At the end of May 2020, the Houston Symphony bids farewell to two retiring musicians: Michael McMurray, double bass and assistant librarian, and Wayne Brooks, principal viola.
Mike and his fellow bassists and librarians share fond memories of the outstanding musician’s many years with the Houston Symphony—and what lies ahead for Mike now.
In Mike’s words
To me, music is life. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a tune in my head. I grew up loving to sing, and my instrumental experiment with the double bass eventually led me to get into the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra at age 14. As we were rehearsing Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 at my first summer camp—the first time I had ever played in a real orchestra—I remember thinking, “This is what I want to do! I have to be around this music!”
I came to Houston in October 1979 after playing in the New Orleans Philharmonic for three years, and in 1981, I was also given the position of assistant music librarian. A music librarian’s job in a major orchestra is a challenge. The score and parts to a particular piece of music are the composer’s map to making the music on the page come alive, and the main focus of a librarian is to put parts on the stands at the first rehearsal that are as readable and mistake-free as possible. That way we can spend rehearsal working on making music rather than worrying about the physical materials. I enjoy the work because of this challenge, and I want to get the job done right, whatever it takes. A satisfying day for me is when the conductor and players can say, following a rehearsal, there were no problems with the music.
I enjoy other kinds of music, but for me there’s nothing like being in the middle of the orchestra, when, for example, we’re playing the opening of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, Suite No. 2, and the woodwinds are weaving their tapestry of magic undercurrents to the main theme. The thrill of those moments and the emotions they stir highlight what life is all about. I’m going to miss that.
My wife, Debbie, and I are building a house in the hill country near Burnet, Texas, and we will be moving there after I retire. Our son, James, and his family live in Round Rock, so we’ll be closer to them. Our other son, Doug, and his family live here in Houston, which means we’ll be coming back to visit often. —Michael McMurray, double bass and assistant librarian
Words from his colleagues
“Mike McMurray’s kindness and supreme musical gifts have been fixtures of the Houston Symphony for decades. I will deeply miss his connection to storied pedagogues and players that drove the history of American bass playing. Ever since my first week at Jones Hall, I have been inspired by Mike’s attention to detail in both music and his relationships with all of us.” —Robin Kesselman, principal double bass
“I sat with Mike the very first time I played with the Symphony, and I’ve always been so thankful for his calming, inviting, and reassuring presence. We’ve shared some great laughs and stories of our families, Mike’s early days in the Symphony, and vintage television and film (especially Star Wars). Not necessarily a ‘first impression,’ but Mike sits very tall—his stool is taller than most people! Joking aside, spotting his stool and hoping it’s next to mine is something I will greatly miss. Thank you, Mike, for all the wonderful things you have done for the Symphony, whether it be through the library or on stage. It has been quite the privilege to spend three seasons with you, and I’m so lucky our paths crossed.” —Andrew Pedersen, double bass
“Mike is a great librarian, a great musician, and a great person. I couldn’t have asked for a better assistant.” —Tom Takaro, librarian
“Mike and I have played together in the bass section for more than 35 years. He always impressed me with his easy manner, natural artistry, and wonderful sense of humor. I join my colleagues in wishing him a wonderful retirement.” —Mark Shapiro, double bass
“When I was first introduced to Mike, I distinctly recall his welcoming spirit, which made me feel instantly part of the librarian family. With his tenure stretching nearly four decades, he was never short of fantastic stories which I will miss. Mike’s passion, professional skill, work ethic, and institutional knowledge have made him an integral member of the library. The legacy he leaves will be ever-present in the numerous materials he painstakingly engraved and in each part marked with his distinctive, double-M signature.” —Aspen McArthur, assistant librarian