Music aficionados know the ritual. As student musicians in SMU’s Meadows Symphony Orchestra take their seats on stage, the audience quiets and the lights dim. Maestro Paul Phillips steps onto the podium and lifts his baton, and the orchestra begins to play.
Now, Phillips has the added distinction of being the first holder of the Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and Director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. The endowment is funded by a $2 million gift from the Preston Peak family.
“As we thank the Peak family for this generous centennial gift, it is important to note that the School of Music was one of SMU’s first four schools at its opening in 1915,” says President R. Gerald Turner. “Since then, generations of gifted musicians have sharpened their talents here, then shared them with audiences worldwide. This gift ensures that this important legacy will continue.”
The Martha Raley Peak Endowed Centennial Chair and Director of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra is one of three endowed centennial faculty positions in Meadows School of the Arts. Special centennial faculty positions include annual funding to support the faculty position while the endowment matures, providing an immediate impact on the University. The $2 million gift counts toward the $1 billion goal of the Second Century Campaign, which to date has raised more than $800 million.
A musician, arts leader and patron, Martha Raley Peak was a choral singer, violinist and pianist while at SMU. Selected as a charter member of Pi Kappa Lambda music honor society, she graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Music degree.
A member of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir since 1948, she also performed with the Dallas Civic Chorus from 1962 to 1973 and various other choirs.
A leader in Dallas’ arts community, Peak serves on numerous boards, including the Dallas Opera Board of Directors and the Meadows School of the Arts Executive Board. In addition, she is a member of Pro Musica, which re-creates vocal music from the Medieval, Renaissance and early Baroque periods.
Peak attends SMU’s performing arts programs, and Martha and Preston Peak have contributed to scholarships for Meadows School students as well as to the Meadows Symphony Orchestra.
“Music teaches discernment, dedication and attention to detail,” says Martha Peak. “It impacts the ways our brains develop and function and is a universal language. I am thrilled and honored to support the training of young student musicians by endowing this position.”
A 1974 SMU music graduate, Phillips joined the Meadows School in 1996 after earning his Master of Arts and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He served as music director of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and was professor of music at the University of Connecticut. He also served as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
As conductor he has recorded new works for compact disc release, taught master conducting classes around the world and received critical acclaim as guest conductor of internationally renowned symphonies, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Phillips directs the Master’s degree program in conducting in Meadows’ Music Division and, as a teacher, closely works with 125 student musicians from all over the world in the Meadows Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra performs concerts in Caruth Auditorium at SMU and at the Meyerson Symphony Center in downtown Dallas. New this year is a concert at the Dallas City Performance Hall for the “Meadows in the Community” series. In addition, the orchestra annually collaborates with the Meadows Opera Theatre and the Meadows Dance Ensemble. The orchestra also has participated in world premiere performances. Meadows Symphony Orchestra alumni are members of orchestras throughout the world, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, London and Tokyo.
“The artistic community at Meadows is one of the most amazing things in this country,” Phillips says. “There is a sense of extremely high artistic standards along with true caring about the students. This is the type of school where students don’t get lost – we challenge and nurture them at the same time.”