In 1994, orchestra members at Forest Cove Baptist Church approached John Apple, minister of music, about performing a concert. Apple liked the idea, but knew that there were other talented musicians in the community who might participate.
On June 3, 1994, as part of the church’s outreach to the community, the Kingwood Pops Orchestra (KPO) performed a concert featuring popular music. The ensemble included church orchestra members and other area musicians.
“We didn’t have a single violin when we first started,” John laughed. “Two violas, a cello and a bass were our string section.” Several people, including Apple’s wife, Leigh Apple, played two instruments. “I remember how immensely proud I was when we finished the very first concert,” Apple said. “This was not simply a performance, but the beginning of a vision for the expansion of the arts throughout our community in such fun, creative and unique ways.”
There were no plans for future concerts; however, the concert had been popular among area residents. Musicians and concert-goers encouraged Apple to make KPO a permanent group and he agreed, conducting the growing organization during its first four seasons before relocating out of state.
Gary Liebst, music professor and director of bands at Lone Star College-North Harris, became the orchestra’s second conductor, leading KPO for 18 years. During that time, musicians from throughout the area swelled the organization’s membership from about 25 to more than 50. Liebst’s eclectic musical taste helped him choose audience favorites at themed concerts that included music from movies, Broadway musicals and television. KPO has also performed Christmas, patriotic and western music, as well as popular songs from various eras. Concert attendees often told Liebst how the music resonated with them.
“It is hard to describe how gratifying it is to realize the orchestra has connected with audience members in a profound way,” he said.
Both Apple and Liebst plan to attend KPO’s 25th anniversary concert, which will be held Oct.11 and 12 at the Nathaniel Center at 7:30 p.m. The orchestra is now conducted by Dr. Robert Hunt, a Lone Star College-Kingwood music professor with years of experience in teaching, conducting, performing and composing, but Apple and Liebst will each conduct a piece.
The orchestra, which still has several charter members, will play many of the songs that were performed at its inaugural concert, including theme songs from “Jurassic Park” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” both by John Williams. Other selections include Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther,” Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles,” and medleys from “West Side Story,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
“It’s exciting to be conducting the orchestra during its 25th anniversary season,” Hunt said. “The musicians’ dedication and our patrons’ steadfast support of the orchestra have given the Kingwood area a unique treasure. I’m honored to pay tribute to the founding musicians and the past conductors who nurtured the growth and health of the Pops throughout its quarter-century of existence.”
For more about KPO, including ticket information, visit kingwoodpops.org.