Roswell Symphony Orchestra’s artists share their stories and connections
By Christina Stock
Today, we continue the story of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra, seen through the eyes of its oldest and youngest members. We left off with Mary Hale, who recalls her early experiences under the guidance of Maestro John Farrer. “I remember one of the first rehearsals,” she said. “I was startled for some reason and I dropped my flute and the head joint landed on a leg of the metal music stand, so it had to have some major repair. You know how you sometimes just jerk and you don’t know why, but you’re just startled? They still tease me about it.
“Then, the other thing that John (Farrer) teases me about is my sensitivity to the music, because I cry during rehearsals sometimes. The principal clarinet, Buddy — Alfredo Lopez — he is still playing; he brings me to tears when he plays. We had just rehearsed a Wagner piece and it was “Siegfried,” and there was a beautiful clarinet solo. John just saw me bawling my eyes out and that was during rehearsal.”
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With Hale’s husband being pastor and her being the music director of Grace Community Church, she said she still rarely missed any rehearsals or concerts. “Because Rick (her husband, pastor at Grace Community Church) has been so supportive of me. He has always been my biggest fan, aside from my mom and dad, who have passed away. Rick has always supported me as much as I’ve supported him in his ministry. Rick has never missed a concert. I’ve just missed five concerts in 43 years and until this last concert, last year, that was the fifth concert I missed because of an illness. Until then, I’ve only missed four and two of those were for the birth of my children,” Hale said.
Asked about some of her most memorable concerts, Hale said that she remembers one Christmas concert when some musicians from the RSO played at church before the symphony’s concert. “I said, if you have your symphony music, make sure you don’t leave it at the stand at church when you leave for the Pearson. One of these players did just that, he left his music at Grace. He got in the car with me and we drove to the church to get his music. I was running late as a result. When I got to the building, I had a toothbrush with toothpaste on it in one hand and the flute in the other,” Hale said and laughed.
“One of the upright bass players had left his bass in the middle of the floor in the rehearsal hall and I tripped over it and my flute and toothpaste went flying somewhere. I hurt my ankle, so they had to carry me in. I made an entrance. Rick is in the balcony watching this whole thing. I had to borrow the second flutes’ — she went and got her flute in the hotel and came back and I played that concert on her flute,” Hale said.
Hale doesn’t remember when RSO changed from Sunday afternoon concerts to Saturday evening concerts. “It’s been a joy. Some of my dearest friends and colleagues are in the Roswell Symphony,” she said.
Looking back on her work of music, Hale said that Farrer’s training formed her and helped her in her career. “I was a band director at five schools and then I retired from my teaching position, married my husband and then went into music ministry in our church. Five years ago, I retired as music director at our church after 35 years of directing music,” she said.
Asked how Farrer’s style is compared to others, Hale said, “He has great conducting technique. He’s very easy to follow. Sometimes I have played under other directors, of course, in college and other places, he (Farrer) has a rehearsal style that is very unique and I am sure that it has grown out of the fact that we have to get down to business immediately. He makes excellent use of his time, he knows his repertoire forward and backward. He doesn’t direct with scores on performances, so he knows his scores very well.”
One of the youngest members of RSO is Jesse Gallindo, who is a student at NMSU, just as Jenkins was; and he plays violin and viola, and is planning to become a professional musician. In a phone interview, Gallindo shared his background and experience as part of the new generation coming up to perform the classics with RSO.
“I was born in Roswell,” Gallindo said. “My father is a pastor. My parents, both of them are from California originally and moved to Roswell to start a church. My parents started that church, maybe four or five years before I was born. A year and a half after I was born, they moved to start a new church in Las Cruces. We’ve been here ever since.”
Gallindo didn’t start out with the violin, but with the saxophone when he was in middle school, moving on to clarinet and flute. “Then I got bored,” he said. “When I was in ninth grade, I started violin because my band teacher had an extra violin. He was actually the conductor of a community orchestra we have in Las Cruces. And that’s how he got me into the orchestra. And that’s how I got into classical music.”
RSO contacted Gallindo’s professor when they were short on string musicians last year and Gallindo was available to travel to Roswell to perform. “I thought it was super cool,” he said. “I’ve heard about RSO, but haven’t been to any concerts because one of my professors — Jim Schearer — he actually had played in RSO. I was nervous because it was a professional paid orchestra, but once I got there, all people were supercool. It was so much fun. I enjoy getting to go every time they hire me to their concert.”
Gallindo is the next generation of musicians. Asked what he hopes or wishes for RSO, he said, “I think it would be cool to perform stuff that is more popular in our days — not every concert because then the orchestra would not be what it is. If we would do more pop concerts, and play more symphonies or concertos than we usually do — more stuff like Broadway musicals and movies. It would be a cool way to get different people to come to the symphony. I think it’s supercool when orchestras play alongside a concert band. Some of my friends would go to concerts like that.”
One of the youngest female RSO members is Kathleen Peterson. While having been a violin player since she was 11, Peterson moved with her husband to Roswell in 2015 from Texas, where she had a scholarship for music performance before transferring from a community college to Abilene Christian, in Abilene, Texas, with another orchestra scholarship. When she arrived in Roswell, she was looking for an ensemble to join and through an internet search, found the RSO.
Asked why she focused early on the classics, Peterson said, “Classical music has always been in my life. I have six siblings and they all play classical instruments; most of them are pianists. I have a brother in the Navy who has his master’s in nuclear engineering and is also a concert pianist. Then, I have a sister in Austin who is also a concert pianist. Both my grandparents, they say they were in choir. Both played in bands and orchestra.
“Classical music has been a part of my family. I can’t even imagine life without it. As far as symphony, I am the only person in my family who’s played a string instrument, I added that when I was 12, though I started on piano. I always wanted to play violin my whole life, it’s been just what I wanted to do. I am the rebel,” Peterson said and chuckled.
Asked about her experience with RSO, Peterson said, “This is the first professional orchestra I’ve ever played in, it’s been absolutely amazing. I think what makes Roswell Symphony so special are the people — all the musicians, and they love their music so much.”
Peterson’s experiences with RSO show the deep connection, friendship and understanding that unites the artists and shows the heart of the orchestra.
“When I started, it was a very difficult concert for me,” Peterson said. “In senior year in college, I was in a really bad accident, and I had to have reconstruction surgery on my shoulder, which was my violin arm. So I had been off for probably at least a year, really closer to two years. I couldn’t even hold my violin. About a year before I started with the symphony, I started playing again. But it’s not the same level, obviously, as playing with the symphony. The very first concert (after finding and being accepted at RSO), I got my music five weeks ahead of time. I started practicing and practicing, but I needed additional help. I was able to reach out to a few other local musicians here, including Doc, who is the principal cello, she is one of the oldest members. Everyone just calls her Doc (Dr. Sarah Montgomery, principal cellist for RSO).
“I felt like I was surrounded and encouraged. The people are just amazing, and John, the maestro, he is amazing, too. He was so very much encouraging at the very first concert in 2015. I felt like I was held accountable, but encouraged. I would say that is one of the most amazing parts of our symphony, and to have such a high caliber for such a small rural area is really shocking, for so many years. I have lots of family who are in Texas and Texas is pretty good, as far as classical music/symphony goes. Texas is very affluent in that area. They have come and watched some of the symphony concerts here, and they always are blown away by the caliber of musicians and what we can do here in such a small rural area. That’s one of the biggest things about the RSO that I love,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s biggest wish is to reach the younger audience. “I have so many dreams. Maybe some outside of the box.”
She said that in Texas, some symphonies perform with movies or do Broadway/movie concerts.
What all RSO musicians have in common, no matter the age, is the deep love for their art. It shows in them returning annually to join Farrer bringing music, leaving their lives and other work behind. The musicians travel from all major cities in a 200-mile radius to Roswell.
This enthusiasm was seeded July 28, 1959, in the basement of the First Methodist Church, when the first group met, determined to create a professional symphony, even though none were at the time. According to the history provided by RSO, this first group included lawyers, accountants, teachers, florists, housewives and even geologists. When that first concert season started, nobody could imagine that RSO would still be going strong after 60 years, expanding into the community with education programs such as the Young Person’s Concert where fourth grade students of Southeast New Mexico shadow the musicians; musical petting zoos; and inviting world-renowned guest artists from all over the world to perform and join in their labor of love.
The RSO Christmas Classics concert takes place today at 2:30 p.m. at the Pearson Auditorium on the New Mexico Military Institute grounds, where the first concert took place. The grand 60th anniversary finale will honor one of the largest patron of the arts and of the symphony, Donald Anderson, and take place April 18, 2020. For more information, visit roswellsymphony.org.