by Randy Jolly
October 21 was a beautiful clear day in Commerce. It was made even more gorgeous by the excitement surrounding the official grand opening and dedication of the $29 million music building. Though the celebration was originally scheduled for February 2011, North Texas’ annual one-day ice and snowstorm delayed the event until October.
The intervening nine months proved to be a blessing in disguise as students and faculty familiarized themselves with their new surroundings. Each day offered new opportunities for students to hone their skills and talents in preparation for the big day when dignitaries, donors, and friends would gather to celebrate the long anticipated completion of the elegantly accoutered music hall.
A near full-house crowd gathered in the morning to take in and marvel at the spacious lobby. The open design sent light cascading into the building, while a grand view of Gee Lake stood as a stoic, yet beautiful backdrop for the day’s events.
As the doors to the Finney Concert Hall opened, a hushed silence fell over the guests as the petit grandeur of the auditorium was experienced. With 550 seats, the space welcomed each guest comfortably, while the warm finishes and acoustics lent the space an intimate, ethereal feel more common with a space half its size.
As the lights dimmed, the dedication ceremony began in earnest with a lively fanfare performed by the Brass Ensemble lead by conductor Phillip Clements.
In a well choreographed effort, the stage dimmed for the musicians’ transition, while Dr. Dan Jones, 11th president of Texas A&M University Commerce, stepped to the podium with a warm personal welcome. His remarks came to a close with a touching tribute to the new music building and the impact it already has had on campus:
“Late one afternoon a few weeks ago, I was leaving my office and walking to my car, turning over in my mind the events of the day, when I heard a haunting melody. It was not the usual cacophony of passing automobiles with stereos blaring, but something very different – not grating or distracting, but entrancing. I paused in my steps and looked around. It was then that I saw a young man, sitting on the veranda in front of this building, practicing his euphonium for all the world to hear.”
“I realized at that crystalline moment both the gravity and the beauty of a day in the life of a great university.”
As the crowd took in Jones’ final thoughts, the Jazz Ensemble took the stage under the direction of Dr.Todd Goranson and performed the Howdiz Songo.
United States Congressman Ralph Hall, a long time friend of the university brought greetings from Washington.
In quick succession, both State Senator Bob Deuell and State Representative Dan Flynn expressed their respective admiration for and visionary reach of the university. They were the principal leaders in keeping the building project alive at the State level and were involved with the building from idea to dedication. They shared their love for a campus and music hall that will be the cultural jewel of the region for decades to come. Following a performance by the Steel Drum Ensemble, John Sharp, the new chancellor of The Texas A&M University System, also spoke well of the university, and how campus improvements such as the music building make him proud to be involved with A&M-Commerce and the bright future we will share.
Following a crisp and staccato-laced performance of “Now shout!” by the Chorale under the direction of Dr. Randall Hooper, President Emeritus Dr. Keith McFarland reminded the audience how close the university came to never breaking ground on the spectacular building in which they all sat. He told of a two-minute conversation he and Representative Flynn had just off the floor of the Texas House with then chair of the House of Representatives to make students’ musical dreams a reality.
Phillip Clements then conducted the Wind Ensemble in Tchaikovsky’s “The Snow Maiden.”
Unseen, but greatly appreciated were the orchestrated steps of the stage crew, under the field-general like direction of Scott-Lee Atchison, as he directed the movement of chairs and music stands on and off stage in almost total darkness.
After a brief summation of the building’s origins and recognition of the many that helped build, fund and support the construction of the building, Dr. Chris White, head of the music department, moved from the podium to the stage to masterfully conduct the Chorale and Wind Ensemble Brass in a moving and powerful version of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” There were few dry eyes in the audience as the old Lutheran hymn, the words of which were penned in 1758, rang loud and true through the room. The arrangement by Mack Wilberg was both stunning and breathtaking in its beauty and the manner in which it was so elegantly performed.
As each musician, faculty member, dignitary, and guest looks back on that day, they will remember being a part of something special. What began as an idea less than a decade ago will continue the university’s great tradition of educating and graduating top quality musicians, music teachers and performers. It will stand as a testament to all who visit campus that those who arrive here with a love of music, will leave here equipped with the confidence, assurance and talent to perform on any stage in the world. This building, as Dr. Jones so aptly put it, “…lends honor, dignity, and grace to that work.”