The Maestro's recent interview on the occasion of his twentieth anniversary.
Twenty years is a long time to do something especially when that something is a long-distance job. But David Mairs, Music Director for the Mid-Texas Symphony (MTS), is as excited today about the upcoming 2015-16 Season as he was about his first season oh-so-many years ago. And he says he still doesn’t mind the eight hour commute from Denton.
Mairs, or the Maestro as he is known at MTS, says he had mixed emotions about accepting the job in 1996 because, “I was both excited and nervous about the opportunity to lead the orchestra and the organization in an effort to be the very best we could possibly be. I knew we could be a good orchestra. I just didn’t know how great we could be!”
When asked what has made the 20-year “marriage” work, the Maestro flashes one of his frequent and beatific smiles and says, “Because I’ve had the chance to work with good people who care about the same things I was focused on – making great music, making great music accessible to our audiences, and creating a positive environment for our musicians to perform at their highest level. People have trusted me, on and off the podium. I’m very grateful for that.”
As a professional orchestra the quality of the work is directly related to the quality of the musicians who perform. Although MTS musicians have always been primary musicians for other orchestras like the San Antonio, Austin, Corpus Christi, and Victoria symphonies, over the last 20 years more and more of them sign on to play MTS concerts first.
“We have way more musicians who now commit to MTS as their primary gig,” says the Maestro. “Some can’t make the commitment but are gracious enough to make us their 2nd choice. AND we have recently, thanks to the generosity of our amazing donors, been able to expand our string section by 10 players for most concerts. I can’t tell you how much that helps both the sound AND the morale of the orchestra!”
In the last few years, more musicians have committed to MTS than ever before, and the personnel director receives several requests each week for auditions from musicians moving into Houston, Austin, San Antonio and even Dallas. They have heard MTS is a great place to play and that it produces a good concert. But Mairs isn’t just about the product.
“I always thought the process is as important as the product,” says the Maestro, “but years ago my friend, Michael Kumer, from Pittsburg, said, ‘I believe that the process IS the product.’ I’ve come to believe he is right, and I try to live by that. If the process is whole, healthy, respectful and honest then the product will come,” Mairs stresses. “I believe the process is working because we have more and more musicians who want to be a part of our orchestra family. They say they feel welcomed, respected, valued and challenged in a positive way when they rehearse and perform with MTS.”
Currently MTS is experiencing unprecedented growth. The number of musicians on the roster has grown steadily since the Maestro’s arrival in 1996 and currently boasts 125 players at the ready. Audience numbers continue to grow and over the last few years have increased by over 25 percent even though there continues to be debate about the “relevance” of classical music.
“To quote Maestro Benjamin Zander from his TED Talk, ‘Everybody loves classical music! Some people just don’t know it yet!’” says Mairs as he throws his head back and emits a deep chuckle. “Just like all genres of music, classical music contains both good and not-so-good pieces. The not-so-good-ones don’t get performed anymore. Classical music contains the basic fundamentals of ALL Western music, classical and popular. Being familiar and comfortable with the foundations of all types of music makes it easier to appreciate music in every style. Then, when someone makes a choice as to what type of music she or he prefers, it’s an intelligent choice as well as an emotional choice. It’s the best kind of choice!”
There are many moving parts to keeping an orchestra running. There is working with and supporting the Board of Directors, leading the music committee in programming, consulting with the music librarian and personnel manager to ensure MTS has the music and the right musicians are hired to play it and co-leading the team with the executive director. Then there are the three rehearsals for each concert, six concerts each season and four free children’s concerts to coordinate and any number of guest artists to be arranged. And the Maestro does it with joy in heart and smile on his face.
Eighty thousand children have benefited from his passion for the music, his love of teaching, and his deep reverence and respect of Life. “One of the purest gifts we give to the communities we serve are the Children’s Concerts,” he emphasizes. “The students come for free. They get to hear quality music performed by an outstanding ensemble. They get to laugh. They get to have fun as well as learn about the music, the instruments or a particular composer. They get to feel what music can do to them. The music gets into their souls! What an amazing gift Mid-Texas Symphony gives to these kids.”
In his 20 year tenure, David Mairs has conducted 160 full season concerts, 360 rehearsals, 80 Children’s Concerts, and spent countless hundreds of hours in meetings, writing correspondence, talking on the phone, traipsing to interviews, shaking hands and talking, talking, talking and all of it for a symphony orchestra he loves.
“I find it impossible to tell you only one standout moment during all of these years. Because when I think of all the concerts we’ve done, I think to myself, ‘Oh that was the best,’” he says and gives a quick nod of his head. “But then I think of the next concert and the next concert, and then the last concert; they all seem like the ‘stand out’ event.”
“And,” he continues, “I haven’t even mentioned that the rehearsals we do for each concert are events in themselves – such growth and progress and coming together to learn and grow and share our collective vision of the music!”
Sharing his love of music, sharing his passion, sharing his vision - that’s what David Mairs, the Maestro, has done for the last 20 years with the audience, with the children, with the musicians, and the communities served by the Mid-Texas Symphony.
“I love people and I love music! I’ve been privileged to be able to do lots of things in my life,” he says, “I wouldn’t trade my life for anything!” Then he pauses and laughs, and with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes, he adds, “Except for maybe the chance to play professional baseball.”