how do you plan a concert?

As Yvonne and I thought of establishing a new music ensemble for Houston, one recurring topic in our conversations was how there was so much exciting new music we have heard, experienced in concert, or performed, that we wanted to share with music lovers in H-town. In forming Loop38, we wanted the focus be our group of passionate, virtuosic performers, showcasing their technical, interpretive, and musical capabilities. How do you choose from all of the music out there? Our group consists of 15 musicians, and looking at pieces written for this instrumentation of string quintet (2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass), one of each wind and brass instrument (except tuba), piano, and percussion became our first parameter. Still there are many pieces for this instrumentation, so how does one choose? As a group of Houston transplants, we wanted to bring our experiences from afar to Houston. One of the first composers we thought of was Andrew Norman. Just named “Composer of the Year” by Musical America, Andrew is making a big splash in the musical scene both in the states and abroad, with premieres by groups such as the New York Philharmonic and LA Philharmonic. I first met Andrew almost ten years ago while living in Berlin, where he was a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. Recently graduated from Yale, he was, like myself, taking in the rich musical culture of Germany’s capital, learning through exposure to exciting and challenging artists. Fast forward eight years, and our paths cross again in St. Louis. I’m working with the St. Louis Symphony, and Andrew’s music is being performed in an all-American program which included music by Michael Daugherty, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein. Andrew’s piece on the concert is visceral and exciting, and a challenge for the symphony musicians, not used to performing this kind of music. The piece is titled Try, and Andrew speaks of the piece:

“I never get things right on the first try. I am a trial-and-error composer, an incurable reviser. And this is a problem when it comes to high profile commissions from world-class ensembles in spectacular concert halls, because in these rare cases one gets exactly one try to get it right, and one really, really wants to get it right. Disney Hall and the LA Philharmonic have meant so much to me over the years that the overwhelming desire to write for them the perfect piece was enough to stop me dead in my creative tracks. It took me many months to realize the obvious: my piece was never going to be perfect no matter how hard I tried, and perfection was not even the right target on which to set my sights. The best thing I could do to honor the adventurous spirit of the Philharmonic and Disney Hall was to try as many new things as I could, to embrace the risk and failure and serendipitous discovery implicit in the word “try.” The piece I ended up writing is a lot like me. It’s messy, and fragmented, and it certainly doesn’t get things right on the first try.”

The piece made an impact on me with its freshness of language and virtuosic display. Perfect for Loop38. Also the spirit in which the piece was written resonated with me. This is our first try to bring adventurous, fresh, new sounds to the heart of Houston. We have been obsessed with getting things perfect, but we should keep Andrew’s words in mind as we embark on this musical adventure; it’s not about us getting it right on the first try, but to simply share our joy and love of new sound experiences with people of Houston and figuring it out together. This piece will open our debut concert on December 6 at MATCH. We hope you’ll be there with us for our first try in bringing new music to the heart of Houston. 


what's in a name?

When Jerry and I finally decided to start the ensemble and had our initial core group of 10, the first order of business was to find a name.. and that involved lots of decision-making. From whether or not to incorporate "Houston", "Texas", or "Lone Star" in the name (immediately decided against), "ensemble" or "collective", or to follow Eighth Blackbird or Alarm Will Sound and pick a name that just sounds cool, there were too many and yet also not enough ideas that resonated with us. So, we turned to the group and asked for suggestions in a Google spreadsheet.

The first email subject line: me at my most eloquent. 

The first email subject line: me at my most eloquent. 

Members could jot down whatever name ideas came to them, and also leave comments or suggestions of similar or related possible names. In the end, we had 22 options with 9 variations, out of which members could rank their top five choices. The most popular was "Loop 38", reflecting the 38-mile long freeway ("the loop") that encircles our little part of Houston we've all ended up in.

As a group of people from so many different parts of the U.S. and abroad, the aspect of having "Loop" in the name helps tie us to our new home without sounding too traditional or obvious. We all liked the continuous movement implied by the word "loop", and its use in music as "a continuously repeated segment of music"

We play new music from all sides of the spectrum, which will hopefully throw you all for a loop. (screen grab from Merriam-Webster)

Originally, Jerry and I had told the members that we would look at the top 5 popular names and use our judgement to decide from the top 5. I'm happy to say we didn't need to override the group's favorite - and after deleting the space between text and numbers, we arrived with Loop38. 

One decision down, 102934879543982 more to go!