Diverse WT Town and Gown Band to share gift of music

Retired peace officer Jerry Jansa plays the tuba during a rehearsal of the Town and Gown Band. (Barb Amrhein / For the Amarillo Globe-News)

On Monday night, teens and octogenarians alike will come together for one purpose — to share harmony and an expression of emotion.

 

Approximately 70 members of the West Texas A&M University Town and Gown Band, ranging in age from 17 to 81, want to give the holiday gift of music with the Texas Panhandle community in their third concert of the year at 7:30 in the Mary Moody Northen Recital Hall on the West Texas A&M University Campus in Canyon.

“I’ve gotten philosophical lately, but in this world we’re living in when you come together to make music, for that time it’s about music and you forget everything else,” said Gary Garner, former WT music department head and conductor of the Town and Gown Band.

Garner calls Susan Milligan, who has been with the band all 10 years since its inception, the “heart and soul of the band,” and she sounds much like the conductor when talking about the reason for the band.

“There is tremendous value in community music,” Milligan said. “More than art, it’s community. In today’s world, it’s important to bring people together.”

The band has many area directors but brings people together from all walks of life. Members range from English teachers and retired peace officers to a neurologist and biology professor. The diversity helps fulfill Garner’s desire of giving high school band members a chance to continue making music, be a community and share their music with the larger community that makes up the audience for the groups three concerts each year.

“There are orchestras all over and an opportunity for string players and some opportunity for woodwinds but very few for brass players after high school and college,” Garner said. “Community bands have seen a tremendous growth over the last several years.”

The WT Town and Gown Band’s Monday-night rehearsals and performances are a chance for Amarillo neurologist Dr. Loralou Raburn and retired Hereford English teacher Cindy Rogers to keep playing music.

“I’ve been with the band all 10 years,” said Rogers, who plays the flute. “I was in the WT band in college and my friend Jan Wilks told me about the band. I love having a chance to come play.”

Raburn has played the bassoon since seventh grade and played in woodwind quintets in the Amarillo area. She said she looks forward to every chance to come together to make music.

“I can’t think of a life without music,” Raburn said. “Not playing music, not having music isn’t an option.”

For 17-year-old Ravyn Denning, who has been in the band three years — a rare exception to have high school students according to Garner — and 80-year-old Alice Cooke, music has been in their blood all their lives.

“My mom (Wendy Denning) is a band director at Greenways and she’s in the band and she said they needed horns, so I came,” said Ravyn, who plays the French horn. “It’s a chance to be with people of all ages.”

Cooke, who graduated with a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music in New York, plays oboe and clarinet and still instructs young beginners in Amarillo schools.

“It’s my life,” said Cooke of why she enjoys playing with the band and has no plans to quit making music.

“Music is just what I do. It’s my life.”

Whether a college student, a current band instructor, an 81-year-old retired WT music instructor like Dave Ritter — who helped Garner form the band — or a retired peace officer like Jerry Jansa who plays the tuba, the one thing the group has in common is a passion to make and share music.

“I was an All-Eastern clarinetist in high school,” said Carolyn Bauma, a biology professor at WT. “I liked biology and music and had to choose when I went to college. I appreciate Dr. Garner doing this and WT giving us rehearsal space and a place to perform. It’s an opportunity to keep both sides of my brain happy.”

For Britni Nuckols, who teaches band at Lorenzo de Zavala Middle School, the band is an important outlet.

“I enjoy the mixture of people and the social aspect and obviously making music,” Nuckols said. “And it’s a chance to show students it’s a lifelong thing you can do.”

A life-long love of music is what the Town and Gown Band is for all its members.

“We’re all about the love of music and an opportunity to make music,” Garner said.

And Monday night, the community is invited to hear the “amateur” group play in a professional manner — at no cost.

“We come together to make music from many walks of life,” Milligan said. “After a hard work day, people come to share music. That shows the value of music. We have people who are professionals, but we’re technically an amateur group, and amateur it fits because amateur means ‘one who loves.’”

How to go

What: West Texas A&M University Town and Gown Band Concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Mary Moody Northen Recital Hall, WT campus, Canyon

How much: Free

Information: 806-651-2840

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