The New Texas Symphony winds up its fifth season with a concert at the DMA. But it’s also time for the gay ensemble to start anew
Say you grew up studying violin, but rather than pursuing it as a career, a business degree sounded more sensible. Or perhaps you spent years with the French horn in high school and college and now it gathers dust in the garage. Fret not. Cathy Brown may just want to talk to you.
"I wanted a place where anyone can come play and feel welcome," says Brown, artistic director of the New Texas Symphony Orchestra." But not just welcome in the general sense; she proudly claims NTSO as an all-inclusive group (LGBT and straight) where simply music is the issue. Five years after founding the group, they have, in her words, "evolved into this beautiful thing I could have never imagined."
At just five years, NTSO is a babe among the other community orchestras in these parts. Irving, Mesquite and Garland all have decades-old musical havens where volunteer musicians can perform, but Brown saw a void right here in Big D. And just like that, the first centrally located all volunteer community orchestra was born. Sure, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is the go-to for classical music, but Brown sees quite a difference in the people she gets to play with.
"It’s been my experience that you get a different kind of playing," she says. "They play because they want to play and for no other reason. With that you get a different experience because they play with a passion."
A passion she is hoping people will see in NTSO’s final concert for the season on June 20.
"Right now, our audience is mostly friends and family," she says, her soft voice without an apparent ring of frustration. Brown likens it to all that Dallas has to offer already in the arts arena: "People see that there are so many things to go see and hear but they probably won’t see something they don’t know."
Joe Guzman is a little more blunt about audience attendance. "Our last concert bombed."
Guzman is the artistic manager of the orchestra and plans to move the orchestra forward. "At the beginning of the season, we got together and talked. We needed to decide what we’re going to do beyond the status quo."
Part of this plan is to begin inviting some "heavy-hitting musicians" to the stage. Their upcoming summer concert will host guest soloists Terri Sundberg and Jaymee Haefner from the University of North Texas.
Brown, who is also the music director at Cathedral of Hope, sees the orchestra growing in the future. The orchestra averages 45 to 50 players, and with a median age of 35, they are fairly young compared to other community groups — a fact that helps with the group’s diverse appeal. Despite the age though, she has big goals of recruiting more into joining.
"The more visible we are, the better we can recruit. We are developing relationships with different college orchestras. We want to be a place musicians come to out of college or high school." Brown says, then adds, "As long as they are 18 at least."
They wouldn’t mind some more violinists though. "We’re trying to build up our string reserves," Guzman says — which is quite the endeavor. According to Brown, it is often difficult to find string players in this part of the world who will play for free. NTSO needs strings so much that they aren’t even required to audition. (Score one for those whose cellos were just taking up space.)
Although under the radar in the local arts scene, NTSO has sidestepped the troubled economy to come out relatively unscathed. As budgets tighten, the arts usually suffer the most. Brown sees this ability to maintain steady growth and to be solvent as one of the group’s main achievements.
"We are very careful how we spend money. And every year we have been able to stay in the black," she says.
This does not mean they will be holding back from fundraising, which most arts groups rely on. Anonymous donors, ticket sales and member dues fuel the bank account. Brown sees more fundraisers in the future.
Despite money issues, member orientations or lack of strings, Brown reinforces that New Texas Symphony Orchestra is just about the music. They have performed with groups like the Turtle Creek Chorale and Resounding Harmony, but when they have the spotlight to themselves, they balance their music between traditional and contemporary classical music. Although their last concert was all about Broadway tunes, their season finale will go old-school.
"This will be our first really traditional symphony concert complete with an overture and concerto," Brown says.
On NTSO’s Web site is a slogan declaring it "The symphony for the rest of us," but Brown admits to having mixed feelings about that. "That itself felt somewhat exclusive," she says. "I prefer ‘The symphony for all of us.’"
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 12, 2009.