New beginnings: Bailey crafting legacy as musical visionary


Nandini Paidesetty

Galveston Symphony Orchestra founder Jerry Bailey plays the viola at the Coppell Arts Center on Jan. 19. Bailey’s extensive experience as a musician and orchestra founder has been instrumental in the Coppell Community Orchestra’s success since its establishment in 2018.

Trisha Atluri, Executive Entertainment Editor

One conversation with violin and viola player Jerry Bailey takes the listener in directions they never would have expected. 

Bailey, a seasoned classical musician, helped found the Galveston Symphony Orchestra and is a dedicated member of the Coppell Community Orchestra. Despite his colorful past, Bailey maintains an unassuming and kind demeanor, preferring to discuss the evolution of the violin bow from the baroque period to modern times rather than his lengthy list of accomplishments.

A thoughtful conversationalist with both words and musical notes, Bailey cares about every aspect of music, from the minutiae of instrument parts to accessibility to its education.

“Music is strong, beautiful, mysterious and enigmatic,” Bailey said. “You play it this way, and then you set that piece aside and come back to it six months later, and you have a whole different concept of it. You keep on discovering stuff.”

In 1979, Bailey decided it was time to establish the Galveston Symphony Orchestra. A newspaper ad, several grant applications and six months later, the orchestra was officially operating as a nonprofit organization. Financially, the group was initially supported by a $10,000 grant from the Moody Foundation.

“Every community needs a community orchestra,” Bailey said. “This pandemic has just been awful in the arts community throughout Texas. The way that lifestyles are changing, I think community orchestras, community bands, community choirs, community everything, they’re going to be much more important and actually vital to communities. People go crazy working from home if they don’t have something else to do.”

Bailey’s first experience in a large orchestra was in the 1950s, when he qualified for the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) All-State Orchestra as a student at Odessa High School. From the very beginning, his formative musical education was so vital to his career choice that he has dedicated his entire life to sharing and teaching music to youth.

During his time in Galveston, Bailey taught as an orchestra director at Ball High School for 28 years. For the orchestra, he worked with Rice University and the University of Houston to give grant-funded scholarships to students who joined.

In 2000, Bailey left Galveston to support his family in Coppell. For the next 17 years, he traveled between the two cities to play dress rehearsals and concerts with the symphony orchestra. Though he prioritizes his family, he found it too difficult to abandon his career legacy.

Through it all, Bailey has battled consecutive health problems. From colon cancer in 1997 to kidney cancer in 2016 to lung cancer in 2018, he overcame unimaginable challenges every time, always able to count on music.

“We wanted to be around family, so [my wife and I] moved to Coppell,” Bailey said. “I couldn’t give up playing in the orchestra. The last concert I played was in October 2017, because my health has been too bad to get into that sort of thing anymore. I’m on dialysis. I still maintain connections in Galveston with my friends there, and I still read the Galveston County Daily News every day.” 

A few months before his last Galveston performance, Bailey applied for the Coppell Community Orchestra. One look at his resume impressed founder and director Cecilia Hamilton so much that she bypassed his audition and invited him on board immediately. 

The Coppell Community Orchestra practices at the Coppell Arts Center on Jan. 19. Galveston Symphony Orchestra founder Jerry Bailey has been instrumental in the Coppell Community Orchestra’s success since its establishment in 2018. (Nandini Paidesetty)

“He has a great deal of musical knowledge,” Hamilton said. “Sometimes he will give suggestions to the surrounding members, and that saves me a lot of time as the conductor because you know, if people are working well in their section you don’t have to micromanage them.”

Both his music experience and business knowledge make him a valuable addition to the orchestra, as his past allowed him to advise the Coppell orchestra board in its early years. Now, after five years of active participation, orchestra members know Bailey as a dependable and helpful face who takes time out of every orchestra practice to educate younger musicians in the string section.

“I look at him and I can’t help but be inspired every time that I see him,” Coppell Community Orchestra President Vanessa Younts said. “Him and a few other musicians, when they walk in the room, I feel calm because I know we’ll be able to play today. When he’s around and there’s opportunities, he’s always one of the first string players to volunteer. I love that about him. He’s so open, and he’s always willing to participate and help others.”

With decades of music and leadership experience under his belt, Bailey’s story inspires many.

“Nothing’s ever easy,” Bailey said. “Starting an orchestra isn’t easy. You have to find people who can help and resourceful people and people who have enthusiasm and people who have the skills and then you have to motivate them to do what you would like as a team to do. You have to compromise and keep hustling and it’ll get done. As soon as you give up and say, this is too hard and nobody wants an orchestra, that’s nonsense. You have to make a move. You have to get out and hustle.”

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