Arts & Culture

ROCO’s New CD Is A Symbol Of Resilience After Harvey

Houston orchestra, ROCO, recently released a debut album of world premiere commissions that tells a story of Harvey, resiliency, and creativity.

It was a project that Harvey couldn’t stop, though almost did.

Houston’s ROCO ensemble was scheduled to record its first album last summer, during the week of the storm.

“We were going to originally do it at Round Top … but we realized obviously, quickly that we couldn’t get even out of Houston. I couldn’t even get out of my driveway. So we had to pull the plug,” said Alecia Lawyer, ROCO’s Founder, Artistic Director, and Principal Oboe.

However painful it was for ROCO to cancel the recording sessions, they were well aware that it could not compare to the destruction and disruption that Harvey caused to the lives of Houstonians all around them.

“We didn’t really talk about it a lot because, yes, this was a two-year project and quite expensive to invest in, but we didn’t really lose anything and so many people lost real-life things.”

Still, it was difficult for the orchestra to face the possibility that they would have to start from scratch with rescheduling a venue, making up for financial losses, and remobilizing 40 musicians and a guest conductor for the project.

Luckily, Lawyer soon recognized and seized an opportunity to record in April 2018 at Houston’s Church of St. John the Divine. She and colleagues coordinated schedules and artistic personnel to make it work. A project that could have stalled for two years was able to resume eight months later. The timing even allowed ROCO to add a special piece to the album, which had been commissioned in the immediate aftermath of Harvey.

Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong is a piece that I asked [Emmy Award-winning composer] Anthony DiLorenzo to write in honor of the heroes of Harvey, and we premiered it in the September concert of that same season,” said Lawyer.

“It truly [sounds] like the storms and then the aftermath, and then the hope that rises.”

The piece fit right in on the album, which is comprised entirely of commissions – including pieces by Houston composers Karim Al-Zand and Marcus Maroney

With a strong commitment to creating new music, ROCO has commissioned over 65 world premieres since its founding in 2005. Together, ROCO musicians selected five of their favorites for the debut CD.

“I think the fact that we added the Anthem of Hope: Houston Strong put the absolute perfect ending to the story of the CD and the story of ROCO,” said Lawyer.

“The purpose behind this was not so much, ‘Hey, let’s make a CD and sell it,’ because that’s not the goal at all. It was, ‘How do we keep going deeper in relationship [with each other in the orchestra] and keep exploring the vast potential that there is in new works … and just really highlighting composers who are magnificent.’ ”

For Lawyer, the discovery of new music that could last beyond our lifetime and the relationships that orchestra members build with each other and with the community are what matter the most – a message that Harvey helped her see more clearly than ever.

“My advice to all people starting organizations or up-and-coming musicians … is be a human first. So when your friend is flooding, don’t get your instrument first. Go get a boat, get a hammer, feed them, clothe them, shelter them, and then maybe play some healing music. But I think as a musician sometimes you feel your only value is in your music. And I think the music is actually the affirmation of the humanity inside you … I think [Harvey] actually highlighted what we already do and helped me to accurately verbalize what we do.”

ROCO’s debut CD, Visions Take Flight, was released on November 16, 2018 by Innova Recordings.

Listen to the complete interview with Alecia Lawyer below:

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