Our flagship organization is a semi-professional jazz ensemble that has served the community since 1999. The MPO’s three-point mission is to:
On a Sunday afternoon in 1999, musicians from churches all over DFW came together for a couple hours of no-obligation big band fun.
Session organizer Gary Phillips had moved here from Oklahoma, where he had been part of the Tulsa Praise Orchestra since its inception in 1995. Phillips borrowed from the TPO a few pieces of sacred music that had been orchestrated for saxes, brass and a rhythm section. Most of the players at the session had not played big band since college, and were happy to learn that so much sacred material had been scored for that set up.
DFW freelancer Cal Lewiston, who is now the Fine Arts Chairperson at Weatherford College, agreed to front the group just long enough to get it off the ground. Under Cal’s musical direction the MPO rehearsed for an inaugural performance at Arlington Christian Church (now known as Crossroads Christian Church in Mansfield.)
Subsequently, invitations for this unique form of so-called ‘religious music’ poured in from churches across DFW. The MPO would play many Sunday evening worship services over the next couple years.
Cal would continue to write for the MPO, but in August 2000 he relinquished the baton to Owen Phillips, a retired band director who then was the music director at Keller United Methodist Church. Owen’s first project was to conduct a performance with Christian crooner and recording artist Dave Boyer.
A Dave Boyer performance caught the attention of organizers of a ministry convention that was being planned for October of 2001. One of the event’s highlights would be the premier of Don Marsh’s new Christmas Collection: “Let Heaven & Nature Swing,” and the MPO was contracted for the premier. The band began preparation of the Marsh materials while continuing to perform its own material in churches around town.
One booking was at St. Timothy Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Bedford, for a concert to be held September 16, 2001. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time of booking, that performance — on the Sunday just 5 days after life for all Americans changed — would be a nationwide high attendance Sunday.
Members of the MPO, reeling in shock from 9/11, arrived for the gig an hour early and quickly put together the first tune the band would ever do of a “non-religious” nature. The band prepared “America the Beautiful” to open the 9/16 concert. The climate was somber, but the house was packed, and “America the Beautiful” was well-received.
From that point forward every MPO concert would open with the national anthem, and we always programmed at least number as a tribute to our nation. The “Armed Forces Salute” to honor our military also became standard fare, and “God Bless America” was done as a sing-along.
The Creative Arts Convention (originally scheduled for October 2001) was canceled due to post-9/11 travel suspensions, so the band never performed “Let Heaven & Nature Swing” in its entirety.
Over the next few years our invitations to play evenings church services would fall off as congregations moved from traditional Sunday evening services to home study groups.
We began to accept invitations to community arts festivals, Christmas tree lightings, July 4th and other civic events. We got involved in prison ministry, and began to support fund raising activities of other nonprofits. Several of our men were high school band directors who had us in to play band booster benefits, exposing the MPO to teenage musicians.
Prominent jazz educator Phil Aikman became our conductor in 2006 and led us thru the next 10 years until his death on January 17, 2016.
With church opportunities falling off, and more opportunities in secular environments, the MPO added popular music of Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson and Count Basie to its repertoire. Phil shared much of his own great library with the MPO, and our secular performances became a good mix of upbeat sacred, patriotic and secular jazz.
In 2007 we supported the Santa’s Helpers Toy Drive for the first time. This work with WFAA has become an annual tradition that the MPO continues to look forward to each December.
While we never did Marsh’s full collection of “Let Heaven & Nature Swing,” we partnered with contemporary ensembles to do much of its crowd-pleasing material at Toy Drives. Playing the Toy Drives with WFAA has become a MPO highlight every year.
The MPO is staffed by Christian musicians who routinely play in church. They are all professional freelancers. Give us a call for your staffing needs.
We have music for all occasions, and with a trio, quartet, little big band or Dixieland group we can probably fit your budget. For booking information, contact Gary Phillips: email@example.com or (817)691-1205.