The ROCO Story
Known as “the most fun you can have with serious music”, ROCO was founded in 2005 by oboist and Juilliard graduate, Alecia Lawyer. After multiple experiences in other start up musical organizations, she saw the need for a sustainable model that would focus on authentic connections between musicians and audience.
Drawing on personal relationships, unique and virtuosic musicians were selected to become a part of ROCO based on their exceptional artistry and joyful personalities. By forming the orchestra around people, ROCO has proven that every situation or problem in the arts can be solved by developing relationships: musician to audience, musician to musician, board to musician, organization to community, and so on. ROCO makes sure everyone is valued.
ROCO has been called an “arts disrupter” and a “trailblazer”. Our mission is to Shape the Future of Classical Music by Energizing, Modernizing, and Personalizing the Concert Experience. How do we do this?
We turn tradition on its head through our many innovations. Our In Concert performances typically start early at 5pm and end by 7pm, allowing time for dinner afterward. We also offer ROCOrooters, our childcare music education program for kids age 10 and under. They start the concert in a different part of the concert space for a lesson from a professional music teacher, and then they come into the concert hall to hear one piece live. Afterward, they’re welcome to stay with licensed childcare workers for pizza and movies until 10:30 pm, so parents and caretakers can enjoy a night out.
Our house lights remain up throughout the entire concert, allowing audiences to read our engaging, boundary-pushing programs. The concert selections are not printed in order. Instead, compositions are listed alphabetically so that the conductor or musicians can announce what is next from the stage. We also publish pronunciation guides for composers’ names, as well as timings for the pieces (in case you don’t like a piece and want to know how much longer it is!).
Many people today don’t know how to pronounce Mozart, nor do they know much of his music. Instead of this being a concern, ROCO sees it as a fantastic audience engagement opportunity. All pieces of music and all composers are fair game to be programmed, and both familiar, obscure, and new composers can be played on an even field.
Finally, we’ve thoughtfully designed our Connections programs – they are site-specific and deeply connect the music to the mission of each hosting organization or performance space, thereby weaving music through the unique spaces of Houston.
Classical musicians are not necromancers; we are live performers who share an “in the moment” conversation with the audience. ROCO has a deep commitment to new music with 100 world premiere commissions so far. In order to give composers multiple performances of their works, we co-commission some of our new pieces, partnering with groups such as the New Century Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
The decision to incorporate technology into the concert experience is never made just for the sake of innovation. Instead, we search out and implement new technologies to enhance the relationship between musician and listener, thus continuing our conversation with our audience.
One way we incorporate technology into our performances is by offering world-wide live streaming of each In Concert performance through our website and Facebook live. The live-stream video is kept as an archive and then shared in DVD format with partnering hospitals and nursing homes. This allows them to view the performance any time!
We also pioneered a way to deliver real time commentary from the musicians to the audience, to be read by audience members via our app, all while a piece is being performed. Although the technology was initially developed to offer program notes, ROCO instead saw an opportunity to include commentary from Matt McClung, our principal percussionist. And since our house lights stay on, the juxtaposition of technology and live performance doesn’t become a nuisance. Almost 75% of our audience uses the app!
The ROCO brand is dependent on our musicians and on living composers. Music is a living language in which the composer becomes the matchmaker between musician and listener. We market and present our people as individuals, because it matters that Brook Ferguson is our principal flutist, and Richard Belcher is our principal cellist, and every other musician is who they are. Even our commissions are personal. Our principals are our featured soloists and are offered the opportunity to not only request commissions, but select their preferred composer. The musicians are all individual owners of our collective artistic product, and they have input on all aspects of the performances. Our Unchambered performances feature individual ROCO musicians who curate their own chamber programs and can commission new works for themselves.
Our business model is based upon relationships, not transactions. The typical churn or “moves management” that characterizes growth strategy for orchestras doesn’t apply at ROCO. Through our investor model of fundraising, we have people boldly jump into the “deep end of the pool” with us. If they donate a certain amount, they get tickets to our season instead of buying subscriptions. They feel a true ownership in the orchestra.
Individual musicians are sponsored annually, either by individuals or by groups. In fact, patrons can group together to sponsor a chair, with each donor giving just a little. Some of our musicians even have groupies!
Many of these groupies are over 65; our older audience members have boundless interest and enthusiasm, even (especially!) for the commissions. However, our audiences do skew younger than those of most ensembles, both because of ROCOrooters, and because of the wide variety of venues in which we play. Thanks to the breadth of our mission, we have cultivated a truly multi-generational audience. ROCO appeals to life-long learners and seekers of new experiences, continually stimulating new musical conversations and ever-expanding knowledge.