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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

Facing the Music

Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra and WFISD partner to keep kids hitting all the right notes.


When I was in elementary school, I began taking cello lessons through my school’s orchestra program. The cello wasn’t a practical instrument choice. The instrument was taller and almost heavier than I was. It was awkward and annoying to carry on the school bus. I didn’t have much space to practice at home. Still, there was something about the sounds the cello made—these deep, delightful notes-that made my heart sing. It was unlike any type of music I’d ever heard. When I sat down to play, the instrument rested between my knobby knees, I felt safe—like the cello was giving me a warm embrace. 

I told Alicia Deges, the Executive Director of Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, that giving up playing my cello was still one of the biggest regrets of my life. Alicia kindly encouraged, “It’s never too late to pick it back up!” Deges has been with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra since 2014, but her love for music began long before that. “My earliest memories of music are with my family. My parents are both musicians. I am thankful that they took my siblings and me to the symphony regularly in Lawton, where I grew up. Music was a constant presence in my life.” 


 

In 2019, Deges became the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director and shortly into her new role, an unexpected visitor put her knowledge and leadership to the test. “COVID hitting so soon after I began as ED was not a very warm welcome.” she laughed. “I earned my degree in music therapy from TWU. I found music therapy to be extremely rewarding, but also challenging to find one’s niche—especially in a small community.  I heard the symphony needed someone. It was a perfect fit. Because we’re a small organization, there’s room for creativity. I get to wear lots of different hats.”

The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra promotes symphonic music to enrich, educate, and entertain diverse audiences in the Texoma community. They produce a five-concert season with both classical and pop offerings.  The WFSO Education Program consists of an annual “Young People’s Concert”, a TEKS curriculum program, and an Artist-in-Residence program. 

“The Young People’s Concert is an in-person trip to Memorial Auditorium to see our full orchestra perform. This is targeted to 5th graders and is the first time that many of these kids have been to a concert in their lives! I love to see the kids’ smiles during and after the concert. The energy and excitement—it’s hard to explain.” 

As we continued to chat, she shared how creativity and collaboration kept the music playing against the backdrop of the pandemic. “We decided to move forward and focus on how we could creatively fulfill our mission during a time when we couldn’t have concerts.” Deges explained. “Last year, since students were unable to attend in person, we recorded the Young People’s Concert and provided it to the schools for them to show to students in the classrooms.”


 

“Our Music Director, Fouad Fakhouri, came up with a brilliant way to connect with people. He posted weekly music listening playlists through our email, social media, and website. He called them, Legato, those long connections- are what we needed during that time of Staccato, the frequent bursts of disconnection. We created 26 playlists with a variety of musical genres over several months.” Deges continued, “Later, we also hosted socially distanced concerts in partnership with Sheppard Air Force Base. It was a wonderful way to showcase the talent and versatility of our musicians.”


 

The WFSO also has an Artist-in-Residence program which provides 16 hours per week of program support for WFISD middle school and high school orchestra programs. The WFSO provides one-on-one lessons with students and teachers to help improve skills and prepare them for concerts and contests. Deges praised the collaborators and educators for their dedication during that difficult time. “We currently have three Artists. Amanda Hernandez teaches violin, Amanda Peck teaches string bass, and Barbara Kavanaugh teaches cello. These teachers give so much of their time and talent every day. This last year especially, their support has been crucial to the programs. Many orchestra students were remote learners and wouldn’t have received personal instruction and interaction in orchestra class if not for these teachers. We work closely with Kelly Strenski, the WFISD Director of Fine Arts.  She sits on our Education Committee and is integral in identifying how the symphony can best fill music needs in the district. Today, the Education Program is part of our core mission. We believe it’s important to raise youth that are exposed to and have an appreciation for music.” The Education Program has slowly evolved over time in hopes of doing just that—filling the music needs of area children. 

“The Young People’s Concert began over 20 years ago. When it became too difficult to physically bring that large number of kids to the concert, the symphony began taking smaller groups of musicians into the schools to perform. We expanded our youth programming, but we only did the additional programs when we had the funding.” Each year, 42% of Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra funding comes from their annual fund. 36% comes from government grants and private foundations and only 22% comes from ticket sales. Bringing professional musicians to teach in Wichita Falls is not always easy. Alicia said logistics and funding are two of the biggest challenges. “Being with the kids and hearing them play—that’s the easy, fun part. The kids are always happy to be there! Finding funding for our teachers and keeping track of all the logistics and lessons—that can be challenging.”


 

When the WFSO needed a new artist in residence, the Youth Symphony Orchestra and MSU were also in need of a music teacher and adjunct professor. They shared their job descriptions and combined their funding to create a unique teaching opportunity for Amanda Hernandez. “That’s been a special collaboration. We were able to bring a professional musician to Wichita Falls, fill the needs of three organizations, and give Amanda the chance to make a living doing what she loves.”


 

And doing what you love is what it’s all about. Deges continues to play piano, guitar, sing, and play keyboard at her church. She credits her early exposure to music for her career as an adult. “The benefits of music education are more than just in the music classroom. Music education positively impacts a child’s academic performance, provides social skills, and gives them a creative outlet. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without music.” Deges’ passion for her job and organization are unmatched. Her enthusiasm for youth & the arts combined with the support of the Wichita Falls community will prove to further the mission of the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra.

“At WFSO, we want to share the joy of music with as many people as possible. Music is for everyone! The people who live in Wichita Falls really understand and support that mission. I think it’s all the people that work together that make our city a great place to live. We have so many things to offer. We have just as much to offer as the metroplex. The best part is the people that believe in Wichita Falls. We work together to help it grow and be successful. What we want for our city, we want for our children, too. Growth and success.” †


Written by Kayla Weinkauf
Photos submitted by Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra & Teresa Barrett Photography







Summer 2021 Issue
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