Clock”, and Luigi Dallapiccola’s Baroque-inspired work Tartiniana Seconda, featuring violinist Maureen Nelson, complete the evening.
“Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.