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Monthly Archives: March 2011
Why is music relevant? For the past couple of weeks, we have been putting together the components for our new in-hall campaign called A Million Reasons to Give, and this question is really at the heart of everything. The question is easy for me. I don’t have a biased opinion just because I work for the Symphony. My life and who I am is a result of strong musical influence in my life.
My musical journey began in Tiny Tots choir at my church years ago. I won’t bore you with the details here, but I can tell you during my time in that choir, I was more concerned with the pretty white bows in my hair and making sure my white gloves didn’t get dirty. Reflecting on that experience now, I distinctly remember singing in the choir opened the door for the opportunity to visit new places in the greater Houston area and experience things that I otherwise would not have experienced.
My realization of my love for music actually happened in the sixth grade and particularly the eighth grade at Lanier Middle School. I had the privilege to study under two choir teachers whose passion for music and children radiated from their personality. They made music so much fun and extremely intellectual. They challenged our impressionable minds by learning difficult music, and encouraged us to be disciplined and serious singers. I loved every minute of it!
I am sure that if we all sit and think about it, music is an influence on each of our lives. There is a reason that we choose to visit the Symphony 6, 9, 18 or more times a year. There is a reason why we have listened to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or Carmina Burana a billion times in our lifetime, and each time we listen to it, the chills are still there. Music is a part of us. The experience of watching live music—50 plus violins going to town on their instrument— is so thrilling.
For some of you who don’t know, the Houston Endowment has issued the Houston Symphony a challenge. The Houston Endowment has challenged the Symphony to increase our annual fund contributions to $8 million and our donor base to 4,000 by May 31. If so, the Endowment will give us $1 million.
Hence, we created A Million Reasons to Give. We would love the $1 million from the Houston Endowment so that we can continue to be an impact in the community and ultimately make you proud to be a part of the Symphony family.
This should definitely be a carefully thought out decision for you. As you consider giving to the symphony, think of some of the many reasons how the Symphony has impacted you and this community. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- #238: Scores of Community Connection concerts bring free performances to 22,000 people throughout the city each year
- # 623: The Instrument Petting Zoo gives more than 3,000 youngsters their first touch of an instrument…and it’s fun!
- #73,340: Our music education activities help bridge the budget-driven gap in school art programs
- #333,920: Our music stirs the soul
We want you to be inspired and have fun in your giving too. To encourage the spirit of giving, we have set up some meet-and-greets post concert during select performances throughout the remainder of the season. All you have to do is donate $25, and we’ll invite you to stick around after the concert to get to know us a little better. If you decide that you want to give online before you attend the performance one of those weekends, you can still join in on the fun. Just print your receipt and bring it with you when you come to the show.
I have given to the annual fund, I hope you will too – thanks a million!
Way back in August our Principal Cello, Brinton Smith, sent me a link to the Cervantes Collection at Texas A&M University Libraries, which houses one of the largest collections of Don Quixote iconography in the world. Brinton thought the Cervantes Collection would be a good starting point for the Sound Plus Vision element of this weekend’s concert, Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote. Since it’s coming up, I thought I’d give all of you the scoop on how that e-mail from Brinton turned into something you will experience at the concert!
You might already know that our Sound Plus Vision concerts combine live music with elements such as concert video, dialogue, visual images or special lighting. Adding elements to orchestral works is always a sticky situation because there is such a fine line between enhancing the music and distracting from it! Plus, a lot of people feel that the music should stand alone as an artistic statement. I agree that some compositions should be left alone – Adding extras to a Mahler or Brahms symphony, for example, would be like putting extra paint on the Mona Lisa!
But in the case of Don Quixote, Strauss himself truly meant for the music to evoke images in your mind. Most obviously, there is the fact that Strauss based his composition on the first (and perhaps most famous) novel of all time, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But that’s not all: In the score for the two-piano arrangement of Don Quixote, Strauss included titles that describe which parts of Cervantes’ tale are told throughout the work.
Which brings me (finally!) to our idea for your concert enhancement pleasure: Show each title on our in-hall screens, followed by an image that corresponds with what part of the story the orchestra is telling through the music. Seems easy, right? Well, easier said than done! Luckily, I was able to receive some incredibly generous assistance from Dr. Eduardo Urbina, curator of the Cervantes Project (and one of the world’s leading Cervantes scholars). Dr. Urbina and his team selected several image options for each variation. That’s no small feat, considering that the Cervantes Project houses thousands of illustrations taken from Don Quixote editions dating from the very first 17th century printings and beyond! Add to that the need for images that would show up well on the screens (sadly, we had to pass on some beautiful 17th century line drawings), and Dr. Urbina definitely had his work cut out for him.
While he was hard at work, I compiled a list of every variation title that I could find – our goal was to create concise titles as close to Strauss’ originals as possible. Next, I marked a score for our video team, so they knew when each image and title should be shown during the performance. This involves many, many multicolored post-its, to make sure every title and image matches exactly with what the orchestra is playing at any given moment – our video team follows along with the score, and manually changes each slide at the corresponding post-it. After that, I created the PowerPoint presentation that you will see at the concert. Finally, after many meetings, revisions, and test runs, Brinton’s e-mail blossomed into reality!
In all, there are fourteen sections that describe fourteen parts of the story. The solo cello (played by Brinton Smith, HS Principal Cello) becomes Don Quixote, and the solo viola (played by Wayne Brooks, HS Principal Viola) is Don Quixote’s faithful companion Sancho Panza. From the moment Don Quixote decides to become a knight-errant after reading books on chivalry, to the iconic adventure at the windmills and battles with the sheep, to the very end when Don Quixote returns home to die in peace, Strauss vividly spins Cervantes’ tale using the orchestra in interesting, clever ways. Listen for the bleating sheep in Variation II, the conversations between Don Quixote and Sancho in Variation III, and the tremolo in the double basses in Variation VII that lets you know Don Quixote, while flying through the air in his addled mind, has never actually left the ground.
I hope that Strauss would be happy with what I think we’ve accomplished: A new way to extend the jumping-off point for our imaginations, through illustrations that enhance the music. And I hope that you enjoy tagging along on the adventures with Don Quixote and your Houston Symphony!
To view the Cervantes Project photos and their sources, which were featured during the concert “Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote,” please click here.