Christopher Hanson and a few music lovers in the Hill Country are resurrecting a piece of San Marcos that has been dormant since 1957.
The teacher who headed up the orchestra program at San Marcos High School retired that year, and the position was never filled. That is where the San Marcos Artistic Retention and Training Orchestra, or SMART Orchestra, comes in.
Hanson decided to make it his personal mission to get an orchestra program back in San Marcos’ schools.
“I came to grad school at Texas State and found out that they didn’t have any community orchestras, and even worse, they didn’t have a public school strings program. That was honestly a culture shock,” Hanson said.
Hanson began talking to friends and professors at Texas State, asking if anyone knew of young people in the area looking to become involved in a community orchestra. With the help of area musicians and professors, including Howard Hudiburg, Deanna Badgett, Lynn Ledbetter and others, SMART Orchestra had its first performance at the First Baptist Church of San Marcos on Halloween in 2008.
Just two years after SMART played its first show, a junior high orchestra program started at San Marcos CISD. In 2011, the high school program was resurrected.
SMART President Phil Ruge-Jones said when the orchestra first formed, its membership was mostly composed of high school and middle school students. This is the first year community members outside the schools have taken notice in SMART’s activities.
The orchestra’s membership includes construction workers, dentists, professors and school-age children. The common thread in the group is a love of orchestral music.
The interaction of young, novice musicians with older, experienced ones is part of SMART’s magic, Ruge-Jones said.
At a recent rehearsal, 10-year-old Hannah Cady played her violin a few feet from 83-year-old Jim Roberts, who has been playing since he was eight years old. Hannah’s mother, Claire, said SMART’s influence goes beyond her daughter’s playing.
“It’s different when you play by yourself and when you play with a bunch of people,” Claire said. “This is helping Hannah grow as a person and a musician.”
The orchestra began its fall concert series Nov. 14 with an “Opera By Night” concert that included performances of pieces from the group’s repertoire. This year the group is booked to play five shows, including a spot on the final night of the Sights & Sounds of Christmas festival Dec. 7 in San Marcos.
Ruge-Jones said the group is able to allow free general admission to most of its concerts because of partnerships with corporate sponsors as well as an early summer fundraiser that brought in $8,800 last year. This year’s fundraiser is set for May 22 and will include a performance by the orchestra, a silent auction and dinner.
“Our concerts are all free, so we aren’t bringing in money there unless someone wants to make a donation,” Ruge-Jones said. “That hasn’t always been the case, but we decided that we’re here to serve the city and if that [cost] is prohibitive, we want people to hear the music.”
Hanson said although a lot has been accomplished in the first five years of SMART’s existence, there are no plans to slow down.
“I want people to come and experience what we’re offering,” Hanson said. “As long as there are still [music-lovers] in the Hill Country, we’ll be thriving.”
Dec. 7: Sights & Sounds of Christmas, San Marcos Plaza Park. 6-9 p.m. $5
Dec. 14 and 15: “The Nutcracker,” San Marcos High School Performing Arts Center. Sat.: 7 p.m., Sun.: 2 p.m. $15
Dec. 21: Holiday concert, Six Flags San Antonio, TBA
May 22: Fundraising gala, including live concert, silent auction and more, TBA