Spread the Aggie Spirit Abroad Through Music
Texas A&M Department of Music Activities Creates Endowment to Support Travel Opportunities for Student Musicians
By Dorian Martin '06
The instrumental and choral performing groups offered through Texas A&M University’s Department of Music Activities have always been popular with students, none of whom are music majors. However, the department’s impact expanded far beyond learning and performing the Aggie War Hymn, Duke Ellington, and Beethoven during the COVID-19 pandemic. Music became the critical ballast that helped keep these students’ well-being afloat.
Adagio for Aggies
During the fall 2020 semester, most Texas A&M students were forced to rely on online classes so they could remain socially distant. However, the department’s new and spacious facilities, which opened in August 2019, allowed the 1,300 students who participate in The Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, Texas A&M Wind Symphony, Texas A&M Jazz Ensembles, Symphonic Winds, Symphonic Concert Band, Concert Band, University Orchestra, Aggieland Orchestra, the Singing Cadets, the Century Singers, and the Women’s Chorus to meet in person.
The four available rehearsal halls in the 70,000-square foot John D. White ’70-Robert L. Walker ’58 Music Activities Center provided almost every music group with a suitable area to practice while maintaining a safe distance. The largest group, the Aggie Band, moved its practice outdoors to the new Dunlap Drill Field, which is the same size as Kyle Field.
“This building saved Texas A&M’s musical programs during the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Timothy Rhea, Texas A&M’s director of bands and music activities. “If we had been in the old facilities, there wouldn’t have been enough room to rehearse any of the groups with all the social distancing requirements, the masks and the adaptions that we’ve had to do this year.”
The ability to meet in-person and create music proved to be invaluable for these students. “We all learned this year during the COVID pandemic how important the musical experience was for our students from the feedback that we got,” Rhea said. “They got to see each other and participate in something that nourished their human spirit instead of sitting in a dorm room staring at a screen all the time. Basically, they said the experiences they had in music here got them through last year.”
A Musical Up Tempo
The students’ appreciation for the role that Department of Music Activities played in their lives during this difficult period is showing up through the highest retention rates ever among the various Aggie concert bands, jazz ensembles, orchestras, and choirs. And unsurprisingly, interest in the music programs continues to grow.
“We didn’t know what the summer would bring, but we moved back to regular on-campus auditions,” said Rhea, who first took up the Aggie conductor’s baton during the tenure of President William Mobley, Vice President of Student Affairs John Koldus, and Athletic Director John David Crow. “We are fortunate that more and more students are joining our programs and reaping the benefits of great music performances. Our numbers during COVID went down a little bit, and then they immediately went right back to where they were before COVID.”
While these musical groups—like the rest of the world—will continue to deal with the pandemic for the foreseeable future, Rhea and the Music Activities staff have their eyes on the horizon. High on their list is creating an endowment through the Texas A&M Foundation to support travel opportunities, including international trips.
“When I talked to the wind symphony at the end of the semester, I asked them what was important to them moving forward,” Rhea said. “The first student said, ‘We want to travel so that not only do we experience the music, but we also know our other colleagues in our ensembles. We also can experience culture, particularly in going overseas. We can represent Texas A&M at a high level through fine arts through music of some type.’ That was their feedback word by word.”
Support the Travel Endowment for Aggie Musicians
Reagan Chessher ’96
Senior Director of Development
Texas A&M Foundation - Division of Student Affairs