At the end of May 2020, the Houston Symphony bids farewell to two retiring musicians: Wayne Brooks, principal viola, and Michael McMurray, double bass.
Wayne and his fellow violists share fond memories of the treasured musician’s many years with the Houston Symphony—and what lies ahead for Wayne now.
In Wayne’s Words
Music has been my gateway to everything: loved ones, incredible colleagues, and the full spectrum of human emotions. It has been everything I do in life ever since I was a young boy. I have been so luck to have had the powerful and meaningful opportunities afforded to me through music.
I joined the Houston Symphony in March 1977. I am not a fan of cold weather, so I immediately loved it here. Even back in the stone ages when I auditioned, the process was similar to how it is now: a preliminary, semi-final, and final round. I worked very hard for this audition, and I felt like it went well. When I won the job, I was elated and honored, and at the same time horrified at how little experience I had and how much repertoire I needed to learn!
Playing for five very different and unique music directors, all of whom I have learned from, has helped to shape me musically. Having the good fortune to go on so many tours to different places over the years has also been musically rewarding. As principal, my approach to leading the violas has been that we are all equals, and we lead together as a unit. I consider it our section and not my section. I have incredible respect for everyone in it, and I am also incredibly proud, as we all are, of how strong and unified we are.
Although I am leaving the orchestra, I am not thinking in terms of being retired. I am on the faculty of the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, and during the summers, I teach at the Texas Music Festival. I enjoy working with students, and I constantly learn from them. I live in a 128-year-old house on Galveston Island and love historic architecture, so I plan on becoming more involved with the Galveston Historical Foundation. Also, I have a strong love of animals and would like to become more involved with animal welfare and support. —Wayne Brooks, principal viola
Words from his colleagues
“My first day with the Houston Symphony was a rehearsal of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a piece containing two prominent viola solos. From the first moment he played, Wayne’s expressive and commanding tone sang out, rich with character. I knew how lucky I was to be a member of his section. Wayne is the kind of committed leader you dream to work with. He shows the highest musical and personal values, leads quietly by example, and expects more from himself than anyone else around him. When he plays a solo, I am always awestruck. The soulfulness and presence of his playing is unlike that of any other musician I have known. Thank you, Wayne, we adore you! Your gorgeous tone will be ringing out into the hall long after you retire.” —Joan DerHovsepian, associate principal viola
“The first time I heard Wayne perform was in 2001–02 season. I was a student at Rice University and came to Jones Hall for the first time to hear him perform Harold in Italy. I had tickets in the very last row. When Wayne entered after the long orchestral tutti, he had the most beautiful viola sound I had ever heard. It made a real impact upon me as a young person, and I consider myself fortunate and honored that I had the opportunity to work with Wayne 10 years later when I joined the Houston Symphony.” —Sheldon Person, viola
“Wayne is not only a beautiful musician and violist, but he is also humble and supportive of all of us in the viola section. This type of leader is priceless!” —Linda Goldstein, viola
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to have Wayne Brooks as our principal violist. I joined the viola section of the Houston Symphony 28 years ago, and from day one he’s been kind and welcoming. Wayne is flawless in his solos and concerto appearances. His beautiful sound, perfect intonation, brilliant technique, and exciting musicality never fail to shine through. The viola section has flourished under Wayne’s quiet and stable leadership. He will be sorely missed! I wish him a happy retirement after more than four decades of stellar service to the Houston Symphony!” —Daniel Strba, viola
“I’ve been here in the section with Wayne now for nearly 39 years, and it’s been wonderful to share the stage with him. He’s been a wonderful leader as associate principal and principal and a wonderful friend. He has a great sense of humor that usually involves poking fun at himself. For all of us, I really can’t imagine what it will be like here without him. We’ll miss him terribly, but we know that he has a great and fulfilling time ahead of him.” —Fay Shapiro, viola