What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 4: Leadership

When I was eleven or twelve, I loved listening to Philharmonia Baroque’s recordings of Corelli violin concerti. The warm sound of gut strings intrigued me, and sometimes I even tuned my little viola down to A415 to play along with the recording.

However, I never thought I would get to play on a baroque viola in an orchestra, much less in a chamber music ensemble. Why? Well, up until about twenty years ago, historically informed performance practice (HIPP) was more advanced in Europe but almost nonexistent in the United States. Now the idea of recreating historically accurate representations of music written hundreds of years ago has caught on in the United States, and Houston is quickly joining the ranks of cities boasting several early music ensembles. Despite the growing popularity and accessibility of the art form, the overwhelming majority of musicians of HIPP ensembles in the United States are white, and most of the directors of HIPP ensembles are men.

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Yvonne Smith/Photo by Shannon Langman

La Speranza is directed by an African-American female, setting the ensemble apart from every other HIPP ensemble in Houston. Yvonne is also the ensemble’s violist.

As the only minority-directed ensemble in Houston, La Speranza has the unique opportunity to challenge the long-held expectation that HIPP musicians and directors are white, expanding and diversifying HIPP audiences nationwide. We love seeing the faces of other women and ethnic minorities at our performances who are delighted to see someone of their gender or skin color directing an ensemble. I (Yvonne) look forward to seeing how Houston’s HIPP audience expands in the next five and ten years because of the influence of La Speranza!

What else makes La Speranza unique? Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Be a part of our Houston Early Music Festival debut! Donate today.

 

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 3: Sonorous Sojourns

When I (Yvonne) was in middle school, I had the opportunity through the local youth orchestra to play viola for hospitalized children and their families, and the experience impacted me profoundly. When I began La Speranza last year, I knew I wanted to have the group participate in a similar program.

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Sonorous Sojourns brings music to patients and their families in local hospitals. La Speranza is working with Bailey Curtis at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center to bring two musicians for 90 minutes once a month to spend time performing for and visiting with patients and their families. The program was set to begin in September, but Hurricane Harvey had other plans. Currently, our plan is begin playing there at the end of November. Patients will be able to request a visit from a musician (pending doctor approval, of course), and musicians will make the rounds for an hour and a a half, stopping at each room or common area for 15 minutes each.

I truly believe that music helps us in our physical and emotional healing processes, and we are excited to begin bringing music to places of healing like Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.

Long-term plans for Sonorous Sojourns include expanding to more hospitals and beginning a similar program in a local prison. If you’d like to have La Speranza musicians play at your hospital, please contact me. We’d be honored!

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 2: Behind the Scenes

Unlike larger ensembles that need access to a large space in a theater or church to rehearse, La Speranza is able to rehearse at home, saving us hundreds of dollars in rental fees and allowing our members the flexibility to bring and care for their children.


We rehearse at the home of Joanna Becker, one of our fabulous violinists and a mom of a two-month-old baby boy named Liam. On breaks, she feeds the baby, and we can eat lunch or dinner around the kitchen table.

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Giving Gremlin the kitty some attention

While rehearsing at home means flexibility and comfort, we have extremely productive rehearsals in Joanna’s music room, where we have access to scores and sheet music. Liam hangs out with his daddy or his grandmother in the living room. Sometimes Nadia’s son and husband and Fran’s daughters tag along for the day.

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We all enjoy getting to see the children and play with the many pets Joanna and her husband Dante keep.

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Gus, the tortoise, enjoying a strawberry
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Sloopy, not wanting to be left out

Even though we are a relatively new organization, La Speranza already feels like a family because we rehearse at home. I’m extremely fortunate to work with such lovely people!

What Makes La Speranza Unique, part 1: Genre

Houston is the home to a vibrant arts scene, including a rapidly growing audience for historically informed performance. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, historically informed performance (or historical performance practice, HPP) refers to the performance of music written before the 20th century on period instruments, that is, instruments that would have been used during the time the music was written.

There are many fantastic HPP groups in Houston, like Bach Society Houston, Viols of Houston, and Ars Lyrica that mainly perform early music (music written before the Classical era began in 1750). Mercury Houston is an orchestra that performs everything from the music of the Baroque era (1600-1750) to music written in the twentieth century. Context, directed by Brian Connelly, is a group that presents chamber music works for piano from the Classical era to the 20th Century.

La Speranza is the only strings-based ensemble that presents historically informed performances of chamber music from the Baroque through Romantic eras. We are also committed to remaining a small chamber music group instead of expanding into an orchestra.

Why does this matter? Why does Houston benefit from period instrument strings-based chamber music?

1. We are uniquely positioned to provide high quality string chamber music to Houston audiences because this is our only focus. Whether we’re at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center or at MATCH, our goal is to perform historically informed chamber music at the highest level. We have the time and resources to research and put together stellar programs that enrich and brighten the lives of our audience members.

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2. The average Houstonian concertgoer only hears historical performance experts in an orchestral context. La Speranza provides the unprecedented opportunity to hear these and other seasoned musicians in a chamber music setting. In this more intimate context, audience members gain a deeper connection with musicians and the music itself.

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3. Without La Speranza, Houstonians simply do not hear Classical and Romantic era chamber music for strings played on period instruments. Performances on period instruments provide a fresh perspective for even the most seasoned audience members. La Speranza keeps the audience for historically informed performance fresh and excited to hear more.

 

 

A Family Affair

In preparation for a big announcement next week, we’ll be posting regular blog posts about the musicians and instruments of La Speranza.

 

Last week at our season opener, siblings shared the stage! Well, none of the musicians are related, but two of our instruments are.

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Nadia Witherspoon’s violin and Yvonne Smith’s viola were made by the same luthier.

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Timothy Johnson, a luthier now based in Connecticut, crafted both of these beautiful instruments. Nadia’s violin, finished in the spring of 2016, was modeled after the Stradivarius P mold, a violin on display in the Stradivari museum in Cremona. The decorations on the violin are from the Nicolo Amati “Louis XIV”, made in 1656 and on display in the Smithsonian museum.

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Yvonne’s viola is modeled after the “Conte Vitale” viola by Andrea Guarneri and has a Brothers Amati scroll. The original “Conte Vitale” viola has a cello style scroll, but the Amati scroll better suits the dimensions and aesthetic of the viola. This wonderful instrument was finished in September of 2017. In fact, our season opener was its debut performance. It was extremely honored to perform alongside its older sibling for its very first public concert.

 

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The siblings (and their musicians) are looking forward to many more performances together!

la speranza needs your help!

Edited on April 27: We have raised $920 so far! The 25th has come and gone, but we are obviously still taking donations. Our next concert is May 12 and we would be so grateful to have our concert costs covered by then. Thank you for your support!

 

If you haven’t heard, la speranza hopes to raise $2,500 by April 25 to offset costs for the last two concerts of our season. Below is an explanation detailing what your money funds and why we are asking for your support in these crucial few weeks.

Where does $2,500 go?

Funding for hall rental: 16%
We are planning a “summer salon” at MATCH, and your donations so far have helped us put down a deposit to reserve the hall.

Advertising/printing/sheet music/sponsorship fees: 10%
Your donations so far have helped procure the music for our May 12 concert.

Paying musicians: 74%
Each musician who plays with la speranza invests a considerable amount of their time to play a single concert program, not including the thousands of hours and dollars it takes to become a professional musician and maintain a high level of performance. Though la speranza is young, we strongly believe in paying musicians, so we’ve put on only a few concerts this season with the hope of expanding our concert season in the future as more funds become available. You might be wondering if I (Yvonne) pay myself as a performer in la speranza. The answer is NO, not until donations and grants can completely fund our concerts. For now, I make up the deficit with my own money. Practically speaking, this arrangement can’t last forever, and we are relying on donations and grants if la speranza is to continue and thrive.

Anything extra will be applied directly towards costs for next season.

Why donate to la speranza?

Your donations will be tax-deductible.
la speranza is fiscally sponsored by Fresh Arts, a non-profit arts organization. This means that contributions for la speranza will be tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

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You’ll allow us bring joy to communities.
Our goal is to bring period instrument chamber music to our communities and promote wellness and healing through our performances. With just two performances under our belt, we have already reached dozens of patients, doctors, and nurses at Houston Methodist Hospital as well as the community in Spring Branch. One concertgoer wrote afterwards: “[We] were both feeling a little rocky last night but the four of you truly lifted our spirits.” We would not have the honor and privilege of brightening others’ days without your contributions.

You’ll help us accomplish big plans.
We have an entire concert series in the works for next season called “Mentors Inspire” that explores the life and influence of Haydn. We also plan to implement a hospital outreach program by the end of the upcoming season in which our musicians give informal performances for patients and their families in their rooms.

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Here’s a partial list of everything we want to accomplish in the next five years:
-Neighborhood tours of our concert programs
-Lecture series in conjunction with our concert season about the benefits of music and aspects of historically informed performance
-Residence at a yoga studio
-Annual Texas tour, giving concerts in communities around the state
-Acquisition of a fortepiano
Meeting these goals starts with your support this year. We’re beyond excited about what we can accomplish with your generosity!

Please visit THIS LINK to make a tax-deductible donation.

If you’ve already donated, thank you! We are so grateful for your support.
If everyone who follows la speranza on Instagram and Facebook were to give $15, we would surpass our goal. If you’re not in a position to give and if you’ve already given, please share this campaign (and this blog post) with your friends and family.

Thank you!

 

 

March 30 Concert

Here’s a recap of last week in pictures. Enjoy!

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During a well deserved break in rehearsal
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Gremlin helping us get some work done
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Our first program!
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sound check at Christ the King Presbyterian. They were such wonderful hosts!
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Final bows. Tired and happy smiles!
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Enjoying the reception. Unfortunately we did not get a photo with the reception table which was beautifully prepared by Phyllis Smith. We had about 20 in attendance, and as a result of ticket sales and donations, we are 20% of the way towards our fundraising goal. The four of us had a wonderful time performing for our audience and are looking forward to our next concert in May.

Why period instruments?

la speranza performs on period instruments, that is, instruments that are as close as possible to original instruments of the era from which we are performing.

Many friends and colleagues have asked me why we would use these period instruments when we could just as easily perform the same works on modernized instruments?

Simply, we strongly believe in the power of the intimacy that performing on original instruments provides to both the musicians and the audience. These original instruments are without the acoustic modifications that allow modern instruments to project in large halls, providing a warmer, grittier sound that is more suitable for smaller gatherings and is more similar to what audiences of the 18th and 19th centuries would have expected.

Ever since I was introduced to historically informed performance practice, I have been fascinated with how similar period instruments are to humans. The vulnerable yet engaging sound of period string and wind instruments is closely reminiscent of the human voice in both song and speech. I’ve also observed a connection between period instruments and community building. Period instruments are less acoustically “perfect” than their modernized counterparts; therefore, playing them and blending well with other period instruments requires a delicate balance of mildness and muscle, maintaining flexibility and accompanied by a vast knowledge of history and learning spirit. As humans, we use all of these qualities as we seek to understand ourselves, maintain relationships, and build communities.

In a world that’s becoming increasingly digital and fast-paced, this connection in live community is elusive yet so important! We hope to see you at one or both of our concerts this season to hear live chamber music from the Classical and Romantic eras on historically appropriate instruments. At each concert we’ll explain exactly what constitutes a “period” instrument. You’ll also hear from Thomas Carroll, historical clarinet virtuous and builder , who will talk about his instruments that he’s modeled after original clarinets from the 18th and 19th centuries. Finally, you’ll experience the unique connection that exists in historically informed performance between the audience and performers that inspired each of us in pursuing our crafts.

—Yvonne

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Yvonne Smith, with her viola modeled after an 18th century German instrument