Houston’s River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, called ROCO, is known for pushing the limits of the expected, bringing classical music into the mainstream by playing in unlikely spaces and collaborating with unlikely partners.
The orchestra will ring in the new year with this same mentality. On Thursday, its Brass Quintet – featuring two trumpets, a French horn, a trombone and a bass trombone – and a drummer will perform beer hall music and a variety of jazz tunes while listeners sip craft beer at the 10th annual “Beer & Brass” concert at Saint Arnold Brewing Co.
“With beer halls, it becomes a communal space,” said trumpeter George Chase, who has played with ROCO since it was founded by artistic director Alecia Lawyer in 2005. “People get together, and they talk and they sing and they share stories and so on.”
This human connection is essential, now more than ever, he said, as people become increasingly distracted by electronic devices in a society consumed by modern technology.
‘ROCO Connections: Beer & Brass’When: 6 p.m. Thursday Where: Saint Arnold Brewing Co., 2000 Lyons Tickets: $35; 713-665-2700; rocohouston.org
One tune the quintet will perform is called “Bier Her (Beer Here),” a traditional German drinking song that calls for another round of beer and naturally inspires audience participation. “We talk about the lyrics a little bit, and we’ll lead the people in singing,” Chase said.
As part of the orchestra’s Connections series, the interactive concert might bring to mind the spirit of Oktoberfest, a German celebration that originated in 1810 and has since become a tradition around the world. The 16-day festival, which draws a crowd of over 6 million visitors to Munich every year, features nonstop entertainment, with food, beer and stereotypical folk songs, marches and polkas.
Originally, ROCO’s “Beer & Brass” concert took place in the fall around the time of Oktoberfest, which inspired a program heavily showcasing oompah music. Now, Chase, who leads the artistic vision of the quintet, has shifted the focus to incorporate a large variety of jazz tunes from the early 1900s.
For Thursday, he has arranged three such songs – “It Had to Be You” by Isham Jones, “Storyville Blues” by Maceo Pinkard and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” by Jimmy Cox. The latter, originally published in 1923, might be more widely recognized in the cover version by English rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Eric Clapton.
Fellow quintet trumpeter Jason Adams has prepared two other tunes, one being “We’ll Meet Again.” Although written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles in 1939, the sentimental song became popularized when wartime songstress Dame Vera Lynn performed it for British troops during World War II.
“Music is a part of the human experience,” Chase said. “A lot of times with jazz, just generally, people hear it like in the background of a party, but they might not know the name of the tune.”
For this reason, the quintet aims to eliminate the imaginary “wall” often separating performers and their audience in order to educate the crowd about the history of each piece and each composer while simultaneously inviting curiosity.
“It’s more of a conversation, really, than strictly a concert,” Chase said. “It’s really nice to give people a truly tailor-made experience.”
Source: Beers and Brass, yes, please