Classical Music

Houston Symphony Chorus Makes Triumphant Return This Month

Ho, Ho, Holidays are back to regular form with the Houston Symphony Chorus' grand return to Jones Hall this month.
Ho, Ho, Holidays are back to regular form with the Houston Symphony Chorus' grand return to Jones Hall this month. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
Nearly two years after the music stopped at Jones Hall, the Houston Symphony Chorus makes its triumphant return to the venue this December for a double dose of concerts as it backs the Houston Symphony orchestra for Handel’s Messiah on Dec. 10 - 12 and Very Merry POPS on Dec. 18 - 19.

Like many performing arts organizations, everything screeched to a halt with the spread of COVID-19. One of the hardest hit sectors of the arts were vocalists, as the act of singing was identified as a super-spreader event. However, with vaccines, as well as the advanced knowledge of the virus, the Houston Symphony Chorus is revving up for its 2021 debut.

Of course, the chorus hasn’t abandoned safety protocols. Face coverings are required for audience members. Further, to limit the number of singers on stage, half the chorus will perform Messiah while the other half will tackle Very Merry POPS. Tenor Randy Eckman is one of the performers who will join for Messiah.

“Now that we finally have the chance to perform again, the excitement is uncontrollable. People, including myself, are very excited to get back to seeing each other in person and also doing something we love instead of singing to our empty living rooms,” said the six-year chorus member. “During our first rehearsal for Messiah, the first thing we did was sing the 'Hallelujah Chorus' because it was a sentimental, meaningful moment to be back together as a group. There were people who were emotional about that as we got back to business.”

Eckman, like many others, sees the Houston Symphony Chorus as his home away from home. Having grown up in Dayton, Ohio and then graduating from Purdue University, he moved to Houston to work at NASA as a mission designer.

He currently supports the Artemis I mission in tandem with the Orion spaceraft. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate a commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II.
click to enlarge Houston Symphony's musical ambassador Carlos Andres Botero, former composer-in-residence Jimmy López Bellido and chorus member Randy Eckman buddy up at NASA. - PHOTO BY RANDY ECKMAN
Houston Symphony's musical ambassador Carlos Andres Botero, former composer-in-residence Jimmy López Bellido and chorus member Randy Eckman buddy up at NASA.
Photo by Randy Eckman

“I didn’t have a lot of friends when I first moved here. It became very important to me to find my community and to try to find a respite outside of work. Music was the first natural thing that came to me. It’s very important to me personally because it is my family here in Houston. I’ve become very close friends with many people in the chorus as well as the musicians in the orchestra.”

Being away from his chosen family during the pandemic was stressful, but Eckman, like many others, found ways to still connect with others.

“As the pandemic went on, I volunteered to host once-a-month calls just to keep up and see what was going on with everyone. It was a lifeline for many of us who don’t have family members in the area. We’ve been alone, and getting through the pandemic is a tough thing. My family from the chorus and orchestra helped me keep my sanity,” he added.

And now the family is reunited once again to fill the halls with holiday songs, both modern and from centuries past. There will be a few guests joining them as well. Bernard Labadie will conduct the orchestra, and Magali Simard-Galdès, Lawrence Zazzo, Andrew Haji and Daniel Okulitch will join as guest soloists during Messiah. In Very Merry POPS, Michael Krajewski returns to the stage to conduct as Broadway and television star Rodney Ingram and local up-and-comer Peter Theurer grace the stage as guest singers.

The holidays, already a sentimental time for some, coupled with the joyful reunion of the Houston Symphony Chorus will undoubtedly lead to some on-stage tears.

Eckman said, “For most of us, performing is so important, especially for the chorus since we’re all volunteers. It’s a huge time commitment, so the people who do this are really passionate about it. Performing is a meaningful experience for us. Being able to get back on stage and put on a show is going to be very emotional, let alone the emotions of the music.”

Houston Symphony will present Handel’s 'Messiah' at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana Street. For tickets or information, call 713-227-3974 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $29 to $130. Live-streaming tickets are available for Saturday's performance for $20. 'Very Merry POPS' will play at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, December 18 and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 19. $29 to $149. Live-streaming tickets are available for the December 18 performance for $20.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd