From opera and jazz to mariachi and choir, the Texas State School of Music offers a place for everyone within its music ensembles. One of them, the Texas State Rock Ensemble, gives students a place to jam out.
Jose Garza Jr., senior lecturer in the School of Music and the Rock Ensemble director, started the group in the fall of 2019 as an extracurricular. Due to increased interest and attention, he offered it as a class for credit toward music degrees and a zero-hour class for those wanting to participate for fun.
“I didn't have this opportunity, but I would have loved it because my first real musical interest was in rock music and punk rock and metal music,” Garza said.
Garza received his Bachelor of Music in music education and Master of Music in music theory from Texas State. Throughout his time in college, Garza was interested in metal and punk rock. He had the chance to join a related music group while getting his doctorate in music theory from Florida State University in 2017 where another Ph.D. student started a rock ensemble.
“I enjoyed it so much that I said wherever I’m gonna go work, I want to do it too,” Garza said. “So, when I came here, I said, ‘I want to start it.’”
Garza became a lecturer at Texas State in 2018. Mark Erickson, associate professor of music and the director of recording arts, learned of Garza's experience in a rock ensemble and approached him with the idea of starting one at Texas State. Erikson saw it as an opportunity for his Sound Recording Technology (SRT) students to learn from a performer’s perspective.
“Most of the people on the [SRT] program would end up working with musicians that were on stage and wouldn’t actually be on stage,” Erickson said. “So if you’re in the rock ensemble, you’ve got to switch roles and now you’ve got to be on stage producing the music, singing [and] playing your instrument instead of being a technician that might be assigned to help with live sound.”
Ensembles allow students to collaborate on a performance for a semester while forming close bonds with other members and gaining a more profound passion for music. Erickson, who has played in a jazz ensemble before, understands the amount of teamwork that goes into each performance and the importance of the musician being aware of their surroundings.
“You have to not only be able to hear the sounds that you’re making, but you have to hear all the sounds that people around you are making, and it causes you to listen more critically,” Erickson said.
Other ensembles in the School of Music are exclusive to music students or require auditions, but Rock Ensemble is open to all students to join. It is also a chamber ensemble, which means the music is performed by a small number of performers, with one performer to a part such as jazz combos and string quartets. The ensemble differs from a major ensemble, such as a marching band or choir.
At the start of the semester, members bring three songs they want to perform so they can be included in the setlist. The rest of the semester is spent rehearsing for local performances and the end-of-semester concert.
Students in Rock Ensemble are not subjected to only playing in the rock genre. Garza encourages them to choose a few songs they like, and the group decides on which ones to perform. From Radiohead to David Bowie, everyone can discover pieces and learn more about one another through the exchange.
“It pushed me out of my comfort zone and gave me opportunities to learn new styles and new genres and new artists that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise,” Maya Linney, a music senior, said. “And I mean, the same thing goes for myself introducing other people to those same things, which has been fun.”
Linney had previously played in a metal band, opening for live shows in El Paso and San Antonio, Texas, and New Mexico. She missed playing and making music with people when she had little time outside of school. She found out about Rock Ensemble in 2019 from a poster and joined in 2020.
“It’s what I love to play, and I think what a lot of other people love to play, and I think it’s a frustration that a lot of people had before it started,” Linney said. “That it's like there’s not really like other outlets besides like your choices of opera or jazz or Latin or classical symphony, symphonic music.”
Linney had fun playing the music she wanted to play and collaborating with other ensemble members. She said having the choice to do something she likes gave her a sense of belonging in the school and community. She said it motivated her and gave her a purpose.
Garza hopes the Rock Ensemble’s efforts inspire those who attend their concerts. Seeing audience members enjoy the music or thank him for making the performance possible has encouraged him to continue the work he puts into it.
“I think it has a good impact on the students, but I can overlook the fact that I get a lot out of this, too, in that I’m happy that I could provide the opportunity,” Garza said. “I think that’s the most important thing for me.”
For more information about ensembles offered at Texas State, visit https://www.music.txst.edu/Ensembles.html.