Ensemble 109 is Back!

Ensemble 109, named after its course number, first came into the academic catalog at the University of Texas Butler School of Music in the Spring semester, 1985. Directed by recording producer Gary Powell, who wrote all the musical arrangements, the group averaged eighteen shows per semester performing for UT System events and gala events in central Texas. This very popular ensemble’s auditions were open to any registered University of Texas student, regardless of major. Many students sang with Ensemble 109 their entire college career. Most former members are still singing and several went on to enjoy successful careers in music. The group disbanded when Powell left UT to pursue his professional career full-time in 1992. He has continued to train singers and performers who are currently working professionally across the country including Broadway, Disney World, cruise ships, Hollywood and points in-between.

Now that Gary Powell has returned to the music faculty at the Butler School of Music, Ensemble 109 is back in the Fall of 2013. The tradition now continues for this elite performing and recording vocal group. The focus this time will be direct and specific preparation for the real world of singing in recording studios. Individual and ensemble vocal techniques are taught which bridge the gap between the discipline of classical singing and popular vocal stylizations. Most popular genres of the vocal arts are perfected and performed, all within the framework of the professional recording studio vocal ensemble. The ability to read music was never a requirement – and so it goes for this new incantation.

Ensemble 109 directly supports he College of Fine Arts curricula in the recording, theatrical, and commercial arts. This vocal ensemble is designed for students of all majors who exhibit both aptitude and interest across the vocal and songwriting arts, inclusive of all genres.


Rehearsals: Monday/Friday-4p-5:30p Butler School of Music
Wednesday 4pm-7pm (Powell Studio Productions)

Anyone accepted through audition will have already proven their talent, interest and work ethic. This vocal experience is designed for the extraordinary person; a person open to the development of their unique “voice” while being in the company of other singers equal in talent and perseverance. In rehearsal, you will have individual style-specific ear-training and vocal exercises while still within the context of rehearsing original solo songs and a cappella ensemble arrangements.


  • Bring two songs of different styles.
  • You are welcome to sing any songs you have written.
  • You are also welcome to accompany yourself on guitar or piano.
  • Gary Powell will also accompany you on piano, if needed.
  • Your ability to read music will not be assessed.
  • You may be asked to sing passages from songs you do not know.
  • If you have accompaniment tracks, you are welcome to bring them on your laptop, phone or iPod.
  • Good luck to all.

    Can Music Survive the Music Industry?

    Texas Enterprise Speaker Series Gary Powell

    Big Ideas from the University of Texas? You bet! Special Projects Marketing Manager Gayle Hight, at the Red McCombs School of Business, has invited me to speak at the Texas Enterprise Speaker Series. Having attended one of these presentations, I can report that they might be described as an extended TedTalk across a wide range of topics offering extraordinary insights with practical solutions from outstanding communicators. I am happy and honored to be included in this bunch of exceptional people. Please join us on September, 5, 2013.

    “The business of music has been failing ever since some prehistoric herdsman improvised a song to his favorite yak. Unfortunately, he did this without the protection of representation or intellectual property law. Long before Spotify, the downward trend had begun. Burdened with the unwieldy underpinnings of avarice and corruption, the makers of music have suffered. From the court of King Frederick II of Prussia to present-day corporate strategies, the music, this natural vessel for humanity’s understanding of itself, has also suffered. Why? We now curry favor by offering the promise of celebrity in trade for legal control and ownership of intellectual property. The musicians are left fallow, land plowed but not planted, and not just causing, but demanding their property be anything but intellectual. The story of this business model now has an upside: the liberation of talent by supporting musical aspiration with effective yet seldom-implemented business strategies. ~ Gary Powell


  • How can artists find the balance of income versus artistic freedom?
  • What business and artistic strategies can contribute to musicians developing and adopting informed decisions in creating a sustainable life-style?
  • Despite the egregious nature of this profession, why does it endure?

  • How digital technological advancements effect both music and profits.
  • How to identify young people who seem to have all the talent and determination to pursue music as a prudent career choice.
  • How to determine which educational construct will support a music student’s breadth of talent.
  • How to support performing musicians and recording artists individually and systemically, regardless of celebrity.
  • How music effects the world’s cultural expansion and developmental losses.
  • FOR QUESTIONS contact Gayle Hight gayle.hight@mccombs.utexas.edu or 512-475-6423
    FOR RESERVATIONS visit Texas Enterprise online.

    Phil Ramone (1934-2013)

    The Producer of Many Influences

    by Gary Powell

    It was March 6, 2008 when this story wrote itself. At this time of Phil Ramone’s passing, it seems appropriate to remember his influence on me and the music I compose and produce.

    Phil Ramone Gary PowellGlenn Richter, a longtime ally of mine and professor of music at the University of Texas, called this morning and invited me to have lunch with Phil Ramone. There are two producers in this world that would make me get dressed this fast. One is Sir George Martin, whom I have already met and briefly worked with. Phil Ramone is the other. Also present at the lunch were Executive Director of the NARAS – Texas Chapter, Theresa Jenkins and Project Director Jennifer Vocelka along with Ed Evans, Director of Technical Operations for Villa Muse and UT Recording Technology professor Mark Sarisky.

    As a producer and composer, I am conscious about who my musical and production influences have been. I have many of these producers’ albums hanging on my “wall of influences” in the cutting room of my studio. Igor Stravinsky is hanging there right beside George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein. But wait, also present are Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary, Chicago and James Taylor. It is seldom the artist themselves that attracted my attention.

    So, what was it about these particular artists that make me listen more closely and why are they on my wall of influences? It was Phil Ramone!

    phil ramone book cover

    Following lunch, Mark Sarisky facilitated an interview with Mr. Ramone in the UT Music School’s Recital Studio for students, faculty and NARAS members. My sense was that these college students had little appreciation or knowledge of Phil Ramone’s contribution to the American musical lexicon. Culturally, we tend to buy into the myths sold to us about the capabilities of our recording artists. This was a brief moment for us all to look around the curtain and now would be a good time for us all to contemplate Phil Ramone’s Discography!

    Thank you, Phil, for mentoring my ears ever since introducing Lesley Gore in 1963 and for now writing your book, Making Records – The Scenes Behind the Music. My best wishes for your continued success and for making our popular music more nuanced, more powerful, more meaningful and simply better than it would have been without you.

    Cheat Fear Now!

    by Gary Powell

    In the next five minutes, I want to change your mind: I want to challenge your long-held conceptions of the performing arts and music education. I realize that asking for a paradigm shift in how we perceive the arts is tricky business. But I no longer risk anything when I tell you that there is a lot of unmovable concrete holding up our academic institutions. And on top of that concrete, with a broader perspective of what education is and who should bring it, there does exist the upside of greater prosperity by way of building an effective network of like-minded individuals…and willing institutions.

    The shift will have been successful when education and opportunity conspire to meet and greet your greatest aspiration. If you can imagine a spark – your spark like no other spark – then you can imagine your future in this new world, one that can become inspired in a single moment. Only then can someone else join you in it. What is holding you back in moving your dreams file into the more active aspirations folder? Forget that worn-out unrequited-silent-genius model. It never really worked; take Van Gogh for example and keep both your ears.

    Every gig you play for free is ladened with fear. Which means that every empty seat you see in a theater or concert hall, conversely, is an opportunity for your insight to cheat fear. Cheat it now. But, insight to what? The first thing to do is to introduce your work to chance. Chance has more to do with us than we thought. Within that idea of power living inside a single moment, chance can change our lives forever. A college education is a huge collection of these moments when we become enmeshed with scholars, mentors and that not-to-be-discounted chance that move us toward discovering our uniqueness and becoming it.

    Outside of the fear model there are more opportunities now within the arts than ever in recorded history – we just need new models in education and new inclusive models in business to mine the gold in order to experience a personal and sustainable prosperity within this new, yet undeveloped construct. When aspirations and aptitude, existing business models and curriculum, are all in concert together, they make a powerful formula for creating successful lives: purposeful and self-directed.

    The problem is that stock prices in aspiration have been dropping semester by semester, year after year, decade after decade. The individual student’s aptitude, not meeting the existing academic criteria, is harder and harder for the institution to even recognize. Business models within the recording arts have taken to the smoky back room while ivory tower curricula is stuck in the nineteenth century. Here, we must all agree to not make fear the basis of our relationships, otherwise fear and predictability is all that will be engendered.

    If we educators look more deeply into our students’ experiences, mine their aptitudes, inspire their aspirations, and stretch curricula to include all forms of music and entrepreneurship in the arts, universities will have more than the usual ten former students performing at the fundraiser event in praise of their university. They will add ten a year, then twenty and eventually… your school will need a bigger concert hall. And… your school will deserve it – all because of you the student, and you the professor, and you the administrator for the collaborative effort you have each engendered.

    Photo is the Old Main Building at Sam Houston State University.
    I started my professional career sitting in that green grass with guitar in hand.

    Gary Powell “The Producer’s Workshop” Video

    Sam Houston State University

    Gary Powell brings 33 years of experience coaching singers in the recording studio presenting his skills to universities and vocal studios around the country. As an alumnus of Sam Houston State University, the university music department invited Gary to work with their student singers. Singers were auditioned on the first day followed by three nights of workshop rehearsals and vocal exercises; 12 hours of solo vocal exploration and ensemble singing. These singers, most music and musical theater majors, were wonderful to work with and eager to have fun while in the process. Cheers to all involved.

    FEATURING SINGERS: Nic Alaggio, Rebecca Marie Castillo, Daniel Cloud, Bree Derbecker, Linky Dickson, Justin Michael Finch, Emily Heller, Hubert Jones Jr, Hannah Miscisin, Kiersten Ortiz, Cliff Randle, Maria Roos, and David Smith

    Welcome Giant Screen Cinema Association to Austin

    Giant Screen Cinema Association Logo When searching for prescient, knowledgeable and soulful people, why not think big. Welcome to Austin the members of the Giant Screen Cinema Association and their 2011 convention hosted by the Bob Bullock Story of Texas Musueum.

    The purpose of GSCA is to “advance the business of producing and presenting giant screen experiences.” My hope is that you will find our city fun, exciting and as serious about art as you are. Thank you Tammy Seldon, Executive Director and Kelly Germain, Communications Director for choosing Austin.

    Big ambitions often start here in Austin and many times stay here. If you think we are only country music or rhythm and blues, think again. This is Texas, where nothing is small, which I know you can appreciate more than most!

    Here are some suggestions for your stay.

  • To hear the best musicians in Austin, visit the Elephant Room. The Monday night Jazz Jam is a “pick-up” big band in your face. Great players offering their best reading and improvisational chops; hosted by Mike Mordecia, trombone session player and good guy.
  • Eat dinner at Fonda San Miguel. Not typical TexMex cuisine, but classy, beautiful with a killer Mango Margarita. Call for reservations though – it’s a big week in Austin; 512-459-4121.
  • Eat lunch or dinner at Jack Allen’s Kitchen about 15 minutes Southwest of downtown. It’s local-grown and ALL TEXAS. Get the Chicken-Fried Beef Ribs if your pacemaker’s battery is well-charged! This is five minutes from my studio, so if you are in the hood, call me and I’ll join you. (512-970-8888) Also, call for reservations lunch or dinner: 512-852-8558
  • This is my first year to attend a GSCA event. I look forward to meeting ya’ll. – Gary Powell

    Follow GSCA on Twitter and Facebook.