Video+Story: Wiggs Orchestra Director earns Texas Top Award

Wiggs Middle School’s Diana Gilliland earned the 2017 Texas Orchestra Director of the Year Award to honor her lifelong passion for sharing her love of music with the students of El Paso.

The news of her selection from among hundreds of nominees filled Gilliland with emotion.

“My mind was racing in so many different directions. I want the students to know that anything is possible,” she said. “Some people think that you have to be at a prestigious institution or a certain side of town or have many resources to have success. ‘You are the institution,’ is what I tell them. They can do anything they want to.”

Each year the Texas Orchestra Directors Association (TODA) selects an orchestra director or teacher who exemplifies outstanding achievement in lifetime service and leadership in Texas schools. Only four other El Pasoans have received the honor: Abraham Chavez Jr., George Webber, Milan Svambera and Ida Steadman.

Gilliland, who played in the first youth orchestra under Maestro Chavez, notes how humbled she is by the honor.

“I have big shoes to try and fill in the sense that I follow some very amazing music legends,” Gilliland said. “To be considered for this honor is just stunning. I am still wrapping my mind around it and trying to process it.”

unnamed (37)Gilliland, inspired by local musicians, remembers falling in love with classical music at a very young age. When she first heard the “The Moldau,” a set of symphonic poems by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, she knew music would be her lifelong passion.

“When I heard the violins come in, that’s when it electrified me. I’ve never stopped loving music,” she said.

Gilliland began her teaching career 37 years ago at Johnson Elementary and has since been an orchestra teacher at El Paso High and most recently at Wiggs Middle School. Outside of EPISD, she’s spent more than 30 years performing with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. She’s also lent her talent to El Paso Pro Musica, El Paso Opera, the Bruce Nehring Consort, the Las Cruces Symphony and the Angerstein String Quartet.

Wiggs principal Tim Luther admires Gilliland’s talent and dedication to students.

“Ms. Gilliland is more than deserving of this award. Her heart is always with the students and the community,” Luther said. “She is a very humble soul. She passes this trait on to her students. This award does not change the Wiggs students’ direction but shows others that if you work hard and have high values and ethics all good will come to you.”

Eighth-grader cellist Isabelle Padilla joined orchestra on the recommendation of her sister.

“My sister was always talking about her I have had this high level of respect for her. I just wanted to be in her orchestra,” Padilla said. “I feel unnamed (39)like she really, really deserves this award. There was a lot of emotion coming from that announcement. She’s been my teacher for all three years, and all I could think was she really does deserve it.”

Gilliland has grown a solid reputation throughout the community. Her orchestra goes beyond the traditional orchestra spring and winter concerts – performing at dozens of functions throughout the District and city every year.

One of her most prized possessions is a recent congratulations card from UTEP president Dr. Diana Natalicio. The orchestra has played at more than 50 UTEP graduations in the last 26 years.

Gilliland attributes the group’s success to this sense of community and citizenship.

“I try to teach them respect. Good citizenship first and then good musicianship. Always,” Gilliland said. “You can’t really share your music on the same level than when you are giving and consistent.”

Good citizenship goes hand-in-hand with the conservatory style of teaching she employs in her classroom.

unnamed (38)“It’s an honor basis. All down the hall and into the lobby everyone is working on their sectionals,” Gilliland said. “They are practicing independently, but they are also going to make sure that the ensemble and the blend is good at a very young age.”

The Texas Orchestra Director’s Association will present the award during a ceremony in San Antonio on July 22.

“I’m just really happy. Now I get a chance to talk about the campus and the area,” Gilliland said. “Our programs here are amazing.”