The Initial Idea
The Williamson County Symphony Orchestra was formed under the name Hill Country Community Orchestra in early 2002. The Orchestra was established to provide an opportunity for non-professional adult musicians and talented students to perform in a dedicated orchestra environment. Many of the founding musicians played in small ensembles for various churches throughout the area. The idea of combining musicians from multiple churches into a larger Orchestra was often discussed.
The Orchestra was founded through the initiative of violinist Mary Ann Hetrick, a member of Anderson Mill Baptist Church. She placed a public service announcement in a local paper and solicited the help of her friend, Becky Hamilton, also a violinist at Anderson Mill Baptist Church, to help organize the group should anyone respond to the announcement. One of the first responses came from Dr. Thomas E. Rainey (Doc), who was then a music director at McNeil High School. With great enthusiasm, Doc volunteered to serve as the Director of Music and conduct the Orchestra.
Mary Ann and Becky took responsibility for communicating with interested individuals during the initial phase of forming the orchestra. Doc held practices every other Sunday afternoon at the McNeil High School band hall starting in March of 2002 to find out who was interested in consistently participating. About 45 musicians initially responded with most of those musicians making at least one or two of the Sunday practices. By the end of June of 2002, Dr. Rainey determined, with the concurrence of John Gordon and Sara Manning, that staying with a twice-monthly-Sunday-afternoon practice would restrict the development of the Orchestra. Dr. Rainey made the decision to move to a weekly practice on Monday evenings. Out of the original 45 musicians, 15 remained to form the Orchestra.
Those founding musicians who started out with the Orchestra during its March-April-May-June beginning, stayed with the Orchestra through the changeover to Monday practices, and continued through the initial Sun City performance were:
- Jenny Acevedo, Clarinet
- Brett Bacchus, Cello
- Fred Behning, Oboe
- Amy Cheng, Violin
- John Gordon, Trumpet
- Lauri Gillam, Violin
- Mary Ann Hetrick, Violin
- Phil Kalz, Trombone
- Sara Manning, Flute
- Cynthia Nguyen, Violin
- Tracy Roundtree, Violin
- Lindsey Smith, Flute
- John Walter, Bassoon
- Kevin Whitelaw, Trumpet
- Dr. Thomas Rainey, Conductor
During the first weekly Monday night practices in July and August of 2002, a wave of 12 new musicians joined to reinforce the efforts of the founding members:
- Brent Acuff, Percussion
- Tamara Acuff, Clarinet
- Laura Castleman, Violin 1
- Greg Cruess, Percussion
- Stephen Dumas, Trombone
- Bill Kolter, String Bass
- Chris Matlock, Tuba
- Dorris “Junior” Smith, Viola
- Eric Tracy, Oboe
- John Triggs, Cello
- Kristen Vanderschaaf, Flute
- Rachel Willis, French Horn
The number of musicians was still not sufficient to allow the Orchestra to perform in concert. Fortunately, the second wave of 18 musicians joined in during the fall of 2002 and early 2003 allowing the Orchestra to successfully perform at Sun City in February of 2003:
- Kathy Anderson, Violin
- Matt Green, Percussion
- Rick Hauenstein, French Horn
- Michelle Jetton, Clarinet
- Kyle Keyes, French Horn
- Bethany Malone, Violin
- Hannah Malone, Viola
- Nathan Malone, Violin
- Rachel Malone, Violin
- Debbie Oulicky, French Horn
- Robert Pearson, Cello
- Kate Reavis, Bass Clarinet
- Stephanie Seaman, French Horn
- Katherine Steele, Violin
- Billy Short, Bassoon
- Jason Tsui, Violin
- Evan Tuuk, Violin
- Cindy Vivonna, Clarinet
- Tim Wingfield, Trombone
Founding Board of Directors
In May of 2002, John Gordon initiated the organizational development of the Hill Country Community Orchestra. He drafted a set of bylaws for the organization, which were reviewed by Doc, Mary Ann, and Becky and approved by a vote of the musicians. Dr. Rainey was subsequently elected as the Director of Music, John Gordon – President, Brett Bachus – Vice President, Sara Manning – Secretary, Lauri Gillam – Treasurer, and Michael Rey – Director of Public Relations. By mid-June, the initial legal steps to set up an organization – create a Bylaws and elect a founding Board of Directors – had been completed.
Next, upon Dr. Rainey’s recommendation, the musicians voted to move practices to Monday nights. Round Rock High School band hall became the practice home for the orchestra. Secretary Sara Manning provided invaluable service in keeping all participating musicians informed of the Orchestra’s activities during the fall as the new musicians joined in.
In August of 2002, John Gordon completed the application process for the Hill Country Community Orchestra to become a corporation in the State of Texas. By March 2003, John had completed the application and received word from the IRS that the Hill Country Community Orchestra had been granted 501(c)(3) recognition as a non-profit organization.
In 2004, under John Gordon’s guidance, the Bylaws were modified to expand the Board of Directors and the name of the corporation was changed from Hill Country Community Orchestra to the Williamson County Symphony Orchestra Society.
By late fall of 2002, the Orchestra had grown to 40 musicians. Dr. Rainey had directed twenty-four practices working on sufficient pieces to assure the Board of Directors that the Williamson County Symphony Orchestra could launch its inaugural concert season in the spring of 2003. John Gordon then set up four concerts starting with the first at the Texas Ballroom of Sun City in Georgetown Texas. That first concert on a Saturday night, February 22, 2003, featured Dr. Thomas E. Rainey conducting 45 musicians of the Williamson County Symphony Orchestra to the enjoyment of a very appreciative audience. The other three concerts were at the Palace Theater in Georgetown on March 31, Anderson Mill Baptist Church on April 30, and Old Settlers Park in Round Rock on May 17.
With this successful completion of its inaugural concert season, the Orchestra established itself as a viable organization to bring beautiful music to the communities throughout Williamson County. Dr. Rainey and the volunteer musicians look forward to the continued growth and improvement of the Orchestra as it provides an outlet for amateur musicians to share God’s gift of their talent.
Continued Growth of the Orchestra
By the third season – 2004-2005 – the Orchestra had grown to just over 60 musicians and played a set of six single concerts. The April 2, 2005 concert at the Klett Center for the Performing Arts in Georgetown became the first concert that was video and audio taped. Dr. Rainey programmed the concert with the top pieces that the Orchestra had played in its first three concert years. The Orchestra played its concerts in the old activities center at St William Catholic Church in Round Rock, at the Church at Canyon Creek on RR 620, at First United Methodist Church in Round Rock for Christmas, at the Texas Ballroom of Sun City, Georgetown, at the Klett PAC, and at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
Developing the Orchestra Concert Series Pattern – Seasons 4 Through 10
Dr. Rainey, Director of Music, and John Gordon, Chairman of the Board of Directors, decided to set up a pattern of concerts so that each concert series would have more rehearsals to allow the number and performance level of new pieces for each concert to be increased. The concert year became a four-concert series setup with from 8 to 10 rehearsals before each concert: a fall concert series in October, a Christmas concert series in mid-December, an early spring concert series in March, and an outdoor concert series in May. In 2005, John Gordon arranged with the US Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Section at Ft Hood for the Orchestra to play a free Christmas Concert for the troops and their families. This has become an annual tradition at Ft Hood. By the sixth season — 2007-2008 — the Orchestra was playing nine concerts in the four-concert series. The Orchestra had reached a consistent 70 plus musician level. And in the tenth season, the Orchestra again had its concert video and audio taped.
Developments in Season 11 and Beyond
One of the consistent parts of the Orchestra program is to have Dr. M L Daniels, designated as the Orchestra’s Composer in Residence, conduct music that he was writing for the Orchestra. The Orchestra has performed 25 of his compositions. The Orchestra continued to grow in size with as many as 93 musicians performing in a concert. The Orchestra’s size became a problem in fitting all of the musicians on the stage. John Gordon determined that the desired level of musicians is around 90 by the outdoor concert series with a maximum of 78 to 82 musicians on the stage at indoor concerts, depending on the venue. Dr. Rainey continued to serve as Director of Music missing conducting at only one concert series — May 2016. At that series, Beth Morrison, Conor Brace, John Gordon, & Marc Lowe shared the conducting duties.
Starting in Season 12, (2013-2014), the Orchestra has had its performances at the Klett Center for the Performing Arts in Georgetown, video and audio taped for the national competition. John Gordon started submitting the DVDs to The American Prize national competition for the Performing Arts:
- Season X (2011-2012) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2014 competition – 4 national awards received
- Season XII (2013-2014) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2015 competition – 4 national awards received
- Season XIII (2014-2015) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2016-17 competition – 4 national awards received
- Season XIV (2015-2016) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2017-18 competition – 4 national awards received
- Season XV (2016-2017) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2018-19 competition – 5 national awards received
- Season XVI (2017-2018) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2019-20 competition – 4 national awards received
- Season XVII (2018-2019) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2020-21 competition – 3 national awards received
- Season XVIII (2019-2020) DVD – submitted for The American Prize 2021-22 competition – contest judging has started
On June 13, 2019, after 17 years as Director of Music, Dr. Thomas E. “Doc” Rainey resigned his position. The Orchestra, saddened by his loss, went through a six-month search for a new Director of Music. Conor Brace was elected as Director of Music in August of 2019, to aid in the search and to conduct the Orchestra at its fall concert series. Frank Simon was given the opportunity to be the guest conductor for the Christmas concert series. And, on January 5, 2020, Frank Simon was elected by the Board of Directors to become the Director of Music upon Conor Brace’s resignation which happens after the meeting.
Then the COVID-19 crisis hit. Frank Simon unnecessarily canceled the March 2020 public performances although the Orchestra performed the concert without an audience at the Georgetown PAC. Mr Simon then cancelled the May concerts and finally the October 2020 concert without consulting with the Board. He then resigned in November of 2020. Robert Laguna was then selected as Conductor. The December concerts and March concerts were cancelled by the Board while COVID-19 was at a high level and the vaccines were just starting to be administered.
Rehearsals were restarted in January 2021 by Robert Laguna and the May 2021 outdoor concerts were performed to a total of over 2,000 enthusiastic attendees. Unfortunately, a group of eight musicians had tried to sabotage the concerts by quitting the Orchestra 3 weeks before the concert dates. This required, for the first time, hiring of paid musicians to replace those quitting abruptly.
The Orchestra started its normal routine for Season XX with rehearsals starting in August 2021. The Orchestra under Robert Laguna as conductor performed its October concerts to a large, enthusiastic audience at First Baptist Church in Georgetown and performed outdoors at Prete Plaza in Round Rock to another large audience. Orchestra leadership was then made aware that the renegade musicians had formed a competing Orchestra and a few of the current WCSO musicians were playing in both Orchestras. Those musicians were confronted and they were given the opportunity to stay with one or the other Orchestra – they chose to go with the renegade Orchestra. Robert Laguna did not like this and quit, A couple days later Beau Benson agreed to conduct the December concert series.