I have been the second oboist/English horn player for the Amarillo Symphony since May of 1978. It has been a wonderful orchestra. We have performed a lot of great music, accompanied many famous artists, and commissioned some great symphonies. The members of the ASO have been like loving siblings to me.
I auditioned for Thomas Conlin in the summer of 1978. I had just finished my three years enlistment in the 74th Army Band and was ready to dive into an orchestra. Since the expert reign of Thomas Conlin, we have had many more wonderful conductors, Robert Bernhardt, James Setapen, and now Kimbo Ishii-Eto.
When people ask me when I joined the ASO, I always tell them it was the "year of the flood." The ASO was rehearsing the music to Star Wars (the original trilogy) at Amarillo High School in preparation to playing for Fun Fest. I remember packing up my instruments when someone announced to be very careful when going home because Amarillo and Canyon was flooded. This sounded very unlikely to me at the time because I had only seen the very dry panhandle and couldn't image a flood being possible but it was true. It was truly a flood, one that people still talk about today.
The ASO has seen many fine musicians come and go as they step from the ASO to bigger orchestras. It's always sad to see a fine player leave but we're always happy to see them progress in their careers. Over time, we have seen more and more musicians who have decided to stay in the ASO and call Amarillo or Canyon their home where they can raise their children in a safe environment. There are many factors that have affected the growth and maturity of the symphony here. Certainly financial and volunteer support from the community, fine leadership, better performance hall conditions are factors but having more advanced players joining and remaining in the ASO has made a difference.
The Amarillo Symphony is so blessed with their new concert hall. In 1978 our rehearsals were at Amarillo High School and the performances were in the Amarillo Civic Center. In later years we were so excited that we could perform and rehearse in the Civic Center but when the new Globe News Center for the Performing Arts was completed, it was like entering a new era. The hall is so beautiful and unique from any other concert hall you'll ever see.
Another unique venue for the ASO is the Palo Duro Canyon Amphitheatre (aerial view left) in the Palo Duro State Park, just east of Canyon, TX. Performing in the PDC Amphitheatre is a wonderful experience because the accoustics are surprisingly very good. The PDC is also the inspiration for a 1992 commissioned work by the ASO. Symphony No. 3 or Palo Duro Canyon Symphony written by Dr. Samuel Jones describes the history and terrain of this expansive canyon that immediately drops in the middle of a never ending flat plain. I was so excited about premiering this piece because it has a beautiful English horn solo in the middle. If this symphony makes it in the history books, I'll have the pleasure of knowing I was the first to play it.
Samuel Jones was also commissioned to write another work for the ASO 75th Anniversary called Roundings: Musing and Meditations on Texas New Deal Murals which is available on the Naxos label.