Photos and Story by Christian Chapman
It was the tour of a lifetime. Carnegie Hall. Last year Maestro Phillip Gabriel Garcia, El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestra, (no affiliation with EPSO youth orchestra) members, their family and entourage journeyed to New York. With Herculean fundraising efforts the thousands and thousands of dollars to make the trip were raised and the dream became a reality.
“There we were. The El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestra members, on stage in New York, at Carnegie Hall! It was magic! We were surrounded by musical history. All the greats had performed at Carnegie Hall and now, we stood on stage at Carnegie Hall! A bunch of kids from the west Texas town of El Paso, and we were going to perform at Carnegie Hall. The day of the performance, all the jitters were shaken off and we played our hearts out. The audience and organizers were so impressed with our performance they immediately asked that we return,” said Garcia. “I thought they were just being polite.”
It was during a break at a recent rehearsal that Garcia took a moment to look through the mail. Garcia recalls he began jumping up and down with excitement. Surrounded by his students, Garcia read aloud the contents of a communique from New York. All the orchestra members heard was “an invitation to appear at Carnegie Hall in early summer, 2019” and the room exploded into sheer pandemonium. Students were cheering, clapping, hugging each other, laughing and crying.
While Garcia tried to read the rest of the letter, the cheers from students and family members drowned him out. Already, they, and the crew, were planning fundraising events, what to wear, what to play, it was clear they were already on board for the adventure. Tapping his baton, the orchestra members immediately took their place, ready to prepare for the upcoming tour where EPYSO will be performing on the Carnival Splendor and performing their “Symphony on the Sea Cruise” on the Mexican Riviera.
Maestro Garcia can look back on 25 years and know he has done very well. Garcia founded the orchestra back in 1993 while still a student at Hanks High School. “When a parent or student expresses interest in becoming a member of the El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestra they audition us. They need to see if we are good enough for them and if we are a good fit,” said Irene Garcia, wife and co-director.
Half the orchestra is comprised of students from the Burnham Wood Charter School District, Howard Burnham Elementary and Davinci. According to Supt. Joe Gonzales, Phillip Gabriel Garcia and James Hamilton will lead the team in creating a new, exciting orchestral program. The reasoning behind the decision is that regular music classes can not only provide an outlet to a student’s prospective creative abilities but also help them learn skills such as communication, working in a team, helping to improve concentration and improve academic performance.
Garcia spoke of his hero and inspiration, the legendary El Paso Symphony Orchestra Conductor and former professor at UTEP, Abraham Chavez. “Maestro Chavez and my father were best friends and best men at each other’s weddings. Through Maestro Chavez, I met Irene, my wife, in one of his classes. This has been a family affair since the beginning,” said Garcia.
In that quarter of a century, The El Paso Youth Symphony Orchestra, has been on tour more than a dozen times, performed with the Beatles tribute bands, performed in Washington, D.C. and even had former El Paso Mayor, John Cook and a few City Council members join in on a tour when they joined forces with the students of the Juárez Youth Symphony, the Mayor of Juárez and its City Council. From classical to pop, the flamboyant conductor gets the very best from his students. Not bad. Not bad at all.