The Houston Symphony gave its first concert last night since the Harvey disaster, away from the flooded theatre zone, in a university hall.
Before the conductor came on stage, principal cellist Brinton Smith addressed the audience:
‘Good Evening, On behalf of my fellow musicians and all of us at the Houston Symphony, let me start by saying how unbelievably happy we are to be back again with all of you. To those of you in the audience and throughout the city who have had their lives turned upside down by this historic storm, you have our deepest sympathies. And beyond all of the personal losses, the storm also disrupted so much of the rhythm and life of our city, so we owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob Yekovich and our friends at the Shepherd School of Music for allowing us to be here for the next three weeks, to begin to bring beautiful music back to Houston.
During the long weeks of waiting, we have been organizing groups of volunteer musicians to play for our homeless and displaced citizens at the evacuation shelters. This has been a powerful and moving experience for us; being able to connect personally with Houstonians in their time of need, and seeing the power of music to transport people away from their troubles and remind them that beauty will return to their lives.
As we were finishing a performance at the Brown convention center, 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.
Like the city we represent, 12 of our own musicians had serious flooding, some of them losing everything. But some of these musicians, even after losing almost all their own possessions, still volunteered to go perform for others. In many cities, such extraordinary selflessness might make them unusual. In our city, it makes them typical. Among the many worthy causes that so many have supported so generously, we also have a musicians emergency fund for those musicians onstage suffering great losses, we believe strongly in the Mayor Turner and Judge Emmet’s relief fund for general relief, and we also deeply appreciate support of our symphony’s annual fund.
We chose to make these concerts free because we want to bring beauty back to everyone in our city, but we, too, will need help rebuilding. So many in our city lost so much, some of which can never be replaced. But we found something too, something about our city that I think we sensed, but maybe never fully realized before. This is a special place. There is nothing special about the swampy heat, the traffic, or the mosquitos, but there is something very special about our people. In a city with deep traditions, full of people from every nation and every walk of life, you might expect the dividing lines of our nation to be seen most clearly here. But instead we are united by the unyielding and unbreakable kindness, humanity and compassion of our fellow Houstonians.
We are sometimes told that Houston is a microcosm of what American will be in 30 years. May we be so lucky… Disaster can take many of the things we hold dear from us, but loss also refocuses our attention on what is most important. We enter life with nothing, we leave life with nothing, and looking back, the moments that mattered most are the ones we shared, the moments in which we connected.
We hope that the beautiful, powerful and hopeful music we play tonight will free you from the stress of this past month and help connect you with the immortal beauty in our shared humanity. Like our citizens, the musicians of your Houston Symphony come from around the country and around the world. We love what we do and we’re proud to be musicians, but tonight, 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 and enjoy the concert.