Symphony Orchestras Fill the Air


Efrain Sain

The curtains open to a dimly lit stage as orchestra members test their instruments in preparation for an upcoming performance. Subtle inharmonious sounds tickle the ears of music lovers as they enter the room. The chaotic notes subside as a tuxedo-clad man enters and stops center stage. From the moment he lifts his baton, random notes are magically transformed into music. 

A number of symphony orchestras bring classical music to communities nestled amid the tall pine trees, cattle ranches and rodeo arenas weaving a thread of culture and refinement throughout Northeast Texas. 

Orchestras and supporting leagues based in Texarkana, Longview, Tyler, and Marshall organize performances throughout the year. Many orchestra members also perform in smaller chamber music ensembles and symphony bands taking beautiful music all over the region.

East Texas Symphony

The Tyler Symphony Orchestra was created 79 years ago on March 16, 1936. Although it disbanded during World War II it was revived in 1950. In 1954 the orchestra was renamed East Texas Symphony Orchestra to reflect the broader region from which performers and musicians are drawn. 

The East Texas Symphony Orchestra’s mission statement is “to engage, embrace and excite the East Texas community through inspiring musical performances.” They accomplish this with business practices exemplifying integrity and values. Because of this the East Texas Symphony Orchestra is one of three 2015 non-profit charities nominated for the 2015 Better Business Award for Excellence.

ETSO hired Richard Lee in 2012 as its 10th music director and conductor. Lee passed music exams with honors at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and pursued a degree in music performance and studied as both a violinist and violist and further studied conducting  with a long list of notable musicians and conductors at the University of Toronto. 

Ute Miller, principal violist for the ETSO states, “The ETSO is a professional regional orchestra, and it is a point of pride for a community like Tyler to have a symphony orchestra of this quality presenting a five-concert season.” 

The East Texas Symphony Orchestra presents “Melody Makers” March 18. Orchestra melodies such as Rossini’s William Tell Overture and J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 are performed. In addition, violinist Christine Wu,, 2013 winner of the Juanita Miller competition award, performs music by Mozart. 

The season concludes with a transcendent evening of music including Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with soprano Shannon Mercer April 25.

Concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Texas Tyler Cowan Center. 

Marshall Symphony

The Marshall Symphony Orchestra, founded January 1951, is a longstanding orchestra in East Texas. With both lament and gratitude, it is saying farewell this year to conductor Maestro Leonard Kacenjar who has been with the orchestra 39 years. 

Throughout his tenure the symphony’s objective is to “offer the East Texas area a cultural opportunity to experience an enriched life resplendent with excellence in music through quality performances featuring talented artists and encouraging gifted youth.” 

Kacenjar is aware that the tenure of any orchestra depends on incorporating new talent with the seasoned musicians. He is currently serving as adjunct professor at Panola College in Carthage. and teaches violin and viola for “Project String Power, Inc.” and is developing a string program for the college. Without a doubt several of his students will perform with not only the Marshall Symphony but with other orchestras throughout the area.

Comprised of professional musicians and student musicians from throughout the Ark-La-Tex, the Marshall Symphony Orchestra presents three concerts each year.

Longview Symphony

Conductor Dr. James Snowden was instrumental in the creation of the Longview Symphony Orchestra in 1968. The original orchestra consisted of about 60 dedicated conservatory-trained volunteer musicians who were committed to sharing their music. 

“Although the orchestra has not increased in number, today’s orchestra is now composed of professional, paid musicians from East Texas, Dallas/Fort Worth, Arkansas and Louisiana,” Snowden said.

In addition to performing with the Longview Symphony Orchestra, in 1988 Snowden founded the East Texas Symphonic Band.  Recently the band received the 2015 Sudler Silver Scroll Award from the John Philip Sousa Foundation. 

The Longview Symphony Orchestra presents “Freedom Rings” under the direction of conductor Tom Webster April 11 at the LeTourneau University Belcher Center. The celebration of the diversity of American composers and styles features the masterworks of Morton Gould, John Williams, Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Leonard Bernstein, and Adolphus Hailstork. Open notes begin at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at or by calling 903-233-3080.

Texarkana Symphony

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this April, the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra is preparing for exciting growth in its program.

Its mission is “to pursue, for all, the transformative power of symphonic music through excellence in live performance and education.”     

From its beginning April 4, 2006, this group has extended a hand of encouragement to the young musicians and in just a few months after the symphony was founded, the Junior League of Texarkana awarded them $100,000 to “foster educational excellence for children through local access to professional music ensembles.” 

“We are especially proud of our youth orchestra,” said founding board president Remica Gray. “Several kids have gone on to perform in college orchestras. Others play in church orchestras or major in music. Others simply enjoy attending performances. It is our privilege to love, teach and equip them to grow into adulthood with an appreciation for music.”

The Texarkana Symphony Orchestra is continuously looking for talented musicians to add to the group.

 “Our most prominent goal for the next five years is to recruit professional string players to move to Texarkana,” Gray said. “We are looking for musicians who will live and teach music in this area.”

According to Gray, currently one-fourth of the orchestra members live in Texarkana area, but the string musicians are shared with neighboring orchestras. 

The Texarkana Symphony Orchestra performs “Mozart in March” on March 7 featuring Kara Kirkendoll-Welch on flute and Jaymee Haefner on harp. On April 25 the orchestra closes out its season with “American Sounds” featuring Mary Scott Goode on piano. Music includes Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Mozart’s The School for Scandal Overture, Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Performances take place at the Perot Theatre located at 221 Main Street in the heart of downtown Texarkana. Concert previews begin at 6:40 p.m. and the main concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available on the Texarkana Regional Arts & Humanities Council website, or by calling 870-773-3401.

Local Symphony Orchestras are composed of highly trained professional musicians. Each orchestra contributes not only entertainment but strength and unity to their communities.

All of the symphony orchestras and leagues are especially dedicated to providing young musicians an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of music. They either sponsor a children’s concert giving area students the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of music or incorporate the talents of these young, gifted musicians into symphony performances. 

Audiences of all ages are growing in appreciation as more symphonies fill the air in the Upper East Side of Texas.

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