Guest Blog: How Las Vegas is Fertile Ground for Musicians

By: Dr. Richard McGee, Conductor, Musician and Professor of Fine Arts at College of Southern Nevada

 

I moved to Las Vegas in 1981 because I thought I could work here as a performing trombonist. The reputation of the town was, at that time, such that if you played well enough, you could find work in the lounges and showrooms of the Strip. Now, it’s not that I needed work – I had a great job as a high school band director in the Denver area, but I wanted to use my trombone skills for more than the occasional gig.

The end of that story is that my gamble worked, and for many years I performed full-time all over town, particularly in the house bands of the old MGM Grand, the Tropicana, and Caesars Palace. To borrow a silly quotation, “Las Vegas has been very, very good to me!”

But what I did not realize was that Las Vegas would also be the answer to my evolving desires in music. After being in town a while, I started doing some conducting, composing and arranging, and starting in 1989, lots of teaching. Over time, conducting, composing, arranging and teaching became essential outlets for me, just as much as playing trombone had been. I was so gratified to discover that, like me, other musicians and artists were hungry to broaden their horizons and delve into artistic ventures outside the Strip.

Different groups sprang up all over town, which gave musicians like me opportunities to practice our craft. There was no shortage of talent or enthusiasm; the only limiting factors were usually money and the availability of good performance venues. Over time, I began to realize that the hotel/casinos had given Las Vegas a great gift beyond the obvious economic benefits. By bringing in so many musicians, dancers, singers, actors, costumers and other artists of all kinds, they had planted the seeds of what would eventually become an incredibly rich and diverse cultural community.

These talented people did not just come in and then leave when the job was over. They built their homes and families here, just as I did. Dozens of my close friends have expanded their original musical ambitions and have become very successful in related fields or genres. For myself, I have been able to play with many of the greatest stars in America, conduct orchestras, bands and shows, write music that has been performed across the country, teach and mentor wonderful students at many age levels, and help start musical organizations, many of which are still in operation.

I doubt that I could have had such a wide array of experiences, were it not for the fact that Las Vegas was, and is, a fast-growing city filled with talented people.

We all know people who fit into this category, and these people and their families make Las Vegas unique. Entertainment and the arts have always been an integral part of the entertainment package that the hotels and casinos offered, and though it might have been an unintended by-product, the fact is that the artistic population is embedded into the very core of our town.

At this juncture, it is important to keep one fact in mind: We are still a very young community by any measure. We are still in the early stages of the development of a stable cultural infrastructure in Las Vegas. However, these decades have been incredibly exciting, as we have all seen the growth (and sometimes decline) of orchestras, theater and dance companies, and performance venues. In my view, the birth of The Smith Center was a signal that the seeds planted years before have truly taken root.

My story is not unique. In fact, it is typical of thousands of people who saw Las Vegas as a place of economic opportunity. The best part of the story is that so much of what has made my time here so special reached far beyond the economic prospects. It is the people with whom I have been able to interact that has illuminated and enhanced my life. These people, colleagues, friends, students, patrons and concertgoers are what defines a community to me.

I couldn’t be more proud to call Las Vegas my home.

 

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