After the Storm: Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Symphony

Houston has weathered many storms, but Hurricane Harvey was unprecedented. Catastrophic flooding shut down our city for over a week, and many areas are still struggling to return to normal. Houston’s Theater District was not exempt; our home, Jones Hall, was fortunately spared the worst of the flooding, although it still suffered significant damage. While the stage and auditorium were fortunately untouched, underground areas including the courtyard level entrance and restrooms, administrative offices and the rehearsal room required repairs.

Musicians perform for evacuees and first responders at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Musicians perform for evacuees and first responders at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

It wasn’t just Jones Hall that sustained damage, however; 14 Houston Symphony musicians and staff were personally affected by the flooding. This didn’t stop them from jumping in to help our city cope. In the aftermath of the storm, over 25 musicians of the orchestra quickly assembled to play at shelters throughout Houston, giving 20 performances over the course of nine days. A number of these musicians were affected by the storm themselves. In the words of Principal Cellist Brinton Smith, “In many cities, such extraordinary selflessness might make them unusual. In our city, it makes them typical.”

Smith also described the experience of playing at the George R. Brown Convention Center: “As we were finishing a performance, one of the volunteers asked us to come play for an evacuee who was blind and alone, and had been unable to calm down for days since being brought to the shelter. Seeing her reaction to hearing a Mozart string quartet reminded me that music connects our hearts and minds in a way words never can.”

Eric Larson (double bass) and his wife, Melissa McCrimmon, help clean up at the home of Matthew Strauss (percussion).

Eric Larson (double bass) and his wife, Melissa McCrimmon, help clean up at the home of Matthew Strauss (percussion).

Musicians and staff were eager to help not only the community, but also each other. Joel James, the Houston Symphony’s Senior Human Resources Manager, quickly connected musicians and staff in need with others who wanted to help. “We made it through the storm just fine, so we really wanted to get out and help others,” said Melanie O’Neill, the Houston Symphony’s Publications Designer. Melanie joined other staff members at the home of Principal Trombonist Allen Barnhill, whose home was flooded. “We ripped out the dry wall and trim boards. Despite the situation, it was nice to see everyone in good spirits while working together,” Melanie said. The Symphony also started an Employee Relief Fund, which thanks to the generosity of our community will provide much needed support to those affected.

Once the waters began to subside, our musicians were eager to bring orchestral music back to Houston as soon as possible. Thanks to our friends at Rice University and the University of Houston, we were able to present four different programs at the Shepherd School of Music and the Cullen Performance Hall last month. Most of all, we have been so thankful for you, our audience. Your support has helped us through this difficult time, and without you, there would be no music. As we complete repairs to Jones Hall and to our own homes, you can be a part of our recovery by making donations to our annual fund and our Employee Relief Fund. As Brinton Smith said, “There is nothing that makes us prouder than to be Houstonians—to be your musicians, playing for you in an orchestra built by, and for, the extraordinary, generous and compassionate people of Houston. Thank you.”

To donate, visit www.houstonsymphony.org/donate.

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