Original Winter Texan

The Winter Texan Orchestra has two final concerts for the 2009 season — one at Tip ‘o Texas RV and MH Park, 101 E. Sioux Road in Pharr on March 19, and the other at St. Paul Lutheran Church/School 300 W. Pecan Blvd., McAllen on March 21. Both performances are at 7 p.m.

Playing music together unites any groups in the Valley, where individuals come from many different backgrounds and life histories. The Orchestra, which originated at Tip o’ Texas Park 25 years ago, began as an exploration by an enterprising group of 14 Winter Texans. Surely, there was a way they could make music together, even without music written out for their particular instrument. They did. Playing off a piano score, the 14 chose a part, and the group added skits and dancing to create a program.

Those were “The Troubadors” and for about 20 years they played at Tip o’ Texas as the Tip o’ Texas Orchestra. Eventually many players and conductors (retired band leaders) were recruited from outside the park, and the name changed. The Winter Texan Orchestra, however, does have some Valley resident’s playing alongside Winter Texans.

Estaline Bauray from Kansas hadn’t played a clarinet in 50 years — she was too busy raising five boys on the farm. But her husband’s classmate talked him into trying out the Valley in the winter, and Barbara Raabe discovered a clarinet that needed an owner. So Estaline is now one of a bunch of “retirees” reclaiming their musical talents.

Nance Beilke (Nebraska) visited the Valley, heard three concerts by the Rio Grande Valley Band and when she retired fully as a vocal music teacher, it was music that brought her to the Valley, and she began “playing strings” in the Orchestra.

Air traffic controller Thomas Bingham from Ontario, Canada, said, “Dancing, dancing, dancing,” was the reason he retired to the Valley, but he remembers fondly his appearance with the Winnipeg Symphony while he was a student. Hartley Brown, known to his friends as the guy who keeps playing with the circus (53 years in all), says they no longer have a circus band. He plays in the North Dakota State Legion Band and (in the Valley) in both the Orchestra and the Rio Grande Valley Band.

Patti DeGroot played in the Grand Rapids, Michigan Symphony for 20 years until relatives talked her into being a Valleyite. This is her first year with the Orchestra. Joannie Eckroth spent three years in the 1950s playing trombone as a member of the Women’s Air Force Band. Forty years later, they scheduled a reunion, dusted off their instruments and gave some concerts. Now Joannie plays here with the Orchestra in winter and at the (now) annual reunion of the Women’s AF Band in North Dakota.

Dick Erickson came from Washington State to visit his folks in the Valley. Now he owns their mobile home and plays trombone in both the Orchestra and the RGV Band. Chuck Franklin, an engineer from Wisconsin, picked up a clarinet four years ago to play with a New Horizons Band in the summer, and for two years has played with the Orchestra during the winter.

Judy Gauthier, who can play either clarinet or alto sax with equal ease, once toured France with the Madison, WI Municipal Band, playing in various villages. Jerry Heydenberk was a HS band director in Michigan who had spent a year in the Valley as a child. He’s now played with the Orchestra 18 years. Russ Kephart, music store owner in Docorah, Iowa, has played French horn with the Orchestra for 12 years and also plays with the RGV Band.

Ginny Imlah combines being a housewife with playing the Chicago Boys Club Band. She’s played percussion in the Orchestra for five years. Jeanne Leach hadn’t played violin since high school. She was an elementary teacher for the Department of Defense and taught as bases in Japan (8 years), Korea (2 years), Germany (27 years), and Sicily (4 years). In their early years of RVing, she and her husband spent some time at Tip o’ Texas where there was an “available violin.” Now permanent Valleyites, they are still at Tip o’ Texas and she keeps on playing violin.

Three trumpet players, Glen Johnson, Gary Meidt, and Gene Goede, and trombonist Jim Scothorn have taught music for so many years that they ought to have long white beards. None of them looks old enough to have survived that many years of marching bands and high schoolers traumas. Besides playing with the Orchestra, they share directing duties; Glen and Gene also play and direct the RGV Band.

You’ll enjoy the Winter Texan Orchestra’s late season performances, so mark your calendars for March 19 and 21.