Jenna Barghouti (violin), David D. Connor (double bass), Anthony Parce (viola), and Hellen Weberpal (cello) are part of the first group of Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musicians who will spend most of their time in schools, neighborhoods and health care settings, beginning in the fall of 2015. Each one of these musicians is a practicing professional musician with the complementary skills and sensibilities of an educator, who will teach and engage people in learning experiences in, through, and about music.
“I, together with Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada and the entire Houston Symphony family, am excited to welcome these new musicians. They will fill an unprecedented and critical role in extending the Houston Symphony’s impact deeper into the community,” said Executive Director/CEO Mark C. Hanson. “I look forward to watching them in action with students and community members while also hearing them together with the full orchestra for select concerts during the upcoming 2015-16 season.”
Among other new and expanded community activities, these musicians will be part of a music and wellness program aimed at increasing the quality of health care through music. In addition, they will be heavily involved in education programs targeted at improving problem solving, critical thinking, and essential life skills in students.
“I could not be more thrilled to be part of the inaugural year of the Houston Symphony’s Community-Embedded Musicians program. I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with such brilliant musicians and staff, and for such a special opportunity in a leading American orchestra,” said Anthony. “Putting so much emphasis and so many resources toward fostering performing teaching artists is unprecedented in the orchestral landscape. This is exactly the kind of activity that will make orchestras relevant in the 21st century.”
All four Community-Embedded Musicians will perform on stage with members of the Symphony in approximately 25 concerts each year. The orchestra intends to add more of these musicians over the next two seasons, providing ever-increasing levels of service and music education to the rapidly growing Houston region.
“Becoming a Houston Symphony Community-Embedded Musician is a dream come true. Playing with one of the leading orchestras in the country while helping empower the local community through music is an ideal start to my career as a performer and an educator,” said Jenna. “I am quite fortunate to be given this opportunity to professionally fulfill both of my passions. I could not be more excited to be a member of the very first CEM team, and I look forward to working with the talented musicians and leadership of the Houston Symphony to further grow and develop this inspiring program.”
The creation and launch of the Community-Embedded Musicians program has been made possible through the early investment of generous supporters including the Spec’s Charitable Foundation, the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, BBVA Compass and Mr. Monzer Hourani, all longtime leadership supporters of the Houston Symphony.
About the New Community-Embedded Musicians
Double bassist David Connor has worked with children with neurological disorders through residencies he completed at the Monarch School as a fellow of the Da Camera of Houston Young Artist Program. He also has experience working with students abroad while serving as a guest teacher in the New World Symphony’s cultural exchange with the Medellín Philharmonic Academy (AMFED). Connor also works with Classical Revolution, an international organization that engages the community by offering chamber music performances in highly accessible venues such as cafes, bars and clubs. Connor began undergraduate studies at the Peabody Institute before transferring to Carnegie Mellon University where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts. Connor earned his Masters of Music at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.
Violist Anthony Parce, also a former member of the New World Symphony, has been extremely active in recent years in the institution’s community engagement programs, including the New World Symphony’s cultural exchange program with AMFED. A fluent Spanish-speaker, Parce is passionate about creating connections, breaking down societal barriers and empowering communities through music. An experienced educator, he has worked with people of all ages, from pre-K students through seniors, and with people from all walks of life, particularly those who are underserved and lack opportunities to engage with music. Parce holds degrees from the New England Conservatory and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, studying with James Dunham, Roger Tapping and Karen Ritscher.
Jenna Barghouti grew up in the West Bank, Palestine, before coming to the U.S. when she was 16 years old. She has taught violin to underserved children in both the “Fairview Project” in Bloomington, IN, as well as in her home country of Palestine. Barghouti, an associate instructor at Indiana University’s Pre-College String Academy and substitute violin for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony, is fully bilingual in Arabic and English. She is currently pursuing a Performer’s Diploma in violin performance at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where she studies with Jorja Fleezanis. She received her undergraduate degree in violin performance from the Jacobs School of Music under the supervision of Mimi Zweig.
Hellen Weberpal has frequently served as a substitute cellist with the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet orchestras. Like Connor, she has served as a fellow of the Da Camera of Houston Young Artist Program. Weberpal has extensive experience as a cello teacher and sectional coach in schools throughout Houston, including Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD), Klein ISD, Houston ISD, the Michael P. Hammond Preparatory Program at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the Music Preparatory School at the University of St. Thomas. She also provides private cello lessons to a wide array of students, including those with neurological disorders and autism. Weberpal received her Bachelor of Music at DePaul University, studying with Steve Balderston, and her Master of Music from Rice University, under the tutelage of Houston Symphony Principal Cellist Brinton Averil Smith.
Community-Embedded Musicians Program: Structure & Audition Process
In contrast to term-limited or structured fellowship or training programs, the new Community-Embedded Musicians are full-time, permanent, salaried employees of the Houston Symphony, and they will become part of the cadre of musicians who appear on stage and throughout the community. While existing Houston Symphony musicians spend about 80% of their time on stage as part of the orchestra’s robust schedule of classical, pops, family, student and community concerts, these Community-Embedded Musicians will do the opposite: They will devote the majority of their time to off-stage education and community programs through individual and small ensemble work in schools, neighborhoods and health care settings.
These four individuals were selected after a rigorous month-long audition and interview process that drew more than 100 applicants from across the country. Candidates for these four new positions were required to be accomplished string players with a demonstrated passion and aptitude for education and community engagement work. Additionally, candidates who met the main qualifications and also spoke more than one language were highly encouraged to apply to help better reflect the diverse make up of Houston.
The selection process involved live auditions before committees comprised of Houston Symphony musicians, classroom lesson demonstrations with students from Crespo Elementary School, and in-person interviews with administrative and musician leadership. Candidates were selected based on a combination of exceptional musical ability, passion for and experience doing work in the community and in educational settings, along with superior communication skills.