The Lubbock Civic Orchestra moves into the School of Music on Texas Tech’s campus.
If you stroll by Texas Tech University's School of Music on a Tuesday evening, you'll hear layers of harmony and rhythm coming from the band hall. Though the hall is used by students throughout the week, this sound is not being made by students. Rather, the fluttering wind arpeggios and rolling timpani parts are played by Lubbock community members.
The School of Music is the new home of the Lubbock Civic Orchestra, an ensemble made up of amateurs and semi-professionals, some who have played for more than 50 years and others who just started recently.
The ensemble moved its rehearsals from Lubbock Christian University to Texas Tech this fall to accommodate its expanding membership.
When you walk into rehearsal you're met by players in both suit and tie, jeans and T-shirts. Some come straight from work; others run home first to meet the babysitter. One works as a band director, another works at Starbucks. One member is a communications practitioner while yet another works for a title company.
The one thing they all have in common is their desire to create music. Neither money nor college credit draws them here.
They're here for themselves; they're here for each other.
A Need Filled
Ryan Smith moved to Lubbock in 2014 to earn his Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) in wind conducting. Well into his music education career he found himself yearning for new experiences. So, he applied to Texas Tech.
“I was immediately struck by the size of the university,” Smith said. “I'd never been on a campus so large.”
The thing that stood out most, though, was the people. Smith found Lubbock to be one of the friendliest communities he'd lived in. Whether in academics or just everyday life, he and his family felt supported.
He certainly felt this at the School of Music, along with a strong sense of comradery. He quickly made friends with many of the faculty members, one of whom was Blair Williams.
Williams had been leading the Texas Tech String Project for many years. The project is a place for children and adult beginners to hone their skills on string instruments.
Smith liked this idea and wondered if there was a similar outlet for band musicians. There was one community band, but it strictly played band music. He considered combining the band and string players to make a symphonic group.
“This was a gap in the community,” Smith said. “Band musicians needed strings to play with and the community string musicians could benefit from band musicians.”
Once this clicked into place, things moved quickly. The idea formed in 2017 and by the fall of 2018 the Lubbock Civic Orchestra had its first concert season. The ensemble wasn't only beneficial to the musicians, but to the public as well. Lubbock has a wonderful symphony orchestra, but tickets can be expensive.
The Lubbock Civic Orchestra offers its concerts for free.
“It's a low-stakes opportunity to experience live classical music,” Smith said.
While the community has now enjoyed almost 10 concerts from the group, it's the musicians themselves who have been most impacted.
Erin Gregg looks over old photographs from her time in Texas Tech's Goin' Band from Raiderland.
“These were the best memories of my life,” she recounts. “The music was important, but the friendships are what made it so special.”
The flautist marched in the band with her now-husband, Elgin Gregg, who is a percussionist. The two met in high school but didn't start dating until they both came to Texas Tech. While Elgin studied music education, Erin enrolled in the College of Media & Communication and double majored in journalism and Spanish.
Erin stopped playing the flute after graduating. She focused on building a career and ended up going into public relations. She is now the executive director of communications and community relations for Lubbock Independent School District.
Elgin is the band director at Commander William C. McCool Academy, a magnet school in Lubbock ISD. Over the summer of 2018, Elgin received an email sent out to Lubbock ISD music educators inviting them to audition for a new group, the Lubbock Civic Orchestra.
“As a music educator, you don't get a lot of performance opportunities yourself,” Elgin said. “It was a great chance to play an instrument I love with a nice group of people.”
Elgin did not audition on percussion. He auditioned on violin.
It was an instrument he loved playing but had set aside to focus on marching band and his other studies during college. The civic orchestra gave him an opportunity to brush up on his long-lost passion.
But what Elgin finds most rewarding about the group is a chance to do something special with his spouse.
“When I heard Elgin take out his violin and start practicing, I asked him what he was doing,” Erin recalls. “He told me about the email, and I decided to audition too.”
Erin logs long hours at her job and is involved in many committees and organizations in the community, leaving little time for the hobbies of old. When she had a chance to pull her flute back out, she embraced it. The couple have been a staple in the ensemble ever since.
“It feels like a family,” Erin said. “We've met people we would have never met otherwise.”
They share a love for music and demonstrate that same care for each another. This care was evident when Erin had to step away from the group last spring when her mother passed away.
“I've lost both my parents in the last two years,” Erin said, the pang of recent loss still in her voice. “I received a handwritten note from every member of the orchestra when my mom passed away.”
Some of the musicians didn't know Erin very well, but it didn't keep them from reaching out. When Erin was finally able to return this fall, she asked for a moment to address the group.
“I wanted to say thank you. You've made me feel like family,” she told the other musicians.
One special connection Erin has made is with violinist Allison Eubanks.
Part of Erin's job with Lubbock ISD is hosting a community leadership academy. A year ago, Allison was a member of that group. Allison is the outreach program director of STEM CORE at Texas Tech, so she collaborates a lot with local school districts.
“Allison immediately impressed me,” Erin said.
So it delighted her when she saw Allison walk into rehearsal with the Lubbock Civic Orchestra this year. Erin immediately recognized her and asked how she'd gotten involved with the ensemble.
Allison played piano growing up but was a novice to violin – the instrument she auditioned on.
“I always wanted to learn violin,” Eubanks said. “I took a few lessons in my early thirties but then I had kids and life just got in the way.”
More than 20 years later, Allison carved out time for herself.
She started with lessons at Texas Tech's String Project a year ago, brushing up on some of the basics. When she heard about auditions for a civic orchestra, she wondered if she had the skill.
“I had to work really hard on that audition material,” she said.
It paid off when she found out she'd made second violin.
“I still have to practice more than most,” Eubanks said, “but it's worth it. I am getting better all the time and it's a joy to make music with such wonderful people.”
Allison was especially drawn to Erin, as she too lost her mother some time ago.
“Music wouldn't be a part of my life if not for my mother,” Eubanks said.
Her mother was a pianist and put Allison in lessons when she was young. Her two brothers also play music – one a guitarist, the other a drummer. Playing music is a way they stay connected to their mother, even though she's gone.
While Allison enjoyed playing piano, she was drawn to the violin because she enjoys being one small sound amid a larger chorus.
“The piano is a solo instrument,” she said. “There are violin solos too, sure, but you can't play piano with 20 other pianists. That's something special the violin affords.”
It's a feeling all the musicians enjoy – the high that comes from creating sweeping melodies as one unit, all parts supporting the other and taking turns carrying the piece.
The collegial assortment of artists is one of Gregory Brookes favorite parts of the civic orchestra. The associate professor of voice at Texas Tech uses the group as an opportunity to return to his first love, the clarinet.
Like many students who get to college with an interest in more than one concentration, Gregory tried to study both. He had played the clarinet up to that point but when he got to college, he discovered a passion for singing.
He attempted a balancing act at first but after completing his degree in clarinet, he knew he needed to make a choice. He stuck with voice.
“The civic orchestra has given me a space to polish my secondary instrument,” Brookes said. “It's allowed me to take that back off the shelf and re-engage with an instrument I love.”
For some members of the orchestra, they're there to perfect a secondary instrument. For others, they're returning to their primary instrument after a long break.
“The flute has given so much to me,” Erin said. “But as you get older and start a family, if you're not working as a full-time musician, it's difficult to keep performing.”
The orchestra gives amateurs such as Erin the chance to rediscover their talents without the time demands of a professional orchestra.
“If you play in the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, you're at rehearsal every night of the week leading up to a concert,” Brookes said. “Those musicians are paid for their time, so the expectation is that you've technically perfected the music by the first rehearsal.”
While the civic orchestra strives for excellence, the expectation from the conductors are different.
“We know this is not their full-time job,” Smith said.
To make a performance feasible, Smith purposefully keeps the seasons short. The orchestra rehearses for roughly eight weeks each spring and fall, they then give a concert. The seasons usually run from August through October and February through April.
“We want the commitment to feel doable,” Smith emphasized. “They're participating for personal fulfillment; we keep that in mind.”
The orchestra has only been rehearsing on Texas Tech's campus for a month now, but the extra space has them dreaming of the future.
“Our partnership with Lubbock Christian was wonderful,” Smith said. “We are grateful to them, and it was the right place for us at the time.”
But now with 62 members, the orchestra not only needs a larger rehearsal space but a larger performance space, too.
In addition to using the band hall in the School of Music, the orchestra will now perform in the Allen Theatre. With double the seats and a much larger stage, the theatre will give the orchestra plenty of room to grow.
A New Home
When it came time to find more room, Smith turned to his alma mater. The relationships he built during his graduate work remain strong to this day. Smith is now the fine arts director of Frenship Independent School District (FISD) but stays active at Texas Tech.
“The School of Music is committed to serving our community with several programs and opportunities for Lubbock and the surrounding area,” said Stetson. “Connecting directly with the civic orchestra enhances that mission. This strategic outreach provides a creative outlet for amateur and semi-professional musicians. Our shared goals and aspirations perfectly align with their group.”
Stetson loves Tuesday nights in the School of Music.
As you roam the halls, not only do you hear the civic orchestra, but also the Lubbock Chorale and the string project. Each week, hundreds of community members use the facility to grow their own musicianship while giving back to the community through performances and recitals.
“Groups like these fill a void for adults,” Brookes said. “As children we engage in various passions that bring us joy. But as we enter the work force, we often stop doing those things.”
If you're not making money out of something, it falls by the wayside as an adult. There is less permission to do the things that just make you happy.
“That's what this group is,” Brookes said. “We're here to invest in the community, yes, but we're also here to rekindle the joy.”
The Lubbock Civic Orchestra In Concert
The Lubbock Civic Orchestra will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 17) in the Allen Theatre on Texas Tech's campus. The concert is free to the public.
The program includes works by Antonin Dvorak, Morton Gould, Carmen Dragon, Peter J. Wilhousky and John Philip Sousa.