The McAllen Wind Ensemble is celebrating 50 years of bringing music to Valley communities. Roger Olivarez, who has been conducting the ensemble for 10 years, says this is a testament to the community’s love of music and to the commitment of the musicians as well.
“It’s the golden anniversary, we’re very excited,” he said.
Organized in 1973 and chartered in 1974, the Town Band Association has been sustained over the years by a love of music, both among its dedicated members and a supportive McAllen and Rio Grande Valley community. A McAllen businessman, Bill Wilson, was impressed by the energetic presence of concert bands which he had observed in many Mexican plazas. The thought of Archer Park in McAllen being unused inspired the idea to form a community band. With the support of band directors and the business community, and inaugural Music Director, Paul Garrett, the group began the McAllen Town Band.
In November 1973, the Town Band had its first rehearsal in the McAllen High School Band Hall. A small number of band directors, students, and local businessmen faithfully prepared for the first concert in Archer Park on March 31, 1974. Later that year, the Band had its first Fourth of July concert, which has remained a tradition ever since.
Currently, the organization has about 75 musicians from across the region ranging in age and professional background. Out of a love of music and a desire to improve the cultural offerings available in the community, they volunteer their time to rehearse once a week for their performances.
The season typically starts in November with a patriotic themed concert that also includes other music. This year’s first concert will be held on Tuesday, November 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the McAllen Performing Arts Center. The concert is entitled Red, White and Blues and combines their annual Veterans Day patriotic music commemoration with some jazzy, toe-tapping tunes.
The concert will present three featured artists, Jan Christine Pacis-Rama will be the guest piano soloist on a band arrangement of Geoge Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Two band members will also be featured soloists: Dr. Ben Coy on trombone for the Blue Bells of Scotland and Laura Benavides on alto saxophone for Harlem Nocturne. Other pieces include a service medley and the theme to Band of Brothers.
The organization gets a lot of assistance from their music committee. Their music committee comes up with a theme for their second and third concerts. Then their committee chooses some songs, and it becomes a group effort in choosing the music for each concert. They often choose over a dozen songs before dwindling it down to what gets played at a concert. They rank the songs and go by what gets the most votes. They might have picked about 15 songs and usually get down to about ten that they rehearse to play.
The librarian, Elizabeth, tallies the votes and gives the music rankings and music to the director. Roger said he reviews them and tries to keep things in order by what they were ranked.
Roy Contreras, board president, physician assistant, player, and member of the music committee said a lot of effort goes into the choices for the music. They really come together to try and make the best choices for each show. They don’t do much for the first two shows because the patriotic and Christmas concerts kind of choose the music for themselves.
All the players and committee members are volunteers, said Roy. The only paid people are the conductor and the librarian. Members must tryout, and it’s up to the first chair and conductor on whether they will play with the ensemble. Players range from high school age to their 80’s. One member has been with the group for about 40 years, maybe even longer. Winter Texans also play with the group.
Jon Stevens, who takes care of their publicity and is a member of the ensemble, said it’s an interesting group of people, because you have members that are going to STC taking classes still trying to figure out the next phase in their life and they love music, to retired band directors that have been retired for 20 years or more.
“The span of experience,” said Jon is amazing.
Roy added he played in the drum and bugle corps in the navy. Before that he played in junior high and high school. He just started playing his horn again in the last ten years, taking about two years to get his ‘lip’ back.
“We have old musicians like myself,” said Roy. “We come from all walks of life. We just have a love of music. Some play until they just can’t anymore.”
One gentleman was a member until just a few years before he passed away – Art Ratley. A scholarship was made in his name. He was a band director in McAllen and played the baritone.
We even have some players that have been taught by other players, said Jon.
When Jon speaks of the Winter Texans that play with the ensemble, he talks of the stories they share. They share about the places they have lived and all their travels, he said. They have interesting lives, and we enjoy having them with us.
“It takes a lot to have an organization around for 50 years,” said Jon. “I just think of all the people that it took to start it up and keep it going through all those years, all those changes.”
It was someone observing that music was a part of the town fabric in Mexico, said Jon, and realizing that was something that McAllen could have, that could make it a place that values the art and has things for people. It links music to a better quality of life for the musicians and the people the music touches at concerts and events.
It’s a challenge, they said about keeping the program going while also having full time jobs, being students, and whatever else some members are doing when they are not rehearsing. It tells of their devotion and love for music and trying to keep the ensemble at its highest playing ability.
Roy said they don’t only do these concerts for the public. They also do small concerts for non-profit organizations throughout the year.
“We try to help as many people as we can,” said Roy.
It’s all about bringing music to others.
Join the McAllen Wind Ensemble as they embark on the 50th anniversary of bringing music to the community. Join them November 14th for a diverse musical journey through patriotic music favorites, energetic blues and jazz, and some stunning solos as they perform Red, White and Blues.
The concert features a special promotion for Veterans. Buy one get one free for military Veterans who present military ID at the box office.
Tickets start at $10, including fees, and can be purchased in-person at the McAllen Performing Arts Center Box Office or by calling 1-800-745-3000, or at www.ticketmaster.com (additional fees may apply). Reserved seating is also available. Season tickets are available as well and offer reserved seating.
Their other concerts are their Christmas concert on December 15, An Animation concert on February 13, and their Golden Anniversary Concert on April 7. You can find their schedule and more information online at mcallenwindensemble.org.