The Christmas Concert will be the Roswell Symphony Orchestra’s highlight of its 60th season
By Christina Stock
The Roswell Symphony Orchestra unites musicians from far and wide since the late ‘50s. Maestro John Farrer has been guiding the RSO as director since its 1972 season.
With the upcoming annual RSO Christmas Classics concert on Dec. 8 at 2:30 p.m. at the Pearson Auditorium on the New Mexico Military Institute grounds, some of the oldest and newest members shared memories and impressions from RSO’s performances throughout the years. It is a legacy that Roswell can cherish and music fans can look forward to experiencing, hopefully another 60 seasons.
For the upcoming Christmas concert, RSO reached out to the local theater community to find a narrator for the reading of “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Clarke Moore. They contacted Roswell Community Little Theatre and thespian Boyd Barrett was glad to accept the role. While he is not a musician, but an actor, he has appreciated RSO ever since he moved to Roswell.
“I have been here for a long time,” Barrett said. “I don’t know when the first time was, but I do remember whenever I heard them the first time. I was extremely impressed with the quality of the orchestra for a city of our size. It is the quality of a larger city symphony and it’s pretty amazing. I have been here since ‘77. A couple of times, I went somewhere else but came back.” Asked about the challenge working with a live orchestra, Barrett said, “I’ve done that type of thing a lot because when I did my one-man shows, I would have a background tape with the music and it would go start, and go for 45 minutes or an hour, and I have to hit those cues right on time. Nobody was doing the cues for me, I had to hit them. I am kind of used to that kind of thing.”
As many have, Barrett has a fondness for the poem he is going to read. “I remember it from forever. The language is so musical and lyrical it just stays with you. This is just something that everybody has heard and everybody is aware of.”
Barrett is an experienced voice actor as well, an old, yet new art in today’s fast-paced world. He has his own voice studio in town and is connected to other voice actors around the world with whom he works. This too prepares him for his role for RSO, which he said is part of his “bucket list.”
“My sorta-mentor in storytelling and the guy I believe is the best living storyteller by far, is Jay O’Callahan in Massachusetts,” Barrett said. “He is quite a bit older, he is probably in his early 80s. He is unbelievable and one of the things he has done over the years is to tell his stories with orchestras in the background. He’s done it with some major orchestras all over the world. So I thought, I’d love to do that one time, so this is a step maybe in that direction. I would love to do a bigger thing. This is just during that one segment where they are playing the score and I’ll do that, but it has to be timed, so it is timed to the music so, it’ll be fun.”
The orchestra will also perform Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff’s polonaise from “Christmas Eve,” Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” and George Frideric Handel’s selections from “The Messiah.”
Ray Jenkins has been with RSO from the very start. In a phone interview, he shared some of his memories. “I grew up in Hagerman on a farm and I started taking violin lessons from Mrs. Doris Welborne,” Jenkins said. “She was the first concert master of the Roswell Symphony. Several of her students, including her two daughters and myself, we went in one car, and we went to the organizational first service. It was challenging. I learned and I practiced, and just kind of stayed with it. The more I had experience with other things, like going to music camp later on, to figure out which composers I liked the most and what have you. The Roswell Symphony was sure a big part of my growing up.”
In a time where true country music and rock ‘n’ roll was the most popular music, Jenkins kept his interest in the classics. Asked if he was the only young kid interested at the time, he said no. “My friend, Mrs. Welborne’s younger daughter was in my class, so we were contemporaries, and there was her big sister who was about three years older. There was another girl that was one or two years older. There was a handful of teenagers, but lots of adults,” Jenkins said.
Next to his violin lessons and his summer music camps, Jenkins remembers also being able to play in the New Mexico Allstate Orchestra in Albuquerque. “I just tended to get more experienced and I played in the Roswell Symphony through high school,” he said.
“They (RSO) used to have practices for the local people about twice before the import people came on the big weekend (of the concert), and we would go up to the Roswell High School band room. That was where our local rehearsals were before we went down to Pearson Auditorium. There was good fellowship,” Jenkins said.
“I know I am very fortunate,” Jenkins said. “Being able to have an experience like that along with my lessons, it was almost like a lab. A college lab. You could apply things that you have been working on: I learned how to count rhythms and I learned how to play in the middle of a section with other violins, and to listen across the orchestra and see who else had that line or who the melody was. I learned how to follow the conductor. It was lots of good practical experience. I have a few favorites I remember from those early days. By this time, I was a student at ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University) myself, majoring in music education, but we still came back and played in the Roswell Symphony.
“I do remember Dorothy Herring was the Chaves County Clerk and she was a member of the violin section. She was always friendly. It was always good to talk to her,” Jenkins said.
Herring died on April 8, 2015 at age 92 in Denton, Texas. According to the obituary the family placed with La Grone Funeral Chapel, the accomplished musician started piano lessons at the age of 6, and violin lessons at the age of 8. She was a charter member of RSO, and had a large part in organizing the Roswell Symphony Guild.
“I did play through the years with all four RSO conductors and music directors,” Jenkins said. “There was Mr. Glenn Cunningham, he was the founder. He was the first conductor when they first started back in 1959. I think he was the minister of music at the Methodist Church in Roswell. Then came a fellow named Thomas Lewis, who was in the military music himself in Germany. I am pretty sure that’s where he had been stationed. He played the viola and his wife, who was a German lady named Renate, and she played in the second violin section. We were stand partners for two or three years. Then William Kirschke, I missed the last years of his term when I was in the military. When I came back to college at Eastern, I played in John Farrer’s first concert, his first season. It’s always good to see him, and we always have a special moment — just now and then — reminisce a little bit and talk about it. It really is a historical part of the Eastern New Mexico community and a big part of music for me.
Jenkins said that he also remembered Ray Phelps. “Ray Phelps played Bassoon,” he said. According to Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, a scholarship is in place in Phelps’ name. Phelps helped in the founding of the Roswell Museum and Art Center, as well.
“It is kinda strange — to still be doing something that seems very familiar,” Jenkins said. “I know that Pearson Auditorium has been remodeled, and it is beautiful now, but the old auditorium had lots of charm, too. The way the sunlight would come in those big windows on the evening as we were winding up afternoon rehearsals; the mood and the feeling of it seems very familiar. Being on the stage at Pearson is like a comfortable relationship, and I’ve been here before,” Jenkins said.
“The Roswell community has always supported the orchestra, and we appreciate that. I remember in the days of Walker Air Force Base when it was an active duty Air Force Base, and we had people sometimes come in the dress uniform. It was really an evening. There was always lots of support from that as well. I think that people appreciate different kinds of music and certainly the Roswell Symphony has offered them consistency that way,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has a vision for RSO’s future. “I certainly would want the symphony to be going on as a vital part of community — 60th anniversary — that’s quite a number,” he said. “I haven’t played every single concert. I was gone for about 3 years when I was in the Army in San Antonio. I played in an Army band down there, but when I returned to Eastern and then over here in West Texas (where Jenkins lives today), the symphony was always a big part of my work and a big part of my planning. I would want the community to support it, and maybe even have an outreach with some of the smaller communities, to have a place, a destination place, to go during concert season, and enjoy music together.”
Jenkins said that he is looking forward to this season and the holiday concert. Just as when he was a young boy, the music, he said, is continuing to challenge him, because “every now and then, you run into something that’s brand new, and you have to really put some special efforts to it, but it’s very rewarding.”
Mary Hale is one of the other long-acting musicians at RSO. Her instrument of choice is the flute. Hale met with the Vision editor to share her memories.
“I started in 1977,” Hale said. “I remember our first rehearsal — that I went to — was at Monterey Elementary. I had been out of college for a couple of years. It was my first date with my husband, having him in a concert. I figured him being safe in a balcony and me on the stage, he wouldn’t try to hold my hand or anything. I did check him out. I was the one who had the binoculars. We just celebrated 40 years of marriage, I am starting my 43rd season. My first date with him was to the Roswell Symphony, and his first date was, we went to a basketball game. And we still do music and basketball. We love it.”
Hale said that at the time the RSO had 40 to 50 active musicians, who were friendly and engaging toward her. “John was young of course,” Hale said. “He was 42 years, he was in his 30s when he started. There was always a real sense of excellence from the beginning with him. He is well-trained. I had a learning curve.”
Part II will be published in the Vision Section on Dec. 8.
For more information, visit roswellsymphony.org