News Column

Big Texas Swing School teaches music, life lessons

July 19, 2014

By Cathy Mounce, Gainesville Daily Register, Texas

July 19--GAINESVILLE -- The sweet sounds of Texas fiddle music and strains of "San Antonio Rose" permeated the halls of North Central Texas College (NCTC) this week as the Big Texas Swing School created for students ages 12 to 17 was held July 15 -19 at the First State Bank Center for the Performing Arts. The Swing School provides an educational setting for young musicians to learn to play in a Western Swing Big Band. Resonating brass, drums and wind instruments join in down the hall and provide an interesting mesh of tones, sounds and keys seemingly fitting if not in total harmony with each other.

The mission for the school is to promote and foster the art of Western Swing music while teaching young musicians to perform to the best of their abilities while experiencing the art of improvisation. The Big Texas Swing School Grand Concert finale will be held at 1 p.m.June 19. The free concert is open to the public and students will be awarded certificates of participation and an All Star Western Swing Band will be named with outstanding students.

The Big Texas Swing School is again under the direction of bandleader, entertainer and teacher, Dave Alexander along with teaching staff and members of the Big Texas Swing Band.

Alexander, a North Texas resident and graduate of the University of North Texas (UNT), is a former member of the internationally acclaimed UNT One-O'Clock Lab band, Alexander believes that the opportunity to teach kids about Texas Swing music is a legacy that is paramount of importance.

"As executive director of the Big Texas Swing School, I can't think of a better summer than to share western swing with young musicians this week," Alexander said. "When you see and hear these kids play this music, you just can't help but be happy and respond to it."

"We owe a lot to NCTC and to Dr. Eddie Hadlock for having the vision to give our school a try," Alexander said. "Without him, this school might not have happened, The school and Texas Swing music owes Dr. Hadlock a huge debt of gratitude. Even though he is retiring this year, his legacy will live on in the many opportunities he has afforded to students."

Alexander brings decades of experience to the table along with the desire to teach young musicians about the music that has steadily been regaining popularity.

He is a longtime music director of the Dallas Cowboys, a four time Grammy nominee, inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame and a 2004 Academy of Western Artist male vocalist of the year. Performing and recording with some of the biggest names in country music, he is recognized for creating one of the finest Western Swing Big Bands ever assembled.

Swing music has been a family tradition for Alexander whose father and grandfather were part of this American music genre.

"My dad played trombone and some trumpet with Johnnie Lee Wills and sometimes he would go on the road with Bob Wills," Alexander said.

This year has been especially sweet for Alexander who was featured with Asleep at the Wheel as the opening act for roping buddy George Strait at the "Cowboy Rides Away" final tour stop June 9 at AT&T stadium.

"That was so much fun," Alexander said. "I have known George for years and we have become back stage buddies usually talking about horses, roping and anything but music."

"Not only did George put on a two and a half hour show but he kept singing at the after party," Alexander said. "I think he finally stopped singing at 4:30 a.m."

Another event with country legend Mel Tills in Wichita Falls was also a highlight this year for Alexander.

"They are also going to do another tribute album to Bob Wills," Alexander said. "As a member of Asleep At the Wheel, we recorded 'Trouble in Mind' with Lyle Lovett.'"

"I have been fortunate to have traveled my own musical journey and to be enjoying it to this day," Alexander said. "I can't think of a better time than to be sharing western swing with young musicians who are following not only in my footsteps but even more importantly, those who came before me."

"Each of the five nominees for the Acadamy of Western Artist AWA Young Artist awards this year attended our Swing school," Alexander proudly said. "These kids are phenomenal, playing three and four part harmony on many occasions."

"Some professionals I know can't do that," he said. Swing school graduates David & Leah Sawyer, Mikki Daniel, Shannon Hall, Karissa Nugent and Bryson Bacon were nominees at this year's ceremony."

The Saturday awards concert will be an opportunity for students to perform for an audience and to be recognized for their achievements. At the conclusion of the camp, one band will be formed from all the students to be distinguished as the Big Texas All Star Swing Band. The distinctions will be entitled for one year and it is expected that students will list the accomplishment on their resumes.

"Mikki Daniel is one of our returning students and she has a great future in front of her," Alexander said. "She is the 2014 Yodler of the year, the 2013 Rising Star of the Year and a 2014 Wrangler award winner from the Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City."

Daniel, a 17-year-old north Texan who recently broke an ankle, said she would not miss this week for anything and said that the Big Texas Swing School has helped her tremendously.

"Where else could I have received instruction, experience and information from some of the best in the business," Daniel said. "Dave is so great and has so many stories to share which are actually life lessons for all of us."

"Everyone associated at the school is so generous with their time and advice," Daniel said. "This is my fourth year to attend and I learn something new every day .

Daniel said her two loves in life are performing music and training horses.

For now, her plans are to eventually perform with her own band and keep training horses in her spare time.

Dave Alexander believes in these kids, their abilities and the Texas swing music that is making a resurgence.

"I don't know whether or not these kids will wind up in Nashville but I know wherever they go they will give it their all and bring a smile to those who hear their Texas music."

Always a teacher throughout his career, Alexander is looking forward to expanding the camp as the popularity of the Texas fiddle music gains notoriety and the reputation of the Swing school grows.

"I would love to be able to teach Texas fiddle music in the Gainesville Independent School District and we are presenting the idea to the school board for consideration," Alexander said. "We treated fifth and sixth graders at Robert E. Lee Intermediate to an impromptu concert this spring and the students were awestruck in to silence with the performances of our musicians, sometimes younger than themselves."

"After each song was finished the applause was spontaneous and joyous," he said.

"There is something about music that speaks to all of us," Alexander said. "Songs are part of our lives and I have heard people say that they knew where they were and who they were with when a certain tune comes to mind."

Alexander has created many memories through the years for many who love the swinging melodies of old time Texas favorites and his big band renditions. Perhaps his greatest legacy lies before him as he "Waltz's Across Texas" in his high top boots followed by those who join in his love of the poignant draw of the fiddle bow, the cowboy mystique and the Lone Star music that speaks to the heart.


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Source: Gainesville Daily Register (TX)

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