October 21, 2020Updated: October 22, 2020, 12:01 pm
Jill Jarvis has a goal of one outdoor outing a day with her four children.
Earlier this month, the local blogger added an interactive soundtrack to the family’s regular stroll along the Buffalo Bayou trails. The Jarvises parked as they always do near the Sabine Street bridge, setting off in search of ROCO’s new QR-coded musical stops along the bayou.
The local professional orchestra teamed with Buffalo Bayou Partnership to create a set list of 40 performance pieces, chosen for specific landmarks, points of interest and public art along the trails.
Following the mobile-optimized map, Jarvis and her children found their way to a small black placard at Down Periscope. Jarvis hovered her phone over the QR code and “Visions From Another World” began to play.
The kids spontaneously began to dance, she says, then ran to find the next QR code. Weaving through Vale-Asche Foundation Spring and Monumental Moments’ massive letters that spell out words such as “listen” and “emerge,” they made a game out of moving their bodies to different sounds, “which was sort of funny because that’s not usually what we do on our walks,” Jarvis says.
The hunt added a new element to their daily exercise, Jarvis says. “It made it more exciting, especially for the little kids who aren’t always up for the long walk. This was a good opportunity to do something fun away from crowds and in the sunshine.”
ROCO on Buffalo BayouWhen: Through Dec. 31
OMG listen to this
For the new music installation, ROCO — formerly known as River Oaks Chamber Orchestra — tapped into its online archive of live recordings throughout the organization’s 15-year history.
Some of the pairings are playful.
For instance, at the Waugh Drive Bridge, where a bat colony is located, visitors will find the code for “Flying Sirto” by Erberk Eryilmaz, a Turkish composer who lives in Houston.
“There’s a lot of humor,” says ROCO founder and artistic director Alecia Lawyer of her team’s choices.
She thinks kids will get a kick out of the selection at the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. Alexander Miller’s “ROCOmoji” is a song composed with a different emoji for each note, and he named the second movement “OMG.”
Lawyer’s children helped her pair the concerto, featuring sounds of the oboe and bassoon, with the municipal skateboarding park. “We use emojis in so many different ways that we understand instantaneously,” Lawyer explains, noting the range of emotions that emojis express, including greed, loneliness and anger.
“It’s a pretty special piece, actually,” says Lawyer, a Juilliard School grad.
For music stops that extend all the way to Hidalgo Park and Sesquicentennial Park, her team wanted to be “very specific” about choosing pieces that show the diversity of Houston. The selections include 13 of ROCO’s world-premiere works, making for a compilation that is “really, truly living composers and music of your time,” she says.
At “Spindle” at Fondren Foundation Meadow, visitors will hear “Anthem of Hope,” a piece ROCO originally performed in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, now repurposed, Lawyer says, in appreciation of the heroes of COVID-19.
“What I really love is the representation of not just Houston people but the zeitgeist of Houston and who we are as a city.”
The trail is part of ROCO’s initiative to “reach people where they are now,” Lawyer says. This season, ROCO’s performances are livestreamed for free, and the children’s education programming, called ROCOrooters, has also moved online.
For each performance, children are provided with e-materials to use while they listen with their parents. A week later, a virtual class takes a deeper dive into select pieces. Recent classes have featured drum-making crafts and interactives that teach the fundamentals of rhythm.
Lawyer feels that music is vital during this time of crisis to help listeners of all ages process emotion.
“There are a lot of words that can’t be said right now, and people feel they can’t even verbalize what they’re feeling or what they need,” she says. “I’ve always felt that music is the groaning of the spirit.”
Allison Bagley is a Houston-based writer.