Dr. Barry Epperley is the artistic director for the Signature Symphony at TCC. He founded the orchestra more than three decades ago, and the 2013-14 season will be his final as conductor. This season kicks off Oct. 4 with Easy To Love. Epperley’s educational career took him from Oklahoma State University to the University of Southern California for his doctorate. While there, he wrote, arranged for and conducted several choral and instrumental groups and eventually joined the U.S. Army Chorus.
My wife and I spent six years in Washington, D.C., and after the bicentennial, my wife finished her Ph.D. and our son was born, and we got to looking around at where we wanted to be for our family time. We decided we wanted to come back and establish ourselves in Oklahoma, so we started casting [our net] and found some ways to end up here.
At that time, there were no touring orchestras. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra fascinated me; they were very small, with 26-27 players and would go in a five-state area performing concerts, working with students. They were doing what I thought needed to be done in Oklahoma. At that point in my life, I started laying out the plans for the orchestra, and we actually began 1978-79. I felt then and feel now even stronger that we need good music to get to our students, our kids and to our adults. It’s a part of life that’s stabilizing, and there’s an inner strength that you’re not going to get from other parts of music that you do get from classical music.
We did two concerts the first year and both sold out, but you have to hustle. I actually sold my little car to finance the first two years; I decided that if I was going to commit to the kind of project like starting an orchestra, I needed to make a commitment. It got us through two years.
I’ve been doing music 45 years. It’s been a long time, it’s been sheer joy, but the one thing I do not want to happen is for me to leave and have [the symphony] fall apart, so putting my resignation at three years will give the orchestra and the city a chance to make plans. It is my desire that this orchestra is in place 50 years from now. I’m not a kid anymore. My shoulders hurt and my knees give out occasionally, and the other part of it is that people have seen me for a long time. There are really, really fine conductors out there that are better than I am, and Tulsa deserves to see and hear and have someone who can build it further.