From La Bamba to Wagner, the Houston Symphony makes sure Ripley House believes
What’s the secret to living to be 100 years old?
You probably need good genes, impeccable eating habits and a consistent exercise routine. But above all, most centenarians will tell you that the key to longevity is having a sense of purpose and an active social and family life. These things are essential to helping one feel young, alive and well.
The Houston Symphony, in 2013, will turn 100, a significant achievement in the journey of any organization. Aside from presenting concerts of the highest artistic quality, the ensemble’s sense of purpose is embedded in its activities outside Jones Hall.
To better serve the general public, the Houston Symphony often goes out into the community so that more people will have the chance to experience live classical music.
“Not everyone can make it to the hall," Roger Daily, director of the Symphony's education and community engagement program "Music Matters," says. “We take musicians into community centers, senior homes, children's hospitals and schools so audiences can experience great music-making in their neighborhood or place close to them. It’s our way to stay connected to our immediate community.”
The Sounds Like Fun! free series presents concerts at Grace Community Church, First United Methodist Church in Conroe, Stratford High School Playhouse, The Centrum in Spring, San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Kingwood Park High School in Kingwood, and Seven Lakes High School in Katy.
Ripley House Neighborhood Center, located in the Second Ward, has had a long and ongoing relationship with the Houston Symphony. The community center was one of the original destinations of the orchestra’s tour and, the organizations' relationship has continued for more than 20 years.
Opened in 1940, Ripley House was built from the ground up as a community center. In 2000, the building was torn down and rebuilt as its structural integrity and infrastructure became compromised by age.
“Before eighth grade began, I was about to drop out of school,” Felix Fraga, Ripley House VP of external affairs, says. “A lady there counseled me to stay in school; they gave me a job and I worked as staff after.”
Fraga practically grew up at Ripley House. The center’s program helped his parents take citizenship exams and sharpen their English skills in the '50s.
Today, it offers family health and wellness programs, leadership and community engagement initiatives, economic development classes, immigration and citizenship support, after-school programs, summer camps, senior programs and social services in addition to being an exemplary Charter School for students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
“No one in the community had ever gone to a classical music concert,” Fraga says. “As the Houston Symphony returned to Ripley House year after year, attendance kept growing. The music chosen was very well received.”
The concerts presented at Ripley House also kept getting longer. Always programmed for the Sunday after Labor Day, what started as a one-hour concert without intermission today runs close to two hours if encores are requested, which according to Fraga, they always are.
While performing serious repertoire that includes works by Wagner, Ravel, Dvorak, Sibelius and Falla, the Houston Symphony also understands the need to balance the program with works that appeal to Ripley House’s community.
“The orchestra linked its visit to Hispanic Heritage Month,” Fraga explains. “The addition of symphonic renditions of ‘La Bamba,’ ‘Cielito Lindo’ and music by Latin-American composers made everyone come together. Some would even get up and dance in the middle of the performance.”
“We love sending our musicians out in the community,” Daily says. “It’s very important to us."
Daily warmly remembers children walking through the hall on the way to the concert, listening to the cacophonous noise of musicians warming up in a nearby room.
“One kid turned back to another and asked, ‘they call this good music?’ It happens every now and then, and it makes me laugh.”
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