UH Students Creating Country Tunes for Houston Rodeo Events

HGOCo Commissioning Compositions from Moores School of Music Students

Student composers at the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music are accustomed to creating complex original compositions for classical concertgoers. Now, they’re stepping slightly out of their creative comfort zones to generate tunes fit for a cowboy crowd.

Houston Grand Opera Community Outreach (HGOCo) recently commissioned western-themed works from four UH students. These compositions will be performed live during Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (HLSR) events, and will be previewed during a  special recital at 1 p.m., Feb. 12 in UH’s Moores Opera House (Entrance 16 off Cullen Boulevard). The free UH performance is open to the public. It is presented by HGOCo and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Students were tasked with completing songs that stray from their classical roots and delve deeply into traditional country music. Lyrics are based on texts from authors Andrea White and Kelly Finn (also a staff member at Houston Grand Opera). Performing the works will be Houston Grand Opera company members Sarah Parnicky (soprano) and Wesley Landry (baritone), with musical accompaniment from noted Houston country musician Miss Leslie Sloan and other local players.

Student composers include doctoral candidate Mark Buller and master of fine arts students Samuel Hunter, Desmond Ikegwuonu and Daniel Webbon. UH Moores School of Music professor Rob Smith oversaw the process.

“I never had written anything in a pop style, so it was interesting,” Buller said. “It also was a little easier, since we dealt with normal chords and a more simple harmonic language. But, all of us had to do some research by listening to music from artists like Hank Williams and others.”

Buller and his fellow composers not only had to adjust their talents to new song forms, but also explored how to make them appealing to rodeo audiences.

“I had to figure out how to tug on people’s heartstrings,” Hunter said. “That’s the key to popular music. It’s about connecting to your audience in a way that is visceral and meaningful. With these rodeo songs, we had to balance elements of the rodeo with certain themes and characters from the texts. At the same time, it was important to make sure people could relate to these songs.”

The project was truly a group effort as the composers would gather with guitars, share their songs with each other and offer feedback and suggestions.

Songs to be performed Feb. 12 and during rodeo events include:

  •  “Rodeo Song” by Desmond Ikegwuonu
  •  “Bullrider” by Mark Buller
  • “Say Goodbye” by Daniel Webbon
  • “Llama Lady” by Daniel Webbon
  • “Blessed” by Mark Buller
  •  “Trail Ride” by Samuel Hunter


A schedule of when these songs will be performed during HSLR is still being coordinated.

HGOco engages members of the Houston community through performances, workshops, lectures, student performances, vocal training programs, opera camps, residencies and “Song of Houston” project, which commissions works that capture the spirit of the city. To learn more about HGOCo, visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org/hgoco/.

The Moores School of Music is one of the premier music schools in America. Offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, it serves approximately 600 students annually. Areas of study include composition, conducting, performance, theory and musicology. Its faculty consists of internationally recognized performers, composers and scholars. Among its ensembles are the Moores School Symphony Orchestra, Moores Jazz Ensemble, Moores Opera Center, Concert Chorale, Concert Women’s Chorus, Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band, Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble. A majority of the school’s concerts are performed in the 800-seat Moores Opera House. For more details on the Moores School of Music, visit http://www.music.uh.edu/.