Inside the Houston Symphony

Taking you behind the music–one concert at a time!

Posts Tagged ‘music

Epic Win: A geek girl’s desperate journey to Distant Worlds

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Let me preface this by stating, on the record, that I am a proud geek.

I will not argue the semantics of labeling myself a “geek” versus a “nerd”, though those among both ranks and in between will say that there is a difference between the two. There is, and I am certain that I fall into the Geekus Maximus species. I could write a whole blog on origins of both terms and their overlapping similarities and stark differences, but that would be digressing. I also will not delve into inaccurate and annoying stereotypes of geeks and nerds perpetuated by the media. Just know that I am not a balding man living in my parents’ basement, and my diet consists of more than just Mountain Dew and microwave mini pizzas. I don’t even drink sodas.

The point is, I am a geek, and when I found out that the Houston Symphony would be presenting Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY, I knew that come Hell, high water, Ragnarok, or the second coming of Cthulu, I would not miss this concert. There would be an even more devastating event, however, that would seek to thwart my attendance to the concert I had been longing to see since Dear Friends – Music from Final Fantasy began its North American tour in 2004. But that’s skipping ahead.

A bit of my geek history: I’ve been a gamer since I was a wee lass of about 6 or 7, weaned on the Nintendo and SNES, raised on the Sega Genesis, and went on to big girl games on the Playstation. Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, was my first RPG (Role-playing game, for you non-gamers. Think of it as a very involved adventure game. And by involved, I mean 30+ hours of blood, sweat, and thumb blisters to reach completion.) I think FFVII was my first long-term, committed relationship. As I was limited to playing video games only on weekends by my parents, it took me about 5 or so months worth of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays to complete it. At the end, I had logged a total of 72 hours and 56 minutes. I had never devoted that much time, focus, and love to anything in my mere 12 years of life. I wept openly as the ending sequence played and the credits rolled. It was about as moving as watching the earth give birth to the sun at dawn.

It wasn’t just the amazing graphics (Well, amazing for that era of video games.), rich story, and enthralling characters that had drawn me into FFVII and the following titles, but the music as well. Even at the age of 12, there was something about the melodic, emotion-inspiring, soul-touching soundtrack that spoke to my spirit in a way that the Spice Girls and N’Sync could not. Now that I think of it, playing Final Fantasy VII was probably the catalyst for my love of instrumental music. In 1997, people did not so flippantly use their credit card online as we do today, and eBay was a new and exciting marketplace, though not yet as popular or trusted. I begged my parents to let me purchase the four disc Final Fantasy VII soundtrack, imported by a Japanese seller. It was weeks before it arrived. I cried when it did, and proceeded to listen to nothing else for the next month or so.

Fast forward 12 years to Fall 2009 when over a meal of quesadillas at Chuy’s on Westheimer with coworkers, my boss told me that he was considering lining up a Final Fantasy concert for one of the 2010 summer specials. He asked me, as a fan, if I thought such a concert would garner enough interest to be profitable and if people would come. My response, after a squeal of ecstatic delight and some sputtering was a resounding “Hell yes” or some more cruder variant of. Final Fantasy fans are rabid and faithful and being that there had been a limited number of US venues on the Dear Friends and Distant Worlds tours, especially in the south, I knew that such an event would bring flocks of fervent Final Fantasy fans from Texas and beyond to Jones Hall. My boss took my words to heart, and I like to believe I had a hand in bringing Distant Worlds to Houston. The concert, which would include a meet and greet with THE Nobuo Uematsu, renowned Final Fantasy composer and a pioneer in game music, was formally announced and booked for July 24. Two and a half months before the date, I already had my tickets and was counting down the days. My geeky soul could know no greater elation.

And two months before the date, it would know no greater pain. Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana had to have had a personal vendetta against me. I don’t know why, as I had only visited the campus once on the day my little brother began college there four years ago, and had never wished any ill will or gruesome deaths on its students or faculty. All the same, BSU decided to schedule its summer commencement ceremony on July 24 at 10 AM. The very same date as Distant Worlds. MY concert. I had never loathed an institution of higher learning before, but at that moment, I called BSU every depraved, lewd, inappropriate, and nonsensical slur I could think of.

Forced with the decision of missing out on the concert of a lifetime and attending my beloved little brother’s graduation, or possibly suffering banishment from my family and skipping out on his ceremonies to attend Distant Worlds, I was in a conundrum. A bad one. I admit to shedding tears in frustration a few times. My coworkers, knowing my ardent love and unbound excitement for the concert, encouraged me to try to make both work. With 9 hours in between graduation and concert, there had to be some way I could be both doting, dutiful sister and fanatic geek girl.

I managed to book a flight that would arrive in Houston at 6 pm on the 24th. My friend, just as devoted a fan as I (and who I owe so many cookies and hugs to), would pick me up and we would have plenty of time to make it from Hobby airport to Jones Hall for the 7:30 pm start time. There was little room for error and delay, but it would work.

In theory. I must have jinxed myself. Or pissed someone off in a previous life.

The first blow came two days before, when my shuttle bus from Muncie, IN (a good hour away from the Indianapolis airport) was canceled. Or filled. I don’t know, but it just didn’t exist anymore. My parents, already upset that I was “putting a stupid video game concert before family” (Oh, the blasphemy! I cringe at having to type the very words!), refused to rush away from my brother’s ceremonies to see me to the airport. It was by the kind grace of an obscure uncle I hadn’t talked to in at least 8 years that I was able to procure a ride that very morning after the graduation to Indianapolis International. I made my first flight to Chicago with an hour until my next that would take me to Hobby. I was halfway there!

The second twist of the knife came at 3:30, when the plane for my 3:20 flight had still not yet arrived. Boarding would not start until 4. At 6:45, the plane was just beginning its descent into Houston. I probably freaked out the older woman and man I sat between with my nervous twitching, sweating, and muttered curses. Would my friend still be at the airport?! Would I make the concert?! There would be late seating, but I knew they were playing Prelude first, one of my favorite pieces. I would weep openly like many babies if I missed it.

Ever dutiful to me and our shared geekery, my friend, who had been circling Hobby airport for nearly an hour, was still there waiting for me. I tossed my bags into the backseat and did a flying leap into the front. It was 7:08 by the time we got on I-45, which inexplicably was backed up with traffic (On a Saturday evening?! Por que, Houston?!). My coworkers and a friend who had come to see the concert from Louisiana were texting me: “Where are you?!” “They’ve started seating!” “You can make it! Go go!”

At 7:30, we were parked and literally running through the parking garage. We bolted, panting with labored breaths, sweating, up three flights of stairs and ran across Louisiana Street. We shoved our tickets at the ushers. Beyond them, I could see the doors to the hall being closed, slowly and threateningly. Melissa and another coworker saw us and were gesturing frantically. Everything moved in slow motion. I did not breathe and my heart did not beat. Dancing Mad was on repeat in my head.

We literally passed through the door into the hall just as they were closing up for the concert. It was a photo-freakin’-finish, but we made it.

Natalie and her friend Kerry at the post-concert meet and greet with Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth

In the end, I heard the entire concert, from the harp-lead, graceful Prelude to the operatic, thundering One-Winged Angel, a fan favorite encore that had the entire crowd brimming with a nerdy energy that was thick and tangible in the air. I attended the Q&A session and the meet and greet after. Composer Nobuo Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth already knew of me and my desperate journey to get to Houston, as our magazine editor, Jessica, had told them about my devotion to Distant Worlds earlier during rehearsal. She even got them to sign a magazine for me wishing me happy birthday.

I was delirious with contented bliss and general weariness from moving since 7:15 am when I went to bed that night, my headphones on with my newly purchased and signed CD cradled lovingly to my chest. Aerith’s Theme lulled me into much needed sleep as I reflected on how I never imagined I would make that night work. But I did, and it was the best night any geek girl could ever ask for.

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Written by Natalie

July 28, 2010 at 8:58 am

Confessions of a gulit-ridden classical music lover

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Dear Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Stravinsky and all of the other great composer “Gods”:

I come to you a musical sinner. It has been … er… a while since my last confession.  I have sinned because I have listened to a variety of Top 40 radio stations every day for a really long time, and, well, um … I really like it.  I know, I know … I’m supposed to listen to NPR and know every symphony and opera and concerto ever performed on the face of the planet.  But I don’t because I’m too busy listening to today’s top hits.  I’m sorry … I guess.

But you have to understand, I just can’t tear myself away from it!  I have fond memories of rocking out to No Doubt as a teenager.  My husband and I happen to love the newest Ludacris album — those beats! Those rhymes!  Lady Antebellum, it is a quarter after one and I really do need you now!  It is a bad romance and you shouldn’t be plagued by the Papa-paparazzi Lady Gaga!

… Sorry … what was I saying?  Oh yes …

Surely you can understand why I’m torn.  I like to think that I’m just a harmless rebel.  I can have my classical music cake and eat it too, just with a decadent layer of modern pop/rap/country/techno goodness on top.  I promise, I love classical music and it is definitely part of my soul.  I guess I just can’t be completely faithful to the genre.  And really, is that a bad thing?  You were a bit of a rebel yourself, Stravinksy. And Mozart, you were kind of like the Jonas brother of your day, with your child prodigy-ness.  Right?

OK, so all I am saying, oh composer “Gods”, is that I like all music.  I can’t help it.  Generally music helps me to express myself a whole lot better than words can.  Sometimes I’m in the mood to listen to a Rachmaninov piano concerto, while other times I’m more in the mood to dance in my car to the newest Beyonce hit.  Does that really make me a musical sinner?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  Hopefully, you all see my argument and can understand.  If not, I guess I will just be forced to go listen to rehearsal as “penance”.

Ha!  As if that is really a punishment … looks like the joke is on you!

Sincerely,
One slightly-guilt-ridden classical music lover

Written by Meredith Williams

May 14, 2010 at 9:41 am

Taking it on the road

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We’d like to introduce you all to Meredith Williams–the first of our Symphony staffer bloggers! Meredith is still considered a newbie (as many of us are by comparison–you wouldn’t believe how many people have been here 10, 20, even 25+ years!), and is the assistant to our general manager. She’s been the go-to gal for everything related to this week’s tour to New York City and Florida, and wanted to share a little bit with you all about the planning that went into it.

Surely everyone in Houston felt the excitement that radiated from Jones Hall this weekend!  It was difficult to not get pumped about the Planets concert series.  I’ve only worked here at the Houston Symphony for 10 months, and I cannot recall a single day when the Operations and Production staff has not discussed or worked on The Planets – An HD Odyssey.  It amazes me that for some members of our staff, this weekend was the culmination of years of dedication and work.  Despite our successful weekend, our department has not quite celebrated – we aren’t done yet.  In case you had not heard, we’re taking it on the road.

As I mentioned, I’ve only been a staff member a short period of time.  In this brief period, I have had two major projects.  The first was to schedule ground transportation for the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela back in April. (Why is that a major project, you ask?  Well, that is a story for another blog…) The second project, and what I have considered my baby for the past seven months, is this tour.

In June I found out that I was to be the “Unofficial Tour Travel Agent and Schedule Coordinator.” Since then, I have booked 150+ flight reservations, over 200 hotel rooms, and 30 buses to accommodate all of the musicians, staff and guests that will be traveling between Houston, New York and Florida.  On the surface, booking travel arrangements is not a huge project, until you realize just how many people and details are involved.  I’ve had many hurdles and obstacles since I landed in the post of unofficial tour travel agent.  There were days (like the day we realized the Pro Bowl is in South Florida the same weekend we are in South Florida) that I wanted to pull out my hair and scream “REALLY?!?” at the top of my lungs.  However, I’m not whining.  In fact, as I sit here in my little cubicle under the stage of Jones Hall, I am quite happy to know that I played a part in helping the Houston Symphony (literally) get to New York and Florida.

The weekend was amazing, but the excitement is not over.  The orchestra officially left this morning to fly to New York and perform on that great stage known as Carnegie Hall.  Then, they’re flying to the sunny shores of Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to play for NASA’s Cape Canaveral neighbors.  I wish I could see it in person, but I know that this tour will be a huge success and will make Houston proud.

You didn’t think we were going to leave you hanging, did you? Violinist Kiju Joh, Assistant Conductor/American Conducting Fellow Brett Mitchell and others are going to be blogging from the tour—so keep an eye out to read the latest updates!

Written by Meredith Williams

January 27, 2010 at 11:41 am

Houston, we have lift off!

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It’s a very exciting time for everyone here at Houston Symphony. Not only is today the World Premiere of The Planets—An HD Odyssey, but we’ve just announced the 2010-2011 season! In the spirit of sharing, we thought it was time to bring our fans a bit closer and give you an inside look into the day-to-day happenings here at Houston Symphony (for instance: did you know that Hans Graf’s baton has just returned from space in time to conduct The Planets?). In addition to our talented conductors, musicians and chorus, there is a dedicated and hardworking staff behind-the-scenes that make all of your favorite concerts come to life.

I’d like to officially kick off the newest Houston Symphony endeavor—the Inside the Houston Symphony blog—where you’ll be able to read first-hand accounts from all of us here at Jones Hall—musicians and conductors included! From concert fun facts to the stories behind the music, we hope you’ll learn a little something with us, too. As I have a music background and have worked in the Symphony industry for a long while, I am very excited to be a part of this organization at a time when there is so much to look forward to. Please take the time as well to check out our newly launched Web site, and to download the free Houston Symphony iPhone App. Those are two of your best sources for staying up-to-date with your Houston Symphony.

I’d like to end my first blog with a heartfelt thank you for all your support of the Houston Symphony. I hope to see you all at Jones Hall soon!

Best wishes,
Dick Hoffert
Interim Executive Director/CEO

Written by Dick H.

January 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm