Alecia Lawyer was inspired to found the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra in much the same way Noah was inspired to build his ark. "Really, I think God just put the idea in my head," she tells us. "With Noah and the ark, God said, 'You know it's going to rain a little bit; you might want to build an ark.' Noah didn't know how it was going to turn out, but he built the ark. I didn't know how this was going to turn out, but it seemed the right thing to do."
Lawyer, the group's artistic director as well as principle oboist, wanted ROCO to be different from other chamber groups, which usually have a single leader and plan programs around composers or musical eras. "I had been part of three other orchestras and I wanted to try it basing everything on the musicians. Over the years, I had worked with some really great people, including people I met at Juilliard. I wanted this orchestra to be about the people. And once you focus on the people rather than some esoteric concept, it's a very organic process."
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What She Does: While her official title is "founder, artistic director and principal oboist' for the orchestra, Lawyer says a more accurate description of her various duties is "Musician/connector/ fundraiser/performer/marketer/creative collaborator/concert programmer/spokesperson/planner/ talent scout/negotiator/humorist/ PR and event coordinator/ janitor/mom/wife/ daughter, cat owner, coffee, coffee, lunch, coffee, coffee, wine meetings every day, ruthless prioritizer/and tireless ROCO advocate."
Can you gives us a shorter version, we ask. "Wildcatting entrepreneur spreading joy through music," she says.
What She Likes About It: Lawyer tells us her goal is to create experiences, not just produce events. She likes connecting people to people through the arts. She's the artistic director, yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean she's in charge -- or that she wants to be. "I don't tend to have agendas for meetings. Instead, I like...conversation and brainstorming." She's looking for "true partners."
What Inspires Her: On a personal level, Lawyer is motivated by the desire to connect to people. ROCO's performances are a way for everyone in the orchestra to connect with each other and with audiences. "Our concerts are like quilts stitched together. The composer brings his or her premiere, our conductor brings a favorite piece, the musicians have a list of music they would like to perform and I get the privilege of pulling it all together, all of the personalities, all of the music, all of the talent."
If Not This, Then What: When Lawyer was younger, she had a very definite career plan. She wanted to be a physicist. "Ever since I read this fantasy/sci-fi book, Einstein's Brain, in seventh grade, I wanted to get involved with the Unified Field Theory.I started that way in college, but changed my major to oboe.
"I had thought about running for office [when I was] in college, but I was on Student Senate at [Southern Methodist University,] and saw the amount of red tape [involved] in just that group. It ruined me for wanting to get mired in our political world in the U.S."
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In the end, music wins out. "This gig with ROCO is my favorite thing and right where I need and want to be."
If Not Here, Then Where: Many of the people profiled in this series tell us they are happy in Houston and wouldn't consider moving somewhere else at this point. Very few of them are as adamant as Lawyer. Is there some other city that she'd like to live in, we ask. "Nope, nope, nope! ROCO was created by Houston, in Houston and for Houston. I love our city!"
Is there nowhere else she'd like to live, we persist. Finally she says she'd consider living in Houston during the ROCO season and spending her summers in Colorado or Costa Rica.
What's Next: ROCO, ROCO and ROCO comes the answer. Lawyer is planning season 11 for the orchestra -- it's called Side by Side. The group will continue performing its annual slate of 39 concerts throughout Houston and perform on national broadcasts of Performance Today . Four world premieres of new commissions are also on the schedule.