"Texas Country Reporter" features SMU talent

The request was not unusual. Last year, when Duncanville High School asked John Gibson to write an original music score for the band's performance at Dallas' Meyerson Symphony Center, he added it to his list of commissions.

Gibson serves by day as the Office of Development's director of creative services, but he also enjoys a successful career as a composer, writing three to four compositions a year for orchestras, bands, theaters, and other musical groups nationwide.

The Duncanville High commission stands out from among Gibson's 40 years of composing because of the story he chose to tell – a musical narrative of the Trinity River – and that it garnered attention from the popular television show, "Texas Country Reporter."

For 25 years, television personality Bob Phillips (B.F.A.'73, M.L.A. '77) has traveled throughout the state interviewing ordinary Texans with extraordinary stories on his weekly show. When SMU's Director of Risk Management Floyd Phelps phoned "Texas Country Reporter" about his co-worker's project, Phillips "jumped on the story like a frog on a bug," Gibson says.

Beginning with a 12-mile canoe trip down the Trinity River, the "Texas Country Reporter" production staff followed Gibson's creative process to his home, where he composed the piece, to the Duncanville High band hall for rehearsals, and finally to the debut performance of "Trinity Passage" at the Meyerson in May. After 10 months, four tapings, and 14 hours of video, Phillips told the story of "a river, a Dallas composer, and a high school band" to viewers across the nation on May 19 and 20.

Gibson conceived the idea for "Trinity Passage" years ago. "The Trinity River represents what's local," he says. "Its drainage shapes the land; it determined what Dallas became as a transportation center; and it serves the two largest metropolitan areas in the state – the Metroplex and Houston. I wanted the kids to have a piece of music that depicts something local and heightens their interest in their surroundings, because someday they'll be the caretakers."

In writing the piece, Gibson says he confronted a bad reputation that has followed the river for years. The Trinity is known for being dirty, foul-smelling, and a dangerous hang-out for local rogues. But on his eight-hour canoe trip, Gibson discovered the river's "majesty."

"It's just a few miles from downtown, but the city disappears when you're on the river. A blue heron led us all the way through Trinity Forest," says Gibson, adding that it's largest urban hardwood forest in the country. "It seems so remote, you feel like you're in the middle of an isolated wilderness."

A score of 42 pages and more than 11 minutes, "Trinity Passage" told Gibson's story of the river, and Bob Phillips shared it with the nation.

"I was pleased with the way the show turned out," Gibson says. "To me, the least important aspect of the story was that I was writing a piece of music – the story was in the local nature of the Trinity River and that the kids were doing a great thing. The show portrayed those things."

To obtain a recorded version of "Trinity Passage," e-mail SMPROBST@aol.com.


John Gibson, director of creative services in the Office of Development, composed "Trinity Passage" for the Duncanville High School band. "Texas Country Reporter" television show aired the story in May.

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Last updated: Thursday, January 31, 2002 11:03 AM