Houston Grand Opera Honors Houston Ship Channel's Centennial in Song Today

Houston Grand Opera's community collaboration initiative, HGOco, will present an original song cycle,On This Muddy Water: Voices from the Houston Ship Channel, in a series of free concerts beginning today, December 10, 2014. Presented in conjunction with the Houston Arts Alliance's Folklore and Traditional Arts Program's exhibition Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel, the songs will give voice to the men and women who make up the Houston Ship Channel's immense workforce. Composed by D. J. Sparr to a libretto by Janine Joseph and performed by mezzo-soprano Lauren Pastorek and baritone Heath Martin, On This Muddy Water will capture and explore stories from the history and tradition of the port through words and song. The concerts will take place on December 10, 17, January 7, and 21 at 5:30 p.m., with a reception following the December 10world premiere, all at the Julia Ideson Library. Each concert will be preceded by a brief conversation with a member of the Ship Channel community.

"Each song has been carefully crafted as a composite of elements from the oral histories collected by the Houston Arts Alliance," explains Sandra Bernhard, director of HGOco. "We hope these songs will resonate strongly with the Ship Channel community while also representing universal themes and experiences to which all audiences can relate."

Adds HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, "The founders of Houston displayed a spirit still palpable in our city; when they realized that making Houston a port would improve the lives of every citizen, despite being significantly inland, they made it happen- they painstakingly dug it out of the earth. What a privilege to honor their legacy."

Stories of a Workforce: Celebrating the Centennial of the Houston Ship Channel was designed to make the Port of Houston better seen, better heard, and better known to the Houston community. The exhibition and HGO's song cycle are driven by stories collected through the Working the Port project, which documents the voices of the men and women who have made their living in the many occupations and industries found along the Ship Channel, from shipboard to shoreside, such as rail and oil industry workers, engineers and executives, merchant marines and marine biologists, environmental specialists and international traders.

Now in its eighth year, HGOco has commissioned 16 new works and conducted innovative community projects reaching more than one million people in the greater Houston metropolitan area. HGOco creates opportunities for Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to observe, participate in, and create art. Through projects like On This Muddy Water, HGOco endeavors to make opera relevant to changing audiences by connecting HGO with the diverse Houston community through collaboration.

On This Muddy Water is part of the next chapter of HGOco's award-winning Song of Houston initiative, the ongoing program that creates new works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston. Past Song of Houston projects include The Refuge, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna/To Cross the Face of the Moon, Pieces of 9/11-Memories from Houston, Home and Place, and eight chamber operas that comprised the East + West series. In 2009 the program received the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from the National MultiCultural Institute (NCMI).

Song of Houston is made possible with generous support from Bank of America, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, Houston Arts Alliance through the City's Initiative Grant Program, Conoco Phillips, and Marathon Oil Corporation.

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