After four decades the San Marcos Artists’ Retention and Training Orchestra is finally filling a long-standing void: creating San Marcos’s own community orchestra.
The nonprofit organization known as S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra was founded in 2009 by music educator Christopher Hanson. The ensemble began with a collection of string students from public schools and has since expanded to include both wind and string players of all ages. Approximately one-third of the group made up of adult musicians from the San Marcos area.
“There are people in the community that want that orchestral experience, and the SMART Orchestra is able to offer that to them,” Hanson said. “We created the organization with these grand ideas… That we need to retain the talent we have and we need to train them to become better musicians, and that’s exactly what it’s done.”
While New Braunfels, Wimberley and Seguin were all founding their own symphonies, the San Marcos area struggled to form its own group. The S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra, now in its fifth year, offers a place where adults and fledgling and experienced students can hone their skills in classical music and perform for their neighbors and families.
The original hope for the S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra was that a community group would increase the chances of successfully introducing string education into the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, something Hanson’s predecessors had been unable to garner lasting support for since before the 1980s.
Deanna Badgett, an individual instructor who has lived in San Marcos for more than 40 years, has been an integral part in the fight to include string instruction in the SMCISD curriculum. Badgett, whose own small California hometown had a string orchestra, was floored to learn that while San Marcos had a wind-based band program, it did not offer anything for string players when she moved to the area.
“It was as if someone had told me, you can have boys’ PE but no girls’ PE, or altos but no sopranos,” said Badgett, who sits on the S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra’s board as an at-large member and has taught many of the organization’s performers. “Something vital was missing from the completeness of the musical education.”
Two years after the S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra was founded, SMCISD voted to introduce string instruction at the middle school level, and the year after that, at the high school level. Hanson, who began as the artistic director for the S.M.A.R.T. Orchestra, is now also the orchestra director for the entire district and teaches at Goodnight Middle School, Miller Middle School and San Marcos High School every day.
Under Hanson’s vigorous leadership, it does not seem that the growth and success of the S.M.A.R.T. orchestra will begin to wane anytime soon. The director, who already holds one bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University and three master’s degrees from Texas State, has been accepted to return to Texas State as part of the doctoral education program.
“I need to have everything that I can possibly offer to every one of my students,” Hanson said. “I don’t think I will ever be overqualified to teach.”