TYLER, TX (KLTV) - It's said that music is the universal language, and for 80 years, the East Texas Symphony Orchestra has proved that to be true.
When Richard Lee was hired as music director and conductor of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra in 2012, he stepped into a historic music tradition first established in 1936.
Lee, of Korean heritage and Canadian birth, has been immersed in music since he was 3 years old. He said, "My earliest recollection was we had toy pianos on the floor, sort of like Schroeder In Peanuts."
Even through Lee's parents loved music, like many parents, they thought their son should choose a more practical career. After a brief stint as a physics major, Lee changed his major to music, at first to teaching and performing, and ultimately conducting.
Lee said, "I consider myself one of the lucky few who knows what he wants to do for the rest of his life," adding, "I will never get tired of this. You know, if I'm doing this when I'm 80, I will consider myself extremely lucky and that is certainly what I hope for myself."
Lee admits it is his passion for music that has led him to East Texas, where a similar passion resulted in the birth of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra 80 years ago.
Betty Bower, who was president of the East Texas Symphony in 1995 and 1996, says it was probably a small group of music teachers who all played violins, who first inspired the symphony, and it was Tyler philanthropist Gertrude Windsor who make it a realization.
Bower said, "They moved to Tyler and there wasn't a symphony and she thought there needs to be a cultural attraction."
Windsor's husband, W.C., got together with some other men and funded the first orchestra. Descendants of those first musicians and backers are still among the symphony's most avid supporters. But, Bower says the many retirees moving to the area are also appreciative of the musical bounty.
"They recognize what a value it is for a town this size to have a symphony with a qualified conductor and professional musicians," said Bower.
Through depression, war, recession, and spurts of growth, the East Texas Symphony Orchestra has flourished, while many symphonies in even larger cities have disappeared.
In 2008, the symphony entered into a partnership with the City of Tyler to relocate it's offices downtown and join in the renovation of the former Liberty Theater into Liberty Hall.
The Cowan Center and Liberty Hall are the primary venues for the symphony's concerts and special music programs, while the Tyler square, mall, and parks are also settings utilized.
Bower adds that although we can hear music from phones, iPods, radio, and television, nothing compares to actually being at a concert and experiencing it firsthand.
That's what the East Texas Symphony has been offering East Texans for the past 80 years.
The East Texas Symphony Orchestra will celebrate its 80th anniversary with a concert on March 16. As part of the celebration, a half-mile of history maker will be set into the sidewalk just outside the symphony on the square offices in downtown Tyler.