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Bursting with talent, the Heart of Texas Concert Band's showcase is Sunday

Mark Rogers, conducting the Heart of Texas Concert Band in Feb. 2024.
Mark Rogers, conducting the Heart of Texas Concert Band in Feb. 2024.

“We have so many people in the band who have other talents besides just playing their own instrument,” says Mark Rogers, Founding and Principal Conductor of the Heart of Texas Concert Band.

Composers, conductors, this Sunday’s concert is an opportunity for several band members to share their musical talents beyond just performing on an instrument.

TPR’s James Baker recently visited with Rogers to learn more about the history of this all-volunteer group and preview their “Talent Showcase," concert, happening this Sunday, May 19 at 3 p.m. at the Edgewood Theater of Performing Arts.

James Baker: We will welcome now to Classical Connections, Mark Rogers, founder and conductor of the Heart of Texas Concert Band. Mark, we haven't seen nor talked to each other in a number of years, and I've never taken the opportunity to talk to you about what I guess might be described as a labor of love. Can you give us a quick version of how the Heart of Texas Concert Band came to be?

Mark Rogers: The Heart of Texas Concert Band has been its own ensemble for about 15 years now. We started with a fairly strong group of about 80 people, and and now we're maintaining a personnel of somewhere between 85 and 95 in the band. So it's a very large group, a symphonic band of the style that you would have seen at the University of Michigan or the University of Illinois back in the '50s and '60s. But we keep it large so that we can allow members of the band who have—of course, almost everyone in the band has other activities and other commitments—we keep it large so that when members of the band have to drop out for a particular concert because, oh, they have a business trip to Poughkeepsie, or they have a child that's graduating from high school on that very same day, they can drop out and it doesn't cripple the ensemble. Whereas if you had one on a part, I remember going to another community band concert in the last year or so, and they had a fourth horn player or one of the horn players who was ill and that person, they rotated seating, but wherever they were, they only had three of the four horn parts being covered. But we carry eight horns so that we can lose someone, to, a business trip or something like that and still be fine. And we have a rather substantial waiting list. I have seven bassoons on my roster, so we have to rotate, in and out for players so that we can cover everything.

It may surprise many of our listeners, but many doctors come from some sort of music background before they go off to med school, and then they eventually come back to music as a serious hobby. Once they're licensed physicians, are there any doctors in the Heart of Texas Concert Band?

The president of the band is a retired military doctor! At the end of his career, he was one of the administrators, I believe, at Wilford Hall. But he had gotten music degrees as his, undergraduate degrees. And as a matter of fact, last year or the year before, we played one of his marches on our end of the season concert where we, allow members of the band who have various other, ways in which they want to demonstrate their talent, do that. We also have, one of my classmates that I went to school with at Texas Tech, who is a facial surgeon, and he does a lot of work at Wilford Hall, especially doing reconstructive surgery for people whose faces have been severely injured in Afghanistan or places like that. He's taking off this July 4th concert because, again, he's going to be, traveling over in Europe. But I've known his name is John Moorhead, and he's been a friend of mine for more than 50 years because we knew each other at Texas Tech back in the day.

Let's talk a bit about the upcoming concert by the Heart of Texas Concert band… I'm more than intrigued by this instrument that will be featured, it's called Conn-O-Sax. This sounds like something Peter Schickele might have come up with. But what is this instrument? And who will be the featured Conn-O-Sax soloist on this week's concert?

Well, our featured soloist is Paul Cohen. He is probably right now the preeminent saxophone player in the United States. He lives in New Jersey, teaches at Rutgers and is one of the people who regularly is called in to play with all of the professional orchestras in that area. And he himself, has a personal collection of more than 200 rare and exotic saxophones.

Mr. Cohen will be playing several pieces for alto saxophone and concert band by Herbert L Clark…

Yes, and then he said, "I would like to do one other piece on this concert." He said the Conn company in the late 1920s, knowing that, the more exotic members of the double reed family, like the bass oboe and the English horn and things like that are sometimes hard to find in rural America. They decided to create a hybrid instrument, which they call the Conn-O-Sax. It's made out of metal and it has a bulb down at the bottom like the English horn, but it is played with a single reed. And they were hoping that this might be a substitute instrument for the English horn. So they pitch the instrument in F. And so Paul asked me if we could include Jack Stamp's Elegy, which is originally written for English horn in band on this concert, and he was going to play the solo part on the Conn-O-Sax. And if you just, take Paul Cohen's name and, put that into YouTube, you will see a little two minute video where he makes mention of his vast collection of saxophones and other instruments, and he does a little demonstration of the Conn-O-Sax. So he will be bringing the Conn-O-Sax, his alto sax, and he emailed me and he asked if anyone in San Antonio would be interested in seeing a sopranino saxophone, that he might have room for that in his luggage. So I'm hopeful that he will be coming with the sopranino as well. And finally, because we're including Percy Grainger's "Children's March" on this performance, I asked Paul if he would bring a mouthpiece and play the bass saxophone part on "Children's March" using my bass saxophone. So we're going to get our mileage out of Paul. He's going to play four solo pieces in bass saxophone on "Children's March."

I see this concert promoted as a talent showcase. What does that mean?

Well, we have so many people in the band who have other talents besides just playing their own instrument. Marty Hill, who is on the staff of the Oak Hills Church doing all kinds of things out there, he got degrees in music and composition before he went into the family dry cleaning business. And so he, like our past president, Rick Marple, or current president is a composer. So he's written a number of pieces, one of them being, "Zatarra," a fantasy overture based on the novel "The Count of Monte Cristo." So we're playing that on the concert, and we have, I believe, four separate conductors from the band who are going to be conducting the band. A young man, Darion Campbell, who's a recent graduate of UTSA... Ben Graber, who's who is working in the Northside School District. He's actually conducting "Children's March" instead of me. Thomas Esperiqueta, who is on the staff of East Central, is doing a just fantastic, wonderful setting of "It Is Well," and the fourth conductor on this concert is Michael Casas. He teaches at a school just north of Laredo.

And, you know, earlier you asked if there was anyone who makes the long drive. Michael drives a long ways to get to our rehearsals. He and his wife and his son, all three play in the band, and he's doing a suite of four pieces called "American Hymn Songs Set" by Dwayne Milburn. These are all settings of well-known American hymns. And it's just wonderful music. So the only time I'm on the podium for this concert, I am conducting. Marty Hill's "Zatarra," and I'm conducting "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the encore at the end. And I'm conducting Paul's pieces, but I'm spending more time off the podium than on. And usually that's the way we like to do this end of the year concert is featuring other people within the band, showing what they can do, and giving some of these folks who, admittedly, if you're a middle school band director, you don't have the opportunity to work with the most well-rounded of musicians. So for some of those people, it's a treat to work with a band, of our size and, and our ability level to do a piece like "Children's March."

Mark one more question, when and where?

The concert is 3:00 this coming Sunday and we are at the Edgewood Theater for the Performing Arts. Edgewood is out on the southwest side of San Antonio, a little bit past Our Lady of the Lake University, but still well within Loop 1604. And as I said, the hall is just unbelievably wonderful to look at. And the acoustics are terrific. There's ample parking because the Theater for the Performing Arts shares the same footprint as the baseball stadium in the high school. So there's lots of parking. All of our concerts are free, though we are happy to take donations from anyone who cares to contribute to the band. And I might mention that, one of the reasons that we're able to, host Paul Cohen on this concert is because he's so interested in performing with our band that he's covering all of his expenses himself. And, you know, to have the most significant saxophone player in the world come all the way to San Antonio to play with us, is is quite the compliment for the band.

Mark Rogers, I thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, and I wish you all the best on the coming concert.

It will be fantastic. Thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to speak with you, James.

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James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.