A New Heart for the New Year


Waltrip band students play to raise money for a classmate’s heart transplant.

At the Houston Symphony, we are always amazed by the kids that we work with through our education and community programs, but sometimes we encounter something so remarkable it takes our breath away. Through our new residency program at Waltrip High School, we recently learned of one story of the power of music to unite a community that we feel compelled to share.

“I’m just a simple high school student who likes being in band, playing percussion instruments” said Jose Tovar – a 15 year-old student at Waltrip High School. “Oh and something else,” Jose continued, “I have a heart problem, but that doesn’t really bother me since I am with the band. They have been like a real family since the first day I walked in. They have always been there for me when I needed help most.”

By Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29525846

Jose Tovar was diagnosed with a complete atrioventricular canal defect.

Now is definitely one of those times. Jose suffers from a complete atrioventricular canal defect. That basically means that there is a big hole in his heart that allows blood from different chambers to mix. A healthy human heart has chambers that separate oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to maximize effeciency. When oxygenated and deoxygenated blood mix, the heart has to work extra hard to try to get the same amount of oxygen out to the body so that it can function. This leads to a number of complications, including hypertension and ultimately heart failure.

After four surgeries, doctors have determined that Jose urgently needs a heart transplant. Unfortunately, heart transplants are prohibitively expensive. Jose’s family is looking at a bill for half a million dollars.

Fortunately for Jose, he’s in the band. As he told us, “If you want extra brothers and sisters, come here to the Waltrip Ram Band and trust me, you won’t turn back.” The Waltrip Ram Band has taken Jose’s diagnosis as a call to action. Band members are currently fundraising in every way they can imagine to help the Tovar family raise $500,000 for the heart transplant.

“I’ve been a part of few occasions where I have seen the power of this community come together so fast and so strong to make things happen,” said Waltrip High School band director, Jesse Espinosa. “I’m hoping this community can do the same for Jose Tovar. We need a miracle—Jose deserves it.”

“What inspires me to fundraise for Jose,” says classmate Jose Del Campo, “is the fact that even through his darkest moments, he manages to push forward and have the will to live. When Jose isn’t there, it feels as though a familiar and warm positivity that is usually living here is gone.” Another classmate of Jose’s, Teresa Landeros said “You hear stories like this every day, but when it’s one of your own people, it hurts to see them suffer such great pain. I miss his fun, spirited personality.”


“If you want extra brothers and sisters, come here to the Waltrip Ram Band and trust me, you won’t turn back.” –Jose Tovar

When the Waltrip Ram Band performs—whether on the marching field, at City Hall or in concert—music clearly means so much more to these students than notes on the page—it’s about connecting with each other. “The Waltrip Ram Band is home and that’s where Jose belongs, with his family and friends, who care for him” says classmate Gissel Gomez. “That’s what motivates me to not only fund raise, but to also try my best in anything and everything I do with the band.”

The Houston Symphony has gotten to know the Watrip Ram Band pretty well over the years. We first partnered with the school in 2010, and the Waltrip Band was recently selected as one of this year’s High School Residencies presented by Occidental Petroleum. Our musicians have made regular visits to the school to help students take their music-making to the next level, and Waltrip band students regularly attend Houston Symphony concerts, perform in the lobby of Jones Hall, volunteer in the instrument petting zoo and attend rehearsals and masterclasses. In September, twenty-eight students from the Waltrip band even played traditional Peruvian instruments as part of the Houston Symphony’s Fiesta Sinfonica concert at Jones Hall, conducted by our Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada.

Our musicians are constantly inspired by the incredible students and overall culture at Waltrip High School. After a few moments of interacting with students from this school, their radiant passion, hard-work and drive is evident.

To help the Waltrip Ram Band family and Jose Tovar, visit Jose’s GoFundMe page. Sharing this blog post or the GoFundMe link goes a long way.

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Fire Survivors Get New Violins

Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Tony Parce tunes up Hadas'sah Sims' new violin.

Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Anthony Parce tunes up Hadas’sah Sims’ new violin.

It’s easy to take having a place to call home for granted.

“I never envisioned college graduation from the University of Houston with honors, marriage, children, and living in a homeless shelter,” wrote Nakia Sims, the mother of two beginning Suzuki Violin students, Azania and Hadas’sah.

When the Sims family lost their home in a fire this past summer, they lost everything. Nevertheless, Nakia was determined “to keep as much of a routine, academic rigor, music appreciation, and family fun in my daughters’ lives.”

Azania and Hadas’sah were both enrolled in the Suzuki program at the Mandarin Immersion Magnet School, and they quickly took to the violin. “Azania is extremely shy unless she’s dancing or playing the violin. When Azania plays violin, dances or flips into splits she is happy….Hadas’sah loved teaching me to play twinkle twinkle,” says Nakia.

But even before the fire, a limited supply of school violins and family resources meant that Azania and Hadas’sah didn’t have violins they could take home to practice.

Then Houston Symphony Community Embedded Musician Anthony Parce met this family while performing at a Salvation Army event. When he shared their story with other Houston Symphony staff, we were determined to help. Through our partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, we invited the Sims family to attend our Family Concerts, and even gave them a backstage tour. “It was like magic watching my daughters get excited about attending violin class after the Houston Symphony’s dynamic team gave them a tour,” Nakia said.


From left to right: Kenneth Gayle, Program Director, Music Doing Good with Instruments; Hadas’sah Sims; Marie Taylor Bosarge, President and Founder, Music Doing Good; Azania Sims; and Nakia Sims.

At our 12 Days of Christmas Family Concert on December 3, we decided to give them a special surprise with the help of our friends at Music Doing Good.

Music Doing Good is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts organization committed to “Creating a world where we all live in concert.” Through their outreach programs—In Schools, With Instruments and With Scholarships—Music Doing Good brings music to children in Houston who would otherwise not have access.

Houston Symphony Education and Community Programming managers Emily Nelson and Joshua Dada realized that the Sims sisters would be perfect candidates to receive instruments from the Music Doing Good with Instruments program. At our December 3 concert, Music Doing Good was able to present Azania and Hadas’sah with new violins of their own so that they can continue to pursue their love of music.

This is just one example of how the Houston Symphony is partnering with other non-profits to maximize our impact in the Greater Houston community. You can help make more stories like this possible by supporting our Community and Education programming here. Stay tuned for more news, and happy holidays!

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And the Winners Are…

This November we launched a contest on Facebook asking our subscribers to share their favorite guest soloist memories with us as part of Subscriber Appreciation Month. We received many wonderful responses, and we wanted to share the two winning memories with you here. Each of our winners will receive dinner for two at the Lancaster Hotel, located just across the street from Jones Hall.

At the Houston Symphony, we love our subscribers. These dedicated fans are our core audience, our biggest cheerleaders and our most enthusiastic advocates in the community. By buying ticket packages, subscribers save money and give us the revenue we need to bring great artists to Houston and maintain the highest standards of artistic excellence for our orchestra. They get to see more of the amazing artists and programs we present, discovering new music and relishing old favorites.

But the people who can best tell you why it’s great to be a Houston Symphony subscriber are our subscribers themselves.

Martin Fröst, clarinet

Martin Fröst, clarinet

Ruth Seubert Paige – Subscriber for 9 Seasons

According to our records, Ruth has been a Houston Symphony Classical Subscriber since 2009 and has also generously contributed to the Houston Symphony Annual Fund. In her memory, Ruth recalls clarinetist Martin Fröst’s 2015 performance of Copland’s Clarinet Concerto:

“I was so excited when I heard Martin Fröst was going to be here! My son is also a clarinetist and he introduced me to Fröst’s work a few years ago. I was hooked and when I saw he was to be here I was ecstatic! He did not disappoint in any way at all! Absolutely fantastic as I knew he would be. I appreciate our wonderful Houston Symphony so much….See you Sunday! Happy Thanksgiving!”


Chris Botti, trumpet

Chris Botti, trumpet

Cynthia Nelson – Subscriber for 27 Seasons

Cynthia Nelson has been both a Houston Symphony’s POPS subscriber and a generous donor since 1990! In her memory, she recounts the kindness of trumpet player Chris Botti:

“…It’s difficult to select one guest artist, but I remember Chris Botti making sure he met and had a special word with everyone in the Green Room. He stopped a shy young girl and gently had a conversation with her.”

Many thanks to the Lancaster Hotel for donating the prizes for this contest, and thank you to all of our subscribers for your support of our orchestra. Your commitment to the Houston Symphony helps bring great orchestral music to our whole community.

Do you have a great Symphony Story? Share your Symphony Story in the comments below!

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Houston Symphony Subscriber Says “Bravo!”

Every November, we like to let our subscribers know how much they mean to us. As part of Subscriber Appreciation Month, we reached out to longtime subscriber George John to ask him about his experiences with the Houston Symphony. Here’s what George had to say.

Calvin Dotsey: When did you first become interested in classical music? Was there a special family member, friend or teacher who introduced you to it?

George John: My elementary school had a music program, and I began to learn how to play cello in 3rd grade. I recall our teacher playing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, and watching on TV Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. The one that stood out most for me was his episode “Who is Gustav Mahler?” Perhaps this planted the initial seeds of my current 40+ years of love for the music of Gustav Mahler, in my estimation the greatest composer for symphony orchestra.

CD: When did you first attend a Houston Symphony concert? 

GJ: Early in my freshman year at Rice University in 1971, I learned of a special offer from the Houston Symphony, 20 concerts for $20.00! My roommate and I bought two subscriptions for $40.00 each with the intent of taking dates. It worked! Rice and University of Houston co-eds loved going to Jones Hall and hearing the Houston Symphony.

Hans Graf

Hans Graf served as the Houston Symphony’s Music Director from 2001 to 2013.

I was a subscriber on and off until Hans Graf’s performance of Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler. Many years earlier this was my favorite orchestral work. Hans Graf’s performance was perfect! I told my wife at the end of the performance, “I can now die a happy man.” More importantly, I became a subscriber again. An orchestra and conductor this great needed to be heard live!

CD: Do you have any other favorite Houston Symphony memories you would like to share?

Andrés Orozco-Estrada has served as the Houston Symphony's Music Director since 2014.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada has served as the Houston Symphony’s Music Director since 2014.

GJ: I have had so many great experiences with the Houston Symphony, it’s difficult to recount all of them. Early on with Lawrence Foster I was introduced to some of the greatest works of the 20th century. The highlight was Charles Ives’ Fourth Symphony. I can’t tell you how excited I was to learn that our new maestro intends to do a complete Ives Symphony cycle! Two live performances of Ives’ Fourth in one lifetime in the same city? How often does that happen?

Other great moments were Hans Graf’s performance of the Deryck Cooke completion of Mahler’s Tenth, and Frank Huang’s extraordinary performance of the Berg Violin Concerto. Another highlight was Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s interpretations of the Ives First and Second Symphonies, exceptional performances that deserve to be released on CD. Finally, the Houston Symphony’s multimedia collaboration with NASA  on the HD Odyssey series is a singularly unique, outstanding accomplishment.

CD: How has the Houston Symphony changed since you first began attending?

George John, Houston Symphony subscriber

George John, Houston Symphony subscriber

GJ: The Houston Symphony has evolved from a good orchestra to one of the truly greatest in the world. Seriously, there is no orchestra that I would prefer to hear. I urge you to buy a recording of the Dvorak Symphonies 6, 7, and 8. The Sixth is the most recent. This is a truly special recording. You will hear no better playing than on this release. It is such a pleasure to hear such a beautiful performance.

CD: What does the Houston Symphony mean to you?

A famous poet once remarked that music gives us our closest glimpse of heaven. The symphony orchestra is the apex of that vision. We Houstonians are blessed with a symphony unrivaled in the world. Those many standing ovations are justly deserved. BRAVO!

Thanks to all our subscribers! You make the music possible. Share your memories in the comments below!

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WWII Veteran shares his story with our cellist at Community Connections concert

Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet (left) talks with Mr. Darwin Harris (right) about his experiences in World War II.

Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet (left) talks with WWII veteran Darwin Harris (right).

We always look forward to honoring our country’s veterans each year. As we remember the armistice that ended World War I and all the sacrifices of our soldiers before and since, it’s important to reflect on how American soldiers have fought to make the world a better place. We were recently reminded of this by a chance encounter one of our musicians had with a WWII veteran at one of our Community Connections concerts.

Following a performance at Orchard Park at Southfork Senior Living in Pearland, one resident, Darwin Harris, struck up a conversation with Houston Symphony cellist Louis-Marie Fardet after hearing Fardet’s French accent and invited him back to his room to show him a medal he had received for his service in World War II. We learned that Harris, now 92 years old, is a WWII veteran who was drafted into the Navy at 18 and was aboard the USS Texas during the Normandy landings.

The medal he was awarded for his service on D-Day is in fact The French Order of the Legion of Honor, which is the highest French order for military and civil merits.

Fardet had this to share after meeting Mr. Harris:

legion of honor medal

The front and reverse of Harris’s medal of The French Order of the Legion of Honor

“While talking about the Normandy landing with Mr. Harris, it resonated like the kind of talks I would have with Robert Fardet, my grandfather, about that same period; he let German soldiers stay, sleep and eat in their modest house of Saint Philbert de Grand-lieu. And Robert had to quit his main job from Nantes but was locally solicited to be in charge of food supply for the German soldiers. When I hear about that history of 70 plus years ago from this unique, extraordinary person, everything feels connected and I realize Mr.  Harris’s involvement in WW2 is one of the reasons that my grandparents recovered their freedom and that I didn’t grow up speaking German!

Mr. Harris and fellow sailors aboard the USS Texas. Mr. Harris is third from the left (the tall one).

Mr. Harris and fellow sailors aboard the USS Texas. Mr. Harris is third from the left.

“This reminded me that, as a musician, it is my mission to connect people and the world with music. Music has, in our case, also helped Mr. Harris and myself (as a French/American citizen) to refresh our history, to honor memories of fallen soldiers, to remember always and tell over and over again the history from a very important part of our past.”

From all of us at the Houston Symphony, we wish you and all of our country’s veterans a happy Veterans Day!

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