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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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One step away
June 8, 2024

A&M bands, orchestras return to Rudder Theater

MUSA+rehearsal
Photo by Photo by Melanie McBride
MUSA rehearsal

Live music is starting to return to Aggieland.

Texas A&M’s comprehensive University Bands program is one of the largest in the country, composed of the nationally famous “Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band,” four concert bands, the Wind Symphony, Symphonic Winds, Symphonic Band and Concert Band, two jazz bands, the Aggieland Dance Orchestra and two orchestras, the University Philharmonic Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. On Friday, Oct. 8, university bands and university orchestras kicked off their fall concert series, performing their first live, indoor performances in nearly 18 months.

Director of bands and music activities Timothy Rhea said the Chamber Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra performed at 7 p.m. on Friday, and will be followed by performances on Sunday, Oct. 10, by the wind Symphony at 2 p.m. and the Symphonic Winds, the Symphonic Band and the concert band at 5:30 p.m., all in Rudder Theater.

“[The pieces being performed are] a mix of everything,” Rhea said. “We try to expose [our players] to music of all cultures and variations and all around the world. We have pieces that were written within the last two or three years, and pieces going all the way back to 200 years ago.”

The transition from practicing socially distanced with masks on to being able to perform with a live audience is exhilarating for the musicians, Rhea said. 

“Part of doing what we do is the feedback you get from an audience, and of course that was missing last year,” Rhea said. “Last year, we would play some major piece, and then at the end of it there would be silence. So [the musicians] are very, very much looking forward to the reaction they get from the crowd. You want appreciation for what you’re doing. That’s an important part of this process.”

Director of orchestras and associate director of bands Travis Almany said the orchestras’ performances highlight the evolution of the string orchestra.

“We’re starting back in the classical era with Mozart … and then we’re going through the Romantic era through the end of the 20th century, and then finishing up with a piece that combines classical music with heavy metal,” Almany said. “The audience favorite will be our closer, which will be Leonard Bernstein’s Mambo from West Side Story.”

Almany said the musicians in the Philharmonic and String orchestras have stayed positive throughout the pandemic and have been working hard to create music together to share with the Aggie community. 

“I’m speaking for the students and all the directors of all the groups that we just can’t wait and are so excited to get to play for a live audience,” Almany said. “For those who are able to come, I think it’s gonna be as big of a relief and big deal as it is for us to be able to be back in listening to a live concert. I hadn’t thought about this … but I haven’t been to a live concert in probably a year and a half. I can’t wait to go to one as an audience member, too, so I think it’s gonna be as big of a relief and joy for the audience as it will be for us.”

Political science junior Aya Hobeika and current Concertmaster of the A&M Symphony Orchestra said returning to Rudder Theater to perform in the traditional orchestra setup is one of the most rewarding aspects of continuing her violin studies throughout college and the pandemic.

“Last year, the A&M Symphony was recording our performances in our rehearsal room in the music building and streaming it on YouTube. We lost some of the excitement and adrenaline from performing live because in that situation, if we finished recording and believed we could play better, we could have the opportunity to record it again,” Hobeika said. “We also lost the ability to connect with an audience because there wasn’t anyone we were playing for live. During rehearsals, we were all positioned six feet apart and it was extremely frustrating not being able to hear other sections and how my part fit with theirs.”

Hobeika said this year, the orchestra is more motivated and driven than ever before and their musicians are the most talented they’ve ever been.

“Rehearsals resumed to normal operation [now] and we were all elated to be able to hear each other again. There is nothing like performing for a live audience. Their attention and reactions are what make the performances so enjoyable for all of us and they are an integral part of why we love making music,” Hobieka said. “I am humbled to have been selected to lead our orchestra. Throughout high school, I gained a great deal of experience in Concertmaster positions. These experiences made the transitional period from the pandemic a very smooth one, and I was able to jump right in with my duties at the very first rehearsal.”

Hobeika said it is extremely humbling to be entrusted with the responsibilities that come with assuming the concertmaster position, and said she hopes she is able to continue to meet everyone’s expectations, as well as her own.

“I never had to motivate the orchestra in any way because everyone was already so engaged and driven at the prospect of a normal orchestra season,” Hobieka said. “It is very rewarding to be able to work with people who are just as passionate about orchestral music-making as I am, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead such a special organization at A&M.”

Tickets to the concerts are free for A&M students with their student IDs, and $5 for the general public, and can be purchased from the Memorial Student Center box office. A full schedule can be found on the University Bands’ website.

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