Our debut public performance at the Arts Center, A Night of Strings, was a spectacular event benefiting student scholarships. As is our custom here, everyone pulled together to ensure that every detail, large and small, was given attention and treated with importance. This first public event of the Arts Center’s inaugural year stands as the most recent reflection of the caliber and dedication of our faculty, staff, and leadership.
Everything from the design of the invitation, to advertising the event, preparing the guest lists, greeting our guests at the airport or in person on campus, preparing the green room with just the right furniture, planning the reception, the dinner and the desserts, trimming the palms along the resaca’s edge, changing a light bulb, preparing the scripts, training the volunteers, and inventing new protocol for using the performance hall was done expertly. Preparing and coordinating the many student musicians, composing the finale, learning how to work lights and sound and assemble the shell, worrying about the decorations, and figuring out how to check and retrieve coats were all challenges that were handled adeptly. The myriad of rehearsals taught our current and future students how to enter the stage, how to exit, when to bow and how to bow. Much of the preparation was new to us; it had certainly not been undertaken at the same time and in a new venue.
Physical Plant staff became stagehands rehearsing how to rearrange band stands and chairs silently on a darkened stage. Bill Strong became the expert master of ceremonies with his warm and welcoming style, and Michael Quantz became composer, director, and, always, the consummate teacher. Terry Tomlin climbed the catwalks above the stage adjusting microphones and lights, and Sue Zanne Urbis delivered a ‘state of the union’ style speech, pausing discreetly for the spontaneous applause that came as a reaction to the many extraordinary accomplishments of the Fine Arts Department.
Folks appreciated the look of the new hall, they enjoyed standing in the lobby with its splendid views of the resaca, and they smiled when they first spotted the chandeliers sparkling overhead. Some even noticed the nautilus shape of the building and the charming and graceful arches that introduce and then entice guests into the inner chambers of the building. Others mentioned the comfortable seats and the ample space between rows.
But most of all, they appreciated the sound; the clarity of it, the precision of its nuances, and the special way in which the sound carried throughout the hall. Letty Fernandez reported that everyone she interviewed after the performance commented on the magnificent sound. I can report the same. Our architects, Studio Red, from Houston, deserve the lion’s share of the credit. But close behind them, are José Martín, David Pearson, Veronica Mendez, and Wayne Moore, who each and in combination with each other, deserve a great deal of credit for the building itself. In weekly meetings of the Construction Council for more than 18 months, no detail was thought too insignificant for their consideration.
A Night of Strings was also a learning experience. We learned what doors in the wings make noise when opened suddenly and how to serve hot food without a kitchen. We learned to have patience with each other and laugh aloud when nothing seemed to work.
At times, it’s easy to take for granted the dedicated staff and faculty with whom we are privileged to serve. We might mistakenly think that because we pay folks a modest salary that they somehow owe us commitment and enthusiasm. I’ve never been comfortable with assuming that salary and benefits produce either. Things no one asked for, but were accomplished that evening were done because all care so much for our university. Our campus community cares about what our guests think of our work and have pride that comes from working to build a university together.
It was also wonderful to share the evening with our special guests beginning with our own Texas Southmost College Trustees. It was because of their leadership that the Arts Center became a reality. I recall the trip several of the trustees made to Houston a few years ago to visit performing arts centers. It was shortly after that trip that the entire board made the courageous decision to return to the community to ask for their help in funding the Arts Center. They spoke tirelessly at town hall meetings, they met one-on-one with concerned citizens, and then they worked hard to bring potential donors to continue their support. The Arts Center simply would never have been possible had it not been for their vision. Joining them were members of our Development Board, led by Gerry Fleuriet, who have worked energetically to bring more donors to our work. Many of our local donors, community members, and proud parents joined us for the Night of Strings.
But we also had many out-of-town guests join us that evening, beginning with Charles Butt, who donated one million dollars to name the lobby in honor of his mother. We also welcomed Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. Not only did he attend, he also performed elegantly that evening on the classical guitar. I must confess that I’ve never been prouder to be part of the UT System than I was that night when our Chancellor walked out on the stage to perform.
And accompanying our Chancellor was Regent Janiece Longoria, herself a Valley native, returning now as a regent to join us in our celebration and commend the community and our trustees for this endeavor. And of course, our esteemed colleague David Prior was among U.T. System guests as well; our Executive Vice Chancellor has always understood the importance of our work in South Texas and promised us months ago that he would attend.
All guests left exhilarated by the evening. Our generous donors and our community members will tell the story of the evening over and over. Those who were not able to attend will make sure they come next time.
Music is what feelings sound like.
At the spring convocation just a few weeks ago at the new Arts Center, we concluded by experiencing the performance of three of our accomplished faculty pianists, Jesus Guillermo Morales, Juan Pablo Andrade, and Richard Urbis.
The audience was held captive by the performances, each escalating our emotions in preparation for the next. At the end of the three performances, Richard was joined on stage by his colleagues who together received a standing ovation; the first ever at the new Arts Center. As I walked back to my office after the convocation, I was stopped by a member of the faculty. She had clearly been moved by the performances of our pianists. She explained that once she had been asked by a student in class, if one could physically feel music. She said that she had answered “No.” She went on to say, “I was wrong; today I felt music.”
Thanks to all of you who helped prepare for that evening, who attended, and who worked so very hard over the years to make the dream of one day having this wonderful Arts Center on our campus a reality.