“Show us your shoes!”

That’s what I remember most about Fiesta week as a child.  The glittering royalty in the Battle of Flowers Parade were local celebrities, especially to us kids, and it was always entertaining to see the tennis shoes, boots, and slippers each woman was ironically sporting under her elegant gown.

As a native San Antonian and seventh generation Texan, the Fiesta tradition is ingrained into my very being. My aunt, Luce Amen, wrote “Viva Fiesta,” a song we learned in elementary school, a song we still sing today. I grew up believing in the magical persona of King Antonio. I anticipated his arrival each year with his coveted bag of Fiesta pins much like most children wait for Santa Claus.  Seven years spent outside this town pursuing my own musical career only enhanced my fondness for confetti-filled eggs, sombreros, endless parties and parades, and of course the ever-illusive gordita lady from Maria’s Tortillas.

A young Jennifer Berg takes a swing at a piñata in celebration of her birthday at her family’s home in Alamo Heights. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Berg.
After running a half-marathon with a few other colleagues, Jennifer sports her Spurs jersey at a Sunday afternoon Family Concert in January 2013. Photo credit: Karina Bharne, via the San Antonio Symphony Facebook page.

When a rare tenured position, one of three, opened up in the oboe section of the San Antonio Symphony, I knew I had to do everything in my power to make that job mine. This was my seventh symphony orchestra audition, the other six of which were scattered around the nation. Positions are awarded only after a blind audition process – applicants become numbers instead of names.  After eleven and a half grueling hours of competition on June 4, 2012, the English horn and utility oboe position was offered to me.  Being able to work in my hometown made the victory even sweeter.

Later that month, I received more good news with an invitation from the Order of the Alamo to join the Court of Nature’s Tapestry in the 2013 Fiesta celebration.  Preparations and activities began in August, while my symphony duties started in October.

The two San Antonio institutions seemed worlds apart, but in each I found a group of warm and inviting people eager to get to know and befriend me. The Majestic Theatre has become a second home: It’s the stage on which I perform most weekends during the year and the stage on which I will perform a full court bow with my friends musically cheering me on in the pit below as part of Her Majesty the Queen’s Coronation.

Jennifer Berg poses for a photo during a fitting before the 2013 Fiesta Coronation of the Queen. Photo by Gary Stanko/Billo Smith Studios.

The Coronation of the Queen is a unique and widely recognized San Antonio tradition. The Symphony, however, is often overlooked even though it contributes a vast deal to the community.  It seems the symphony orchestra is becoming an endangered species of sorts in the world of professional music. We rely heavily on private donation, yet the most crucial societal impacts we have are rarely seen by those donors.  Just last week, a quintet formed by Symphony members, myself included, presented educational performances in the Adante Independent Living Facility as well as St. Andrew’s Day School.

Seniors interacted with both music and musicians while preschoolers danced in their seats to everything from a Haydn quintet to The Pink Panther.

That’s business as usual for the Symphony.

According to Director of Education and Community Engagement, Jeremy Brimhall, the Symphony has coordinated 172 of these community engagement events over the last two years, involving almost 900 individual services.  As an ensemble, the Symphony continues its outreach efforts with its award-winning “Young People’s Concert Series” at Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium — educational concerts tailored to elementary-aged children and incorporating state education benchmarks.

Brimhall noted that by the end of the season, “We will have given 20 performances of four unique programs during the ‘12-‘13 season, with over 30,000 students in attendance for the year.” The Symphony also took on a new outreach program called Brahms on Tour to six different high schools this year as part of its annual festival, impacting 4,000 students, and it plans to increase that number to eight concerts next year. (For more information, check out the Symphony’s education page.)

With music programs being pushed to the fringes of our educational system, the Symphony as a single, non-profit organization seems vital to the continuation of music education in the city.  The orchestra includes nationally and internationally recognized musicians who serve as role models, mentors, and hands-on teachers for the city’s young artists.  As tenured positions in the field are both scarce and coveted, finding a local, like myself, is a rare instance in these sorts of organizations.

I love this city, its rich history of culture and art; growing up in a place that nurtured my ear for music helped me achieve my dream of becoming a professional orchestral musician.  I’ve represented this city at the nation’s top conservatories, festivals, and even at the New York String Orchestra Seminar in Carnegie Hall, serving as their principal oboist for two years.  If we as a city want to continue to host a world-class orchestra and their efforts to educate our children, it is our responsibility to support this organization which touches the lives of so many.  (To find out more or to donate, click here.)

But those in the Court of Nature’s Tapestry are not to be overlooked regarding their achievements.  Behind the crowns, I’ve found intelligent women with high aspirations, hopes, and dreams.  One young woman is starting her own business while another works at a law firm.  Yet another duchess is finding her way into the scenes of the film and television industry, recently working with such recognizable brands as Steve Carell, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Entertainment, America’s Got Talent, and DreamWorks Animation.  After months of events and bow practices, these girls are now dear friends who motivate and inspire me, a woman in the professional workforce, to better myself and reach for higher goals.  We are part of an age-old San Antonio tradition that has us wearing handcrafted masterpieces, a debutante program that is unrivaled in its artistic value by any other city in the nation.

Jennifer practices walking in her elaborate coronation dress. Photo by Gary Stanko of Billo Smith Studios.

Though it is a spectacle for the eyes, we should remind ourselves that these women are not just to be admired aesthetically, but they are to be admired for their intelligence, talents, and achievements as they represent the next generation of adults of this great American city.

So, as a few of the young women of San Antonio ride by during Friday’s Battle of Flowers Parade adorned in royal regalia, remind yourselves and your children that true royalty are hard-working adults who positively represent and honor their city, serving as role models for future generations.  Oh, and don’t forget to yell “Show us your shoes!”  We have some fun surprises for all who attend.

Jennifer Berg is a San Antonio native, Symphony musician, and duchess in the Court of Nature’s Tapestry.  To find out more, visit her San Antonio Symphony profile page and Q&ATo hear Jennifer perform with the Symphony, check out the rest of the Symphony’s season at www.sasymphony.org.

Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group performs communications consulting services for the San Antonio Symphony, but does not publish any sponsored stories on the Rivard Report site.

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