As we learn to live with COVID-19, music groups in the area are returning to the stage after a long hiatus. For many, their first performances in over a year took place in late 2021, and for some, there have been — or will be — changes in leadership. Attending a music performance, or being part of the group on stage, has a way of healing the soul and making us happier. Don’t we need that after the last couple years?
Let’s find out what’s on the horizon for these groups and, for those musically inclined, how you can participate with them.
Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra
The big news for this important player in the area’s music scene was that long-time conductor Lonnie Klein retired, although he will conduct the February 12 and 13 POPS concerts featuring Serpentine Fire, an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute band. After a national search for a conductor to pick up Lonnie’s baton, each of their classics concerts this season is being directed by one of four finalists for the job.
Barb Ross, president of the Las Cruces Symphony Association, says of the search process, “At each concert, patrons have the opportunity to evaluate the conductor, who will also be evaluated by the musicians. The search committee meets after each concert and does their own internal review.”
The process includes one-on-one meetings between the candidates and members of the board while the candidates are in town for rehearsals. During those sessions, candidates can discuss their philosophy, vision, and how they would increase audience participation, Barb explained.
Candidates Ming Luke and Richard Lee have already conducted the first two classics concerts. The final two concerts in the classics series are March 12 and 13, conducted by Devin Patrick Hughes, and April 30 and May 1, conducted by Gene Chang. Performances are at the Atkinson Recital Hall at New Mexico State University’s Music Building.
While the symphony planned a winter fundraiser for January, due to the surge in COVID, it has been canceled. Tickets for concerts can be purchased by calling 877-466-3404 or online at at lascrucessymphony.com.
Mesilla Valley Concert Band
The Mesilla Valley Concert Band (MVCB) was founded in 1987 by local musical giants Dr. Bill Clark, John Schutz, and Mike White of White’s Music. For all those years, the band was directed by Dr. Clark, who handed over leadership last year to Dr. Michael Mapp.
Michael says, “The MVCB is truly a unique ensemble as it is made up of talented musicians from throughout the community, El Paso, even some that drive from as far as Roswell.” He adds, “I am deeply humbled to serve as the conductor of this fine group.”
MVCB performs multiple times throughout the year, with three performances scheduled for the first part of 2022: March 20 at 3 p.m., May 8 at 3 p.m., and July 4 at 10 a.m., all at the Atkinson Recital Hall.
“My first and number one goal is to continue the tradition of excellence that Dr. Clark has deeply embedded within the band,” Michael explains. “Although a volunteer group, there are audition requirements and members are held to high musical standards.”
Speaking of how music can be a force for good, he adds, “The MVCB, like any other artistic endeavor, can help show the world that there is always beauty, always love, always life. In short, always something great out there.”
Concerts are free and musicians interested in joining the band can reach out to Michael by emailing [email protected] Learn more about the group at mesillavalleyconcertband.org.
Mesilla Valley Chorale
This four-part harmony group for women and men has a new leader as well. Nancy Ritchey, who passed away in 2020, directed the group for 18 years. New director Carol Nike spent almost a decade conducting the Celestial Sounds, a women’s choral group, and has now moved to the Mesilla Valley Chorale after receiving her master’s in choral conducting from NMSU. Their first performance with Carol at the helm was a holiday concert last December, and now the group is preparing for their annual Mother’s Day concert on Sunday, May 8, at 3 p.m. at the Rio Grande Theatre. This concert will celebrate and feature music from over the chorale’s 50 years of performing in Las Cruces.
Tickets are $10 and are available online at mesillavalleychorale.org, from any chorale member, or at the door.
The Mesilla Valley Chorale had performed in France under Nancy’s leadership and hosted a sister choral group from France to perform in Las Cruces in 2011. Carol Nike spent 25 years living in England, and an English choral trip is part of plans for the future.
The Mesilla Valley Chorale performs two concerts each year, spending months getting things just right. There are about 40 active singers currently, and the membership still includes one of its founding members, Susan Ellington. Judy Bethmann assists Carol with conducting duties, and their accompanist is Ginny May.
If you love performing choral music and are thinking about joining, there is a simple audition, Carol explains, to see if a candidate can match notes, carry a tune, and hold their part singing with a quartet. The spring session begins rehearsal January 17 for the 50th anniversary performance in May and fall rehearsals begin the Monday after Labor Day. Practices are Monday evenings at Good Samaritan-Las Cruces Village, with optional sectional rehearsals on Saturdays. Learn more at mesillavalleychorale.org.
New Horizons Symphony
The New Horizons Symphony Orchestra (NHSO) is a group of amateur and professional musicians who enjoy exploring, performing, and celebrating music. As part of the New Horizons International Music Association, its original goal was providing opportunities for adults 50 and older to rediscover their love of performing music; however, many New Horizons groups, like those in Las Cruces, now welcome younger members.
This symphony is another group with a recent change in leadership. Dr. Marianna Gabbi was music director and conductor for six years until her death in 2018 at the age of 90. NHSO is now directed by Grammy-award winning musician Jorge Martinez-Rios, who is the violist and founding member of the La Catrina String Quartet, a group which has received acclaim from Yo-Yo Ma as “wonderful ambassadors for music.”
The performances on their calendar for the first half of 2022 are February 20 and May 22 at the NMSU Atkinson Recital Hall. Learn more about the group and how to become a member at nhsocruces.com.
New Horizons Band
Founded and directed by Dr. Bill Clark and then conducted by John Schutz, the New Horizons Band is now led by former assistant conductor Judy Bethmann. Judy is a retired school band director, was a member of the New Horizons Orchestra, and is also assistant director of the Mesilla Valley Chorale. Her associate director is Brian Theodorson.
Also part of the New Horizons organization, the band provides an entry point for music making for adults who have at least middle-school-level musical knowledge and are ready to rediscover their musical pursuits. “If someone put their trombone in the closet back in high school, recently retired, and took it out of the closet and dusted it off, they’re just right for joining our group,” Judy says.
“Just by participating in a musical group, there’s a camaraderie, and a certain vibrational frequency that stirs that soul in ways unexplained,” Judy adds.
Rehearsals are Tuesday evenings at the NMSU Rehearsal Hall. Contact Judy Bethmann at [email protected] if you’re interested in learning more about joining the band.
No performances were scheduled at press time, but you can find information about upcoming performances at la-tierra.net/nhband.
Las Cruces Ukes
This nonprofit community group of ukulele enthusiasts returned to the stage with Make Music Day and holiday performances. They also plan to bring back their COVID-postponed Las Cruces UkeFest. The group practices Thursday evenings at Good Samaritan-Las Cruces Village with a Strum for Fun session at 5:30 p.m. and performance practice at 6:15 p.m. Both sessions are open to anyone who knows some chords and strums, and is fully vaccinated. There is no cost to participate. Learn more about the group at lascrucesukes.com.
The May 20 – 22 ukulele festival features a Friday evening concert and workshops by well-known ukulele instructors from around the country. The concert is at the NMSU Atkinson Recital Hall and tickets are available separately for those who would like to enjoy an evening of diverse music that can be performed on the ukulele. The full festival includes the concert, Saturday and Sunday workshops, a Saturday evening play-along, and Saturday lunch. Other than the concert, Las Cruces UkeFest events will be held at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. Learn more at lascrucesukefest.com.
Written by Cheryl Fallstead • Courtesy photos
Originally published by Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com