April 30, 2012 Spring 2012 No. 6
One of the greatest privileges of serving as President of The University of Texas at Brownsville is to have the opportunity to bring together just the right people at the right time to make a great impact on our community.
Twenty years ago when UTB/TSC was first established, the music program benefited from the strong foundation of a wonderful but modest music program. We had several very dedicated faculty who taught piano or trumpet and who put on marvelous concerts in spaces so small that the audience and performers were often only separated by mere inches.
As the population in the Valley began to explode, we experienced more and more talent descending on our campus. A larger pool of graduates from award-winning Valley high school music programs were now attending UTB/TSC and seeking a place where they could continue to develop their skills in the performance and in the teaching of music.
So within just a few years of having established UTB/TSC, we developed a proposal to offer a bachelor’s degree in music and presented it to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) for consideration. The proposal was denied several times. Each time we resubmitted the proposal, we would strengthen the curriculum, hire more faculty and acquire much needed equipment. Having met all other criteria, the last time it was denied the reason given was that because UT Pan American already offered a bachelor’s degree in music, and they did not believe that there would be enough interest in the Rio Grande Valley for two good music programs.
Undeterred, we decided to try a different strategy. We asked to be placed on the agenda of the THECB so that we might address the issue personally. Members of the Music Department faculty and students joined me in traveling to Austin to make the presentation.
We testified on a Thursday. We explained how our enrollment had grown over the years and how many students were playing in our ensembles. We talked about the hundreds more that excelled in middle and high school UIL events at state competitions. And we explained that we had a tidal wave of talent coming to us seeking a degree in music. We presented a compelling argument.
After having heard my testimony and witnessed the support of the faculty and students present, one by one each member of THECB told their own story about how much music had meant in their lives: one had played in the band, another had sung in the choir and yet another told a story about their own child and the importance music education had played in their lives. When all of the testimonials had finished, one of the board members made a motion to grant UTB/TSC the authority to begin offering the bachelor’s degree in music. The motion passed unanimously.
On Friday afternoon, a story about the new music degree appeared in The Brownsville Herald. By the end of the next week, 18 students had declared music as their new major.
This May, we mark the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the bachelor’s degree in music at UTB. Our music program, which has earned accreditation by the prestigious National Association of Schools of Music, has grown to include 243 majors. Drawing from students from all of our colleges and schools, UTB’s music program is now home to seven instrumental ensembles from mariachi to jazz band, three vocal ensembles including an opera company and master chorale and 10 chamber ensembles, with the newest being our drum line.
Graduates are having great impact in our community. Since the inception of our program, our music education majors have passed their state certification exams at a rate of 100 percent. These same graduates also enjoy a 100 percent job or graduate school placement rate. Most of our graduates have remained in the Rio Grande Valley and are guiding some of the finest music programs to state competition. Other graduates have been recruited outside of the RGV to establish mariachi ensembles from Chicago to Dallas.
As creators and performers, our students are extraordinary. Our mariachi performed at the Texas Inaugural Ball for President George W. Bush. Several years ago, two of our music students debuted at Carnegie Hall, and our chorale performed at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, and at high mass at the Vatican. Our jazz band has competed at the prestigious, invitation-only Notre Dame Jazz Festival several times, and most recently, we hosted the nation’s premier classical guitar festival on our campus for the 11th year. From percussion, to winds, to strings–our music program now offers great variety and an opportunity once thought too ambitious for the RGV.
My most sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to each member of the founding faculty in the music department for establishing an environment where culture and history are revered. I am appreciative to those who never gave up on the dream of offering a degree in music and to all of those who continue today to change the lives of not only the students here at the university, but of all whom they touch.
Victor Hugo said that “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Thank you for helping us find our own many voices.
The Music Department will hold a special concert celebrating the 15th anniversary of the music degree program with a special concert at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 3 at The Arts Center. “In Celebration: Fifteen Years of Making Musicians” will feature performances by current and former students. Please join us as we mark this very important milestone.
university of texas at brownsville
Gorgas hall • 80 fort brown • Brownsville texas, 78520