Texarkana Forte

Many times an idea is birthed from a casual conversation. Such is the case with the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra. Remica Gray and Mary Scott Smith, two friends dedicated to promoting music in the Texarkana area, talked about offering live orchestral music locally.

Unsure if there was an interest, they inquired about the amount of funding needed for such a venture and formed a committee. The duo asked area music patrons to be founding members by donating a thousand dollars each. Much to their surprise, the response was overwhelming, and they received more money than needed to sponsor the program. They were thrilled!

The concept was the beginning of the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra (TSO), a non-profit performing arts initiative organized in 2006 under the leadership of Maestro Marc-André Bougie. It has grown and is now a major part of Texarkana’s music scene, bringing great symphonic music to the four states area. The TSO raises over $500,000 annually and is of vital importance to the economic growth of Texarkana.

Sixty plus professional musicians perform during the September to May season and come from Houston, central and northwest Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, Shreveport, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas. The economic impact can be felt locally as orchestra participants and their families spend the concert weekends in our town, bringing income to local hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls.

A community that embraces the arts is a major attraction of new businesses to our area and enables the Chamber of Commerce to use it as a selling point for corporations seeking to locate in Texarkana. On more than one occasion, it has been the determining factor for the decision of those entities.

The Symphony is a major asset to the cities of Texarkana and enhances the musical culture with their performances. Governed by a 29-member Board of Directors, there is one full-time employee, four part-time employees, and one contractor.

Mary Scott Smith, TSO Principal Pianist
Remica Gray, TSO Board Member and Volunteer Director of Operations

The mission of the Texarkana Symphony Orchestra is to pursue for all, the transformative power of symphonic music through excellence in live performance and education. Their core values are artistic and education excellence, leadership, community connection, partnership and collaboration, and economic impact with organizational viability and innovation.

Besides their annual patron campaign to raise funds, private foundations provide money for the Symphony. Along with the National Endowment for the Arts federal and state grants through the Arkansas Arts Council and the Texas Commission on the Arts, they are also supported through sales tax funding for the arts of Texarkana, Arkansas and Texarkana, Texas. Community support is vital to the Symphony’s success, and they are always in need of volunteers. They accept gifts and donations of any size year-round. There are multiple ways to donate with payment options set yearly, quarterly or monthly. The TSO designs donor benefits for up close access to the music, musicians and guest artists with invitations to special events and post-concert receptions. Endowments can be made in your will to continue providing funding for a wonderful organization.

The Celebrity Conductor Competition is a major fundraiser held at Christmas time. Local community members raise money by getting their friends and family to vote with dollars to achieve the coveted position of conducting the orchestra.

In 2019, the board hired Music Director Philip Mann, and he has been a major asset to TSO. His resume is very impressive. He was born in Canada and elected a Rhodes Scholar, won the Vienna Philharmonic’s Karajan Fellowship at the Salzburg Festival and named an American Conducting Fellow. As a teacher and Director of Orchestral Studies at Texas Tech University, Mann’s orchestras have become known for bold and innovative projects with superlative quality. His diverse collaborations have garnered him much praise for leveraging music’s power toward poignant conversations, enhancing the relevance of symphony orchestras to communities and successful audience development. He was the recipient of a commendation from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and recognized for extraordinary community engagement as the winner of Arkansas’ “Communicator of the Year” and PRSA “Diamond Winner” for enhancing the image of the entire state. His Brahms collaboration with the London Symphony Orchestra and pianist Norman Krieger on Decca Records has received many rave reviews. A recent 2019 recording with the Royal National Orchestra in the works of Michael Fine has garnered extensive praise and has been named to major award watch lists.

Philip Mann, TSO Music Director. 
PHOTO BY Nancy Nolan

The TSO is the parent organization of the Texarkana Youth Symphony Orchestra (TYSO), whose conductor is Steve Bennett. The inception began with 20 members and now over 40 students audition for a chance to be part of this program annually. It is the only ensemble of its kind in the area. Students get the benefit of growing as a musician while performing twice a year in a professional atmosphere. The Junior League of Texarkana made a $100,000 donation on its 80th anniversary to promote this youth symphony program. Besides performing their own concerts, the students can experience the chance of a lifetime to sit side by side with a professional musician in a performance at the historic Perot Theatre.

TSO musicians and staff provide educational outreach programs to schools, community clubs, and civic organizations. Teacher and student activity packets are available for classroom use, relating composers and repertoire to other curriculum studies. In-school programs provide an outlet for area youth to interact with professional artists and discuss careers and education and address technical and musical challenges.

Performing primarily in the beautiful and historic Perot Theatre, the Symphony presents a series of classical masterworks, symphonic pops, and educational concerts during its season. An average of 700 persons from South Arkansas, East Texas, and North Louisiana regularly attend the concerts. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have had to reschedule performances in the latter part of the 2020 season.

The TSO’s 15th season began on November 7, with social distancing and carefully plotted seating. The theatre will observe a 25% capacity limit in attendance to follow CDC guidelines. A list of future concerts is available on the official Texarkana Symphony Orchestra website.

Whether it is a string ensemble for a university choral performance, a quartet for the unveiling of a visual arts exhibit or the full orchestra for your 50th anniversary, the symphony is ready to match your audience with great classical, pops, chamber, or family repertoire. 


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