Karen (Whalen) Needham, of Houston, Tex., attended the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. as director of orchestra operations for Virtuosi of Houston, when a “Small Ensemble Orchestra” was invited to perform for several receptions. “When you are attending an event as an adult leader or chaperone, the event takes on an entirely different focus,” states Karen. “As a young person traveling or even as an adult attending an event, there is a freedom to just enjoy the people, places, and things around you, but when parents have entrusted their teenagers to your care, a sense of responsibility veils the entire experience. Traveling from Houston to Washington, D.C. came after many hours of practice and planning. I’m glad it was a positive experience.”
A 1978 graduate of Harmony High School, Karen never knew the skills she had learned helping on the farm, cheerleading for sporting events, participating in volleyball, basketball and softball, or working at Niagara Cave, The Harmony House and IGA would eventually mature into skills her adult life would need. Many of her talents came together, as she assisted the thirteen Virtuosi members in preparation for a trip to the nation’s capitol, where they would have the honor of performing at inaugural events.
Karen’s role went far beyond that of a chaperone. She helped plan and facilitate the four days these young musicians spent out east. “Out of the 13 traveling on this tour, only one of them had been to Washington, D.C. before,” comments Karen. “And two had never even traveled on an airplane. It was exciting to see them experiencing this new adventure.”
Having been a member of the Virtuosi staff since 2003, Karen is aware of the expertise expected from these young people. “They need to dress as professional musicians and play like professional musicians even though they are merely teens,” observes Karen. “I love helping these young adults gain confidences in their performances that will assist them in the years to come.”
What is Virtuosi of Houston? As stated in their press release, “Virtuosi of Houston is the only premier youth chamber orchestra in Houston designed for gifted musicians ages 11 to 18 to increase their education and performance opportunities, thereby preparing them for a career in music. …The vision is that our musicians will return to Texas as performers, educators and arts advocates to give their expertise back to the community that helped develop them as young artists.”
The Virtuosi of Houston Young Artists’ schedule included January 18 – a private Honorary Reception and Candlelight Congressional Dinner for the 115th Congress of the United States celebrating the 58th Presidential Inauguration at the Hay Adams Hotel.
Karen remarks, “This evening presented an amazing first view of the Capitol, something that was right out of the textbook. Many congressional personalities were present, including Marco Rubio and Senator Hatch from Utah. All of the senators and congressmen took time to speak with the students and take pictures.”
January 19 – the VIP reception for the Black Tie and Boots, Texas Society Presidential Inaugural Gala, at the Gaylord Hotel, Bethesda, Maryland.
“Every four years this is the biggest Texas party in Washington, D.C., with an estimated 10,000 people attending. Cavenders Boot City and a major donor, Glenda Perryman underwrote black boots and hats for each of these young Texans to wear as they played for the VIP party,” exclaims Karen. “Afterwards, we spent time taking pictures with the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and Miss Texas, Nancy Gonzalez, who is from a small town called Kemah, which is locate near our area. Miss Texas is proud of her hometown roots, saying that even though she is Miss Texas, she’ll always be Miss Kemah first!”
January 20 – the 58th Presidential Inauguration. Friends and Family Dinner Saluting Texas Leadership at the Trump International Hotel.
“The experience of coming through security and having dogs sniff through your violin and cello case was all part of being able to enter the Trump Hotel, which is a renovated post office,” Karen continues, “After playing through a three-hour dinner concert, the students enjoyed a balloon drop and dancing with the rest of the guests. What an amazing experience for all of us!”
Besides showcasing the talent and enthusiasm of musicians, several details were appreciated by Karen. “I noticed how impressed the young men and women were to be able to tour many monuments and to visit the Smithsonian. More than that, this trip presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students in their high school years to witness the inaugural process happening, thus gaining a new appreciation for the government of the United States of America.”
Virtuosi of Houston is grateful for Mr. Hourani, Glenda Perryman, Mandie and Dr. Garrett Peel for making the experience possible for these students. “I would also like to personally thank my chaperones, friends and family for supporting me through this incredible journey,” concludes Karen, “Hopefully, the experience of traveling to Washington, D.C. and playing at some very prestigious gatherings has opened the minds of these young adults and given them an experience which they will remember for the rest of their lives.”