This past weekend saw the last two community evenings for THE REFUGE, and took us from India to Africa, from an enormous outdoor festival to an intimate restaurant gathering, and threw us into one unexpected situation after another. For example, did you know that on Sunday evening there was a traditional Hindu Diwali festival...in Sugarland, Texas? To me this was a surprise, only because I'm still ignorant about my new home. To the SEVEN THOUSAND people who showed up, clearly, there was no surprise. The mayor of Sugarland was rocking some traditional Indian garb as he welcomed us, but even he was eclipsed by the sheer charisma of the evening's host, Sunil, who has the star power of Elvis. There was traditional Indian dance and music all night (and food!), and in the middle of it, the Houston Grand Opera...
FS and LB are sharing a mic because - well, there were multiple sound challenges to be faced. It's not like the opera has ever been to the Diwali festival, so there were a lot of unknowns. But the crowd response was good. I took this picture from a site with many other good pics of the dancing and some amusing commentary about our performance: "For some reason, the Houston Grand Opera showed up..."! But he then goes on to write something that shows he was listening, so we engaged people even though we were an unexpected presence. And that's been true throughout the community evenings - we've heard over and over again that this is the first time the opera has ever been around in these venues, with these audiences. We've been greeted with such kindness everywhere. Houston is an incredible collection of communities.
Monday night was at Shanae's Place, and featured the amazing group called Gifted and Talented who will be performing with us on Saturday. The Houston Chronicle has published a piece that tells some of this family's inspiring, dramatic story here. Our oratorio begins with their voices lifted in song. On Monday night, their impossibly gifted young singer and pianist PC was jamming on an upright piano with DH, and they sang for us and with us.
Even for those of us who have grown up in relative prosperity (and by world standards, unimaginable prosperity), music can be a release, a search into light and dark places, a prayer, and a way of giving thanks. "You're not gonna take away pain with money", sings the soprano soloist in one movement of the REFUGE, and indeed the comforts of American life don't lessen our need for what art can teach us. But what further importance does music take on in the lives of people such as the Mukeles, people whose very lives have been materially ripped apart and put back together again?
The Chron has published another terrific piece on this project (thanks!) which you can read
To all of our community performers and hosts - our most sincere gratitude and admiration.