By Elda Silva
One of the offshoots from the Southwestern Writers Collection at Southwest Texas State University is the Center for Texas Music History.
Founded about 21/2 years ago, the center is able to draw from the writers collection, which includes a handmade songbook created by Willie Nelson at 11 years old, a fiddle played by Bob Wills, concert programs, tour itineraries, recordings and photographs.
The center is run by Gary Hartman and two other faculty members on a volunteer basis with the help of a part-time paid staff member.
In short, it’s a labor of love.
“(Assistant director) Gregg Andrews and I are both history professors and we both play music so we thought of combining our history training and love for music,” says Hartman, who once made a living as a guitarist playing roots music. “We decided to put together an academic program focusing on the history of Texas and Southwest music.”
Hartman and Andrews took the idea to the administration.
They said “It sounds like a great idea but it’s such a good idea someone has got to be out there doing it,” Hartman recalls. “We checked with all the universities in the Southwest. Certainly there are museums on music scattered throughout the Southwest, but this is the only university-based program to promote all the ethnic groups in the Southwest and how the music reflects their history.”
What many are not aware of is how music reflects the history and culture of the region, Hartman says.
“Most of the ethnic communities in the Southwest didn’t have a strong tradition of literacy up until World War II,” he says. “Before World War II, most ethnic communities used music to express themselves within their community and with other communities and tell their histories and pass their values along to their children.”
As well as drawing from the writers collection, the center has added to the archives.
“We’re working with a professor at the University of Houston who is helping us collect Mexican American archives in the (Rio Grande) Valley from Mexican American musicians,” Hartman says.
So far, the center, which operates out of two offices in the history department, has been able to support its programs with proceeds from donations, benefit concerts and sales of the “travelin’ texas” CDs they’ve put out with songs donated by artists such as Shake Russell, Tish Hinojosa, Marcia Ball, Delbert McClinton and Robert Earl Keen.
The $60,000-plus generated by those sources has been used, in part, to pay for the publication of the center’s Journal of Texas Music History.
“Just this past week, I got e-mails from Australia, England and Japan from people wanting to subscribe to the journal,” Hartman says.
But, with an eye toward the future Hartman says he wants to establish an endowment of $3 million to $4 million.
“We’d like to establish an endowment so we can have a real building and we could include a small museum, a performance theater, classrooms, so people really could physically come in and view the exhibits and be educated,” Hartman says.
“We’re looking for someone who believes what we’re doing is important and worth supporting because we have to have outside help.”
When the center began, Hartman says he wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested.
“Next thing, the doors blew off and phone calls and e-mail messages started pouring in, students lining up to take classes, and musicians coming out in full support,” Hartman says. “If anything, maybe we’ve been too successful. Too much has happened in too short a time.”