CONWAY Karen Griebling, director of the Hendrix College Chamber Orchestra, said she immediately wanted to do something to honor former student Robert Brooks when she heard he’d been burned in a chemical explosion.
“Robert’s a very gifted musician, and we were delighted to have him come to Hendrix as a music minor, as well as a chemistry major,” she said.
Brooks played bass in the Hendrix orchestra until he graduated in 2012. In the fall, he won a spot in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Griebling said. She is a violist in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
“I was so thrilled and so proud to see him up there because I knew how much it meant to him,” she said.
“When I learned about the accident, I was just really horrified. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, he might never play again, who knows?’”
Brooks was monitoring a reactor at the plant in Searcy where he works as a chemist when the reactor doors blew open, spewing 500-degree or hotter liquid on primarily the right side of his body, including his hands.
Griebling reached out on Facebook and asked former students how they’d like to honor him.
She said Conner McMains of Arlington, Texas, formerly of Little Rock, responded first.
He suggested doing something for Waltz Night 2013, which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Worsham Performance Hall in the Student Life and Technology Center on campus.
The annual event is a fundraiser for the Arkansas Youth Orchestra, of which Brooks previously was a member.
Griebling asked one of Brooks’ classmates, Ryan Gaston of Little Rock, to write a piece for a bass player. She asked McMains to conduct.
She called it a “musical get-well present” for Brooks.
McMains, 23, is associate director of worship and music at a Methodist church in Arlington.
He said he and Brooks became friends through the college orchestra, in which McMains played piano.
“It was always so much fun to be near him in orchestra, because before orchestra started, we would jam a little bit,” he said.
“He was a good improviser,” McMains said. “He was always happy and excited and loving to play.”
McMains recalled that Brooks was constantly practicing to audition for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.
“He for several years wanted to be part of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, and he was always practicing for that,” McMains said.
“He’d play iconic lines from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and I’d sit down and try and figure out where he was and try to play what I could remember.”
In addition to playing an instrument, McMains said, Brooks is “a great bass singer.”
McMains said the piece Gaston has written for Waltz Night is “partially a waltz and partially a bass aria. Instead of being sung, it’s being played by a stringed-bass instrument, so it kind of combines the two things [Robert] did. It’s really a cool piece.”
Joining the Hendrix graduates will be Barron Weir, principal bassist for the Arkansas Symphony.
McMains said that when he first heard about Brooks’ accident, he didn’t know how it was going to affect him.
“It’s such a serious accident,” McMains said.
When he learned that Brooks was going to lose an eye because of the accident, he sent Brooks a text saying he was sorry.
“[Brooks] said, ‘Don’t worry about it. ‘I’ made the decision.’ He put quote marks around it. It was really funny, and that really shows well his attitude for all this,” McMains said.
“There are few people I know who could have handled this like he has.”
Griebling said Waltz Night will also include a demonstration by the Hendrix ballroom-dance class at the beginning of the program, in which the audience will be invited to dance, too.
Members of the Hendrix Dance Ensemble will perform a choreographed number to The Blue Danube Waltz at the end of the show, “which is a new wrinkle” in the event, Griebling said.
Free refreshments will be available, and there is no charge for the performance, but donations will be accepted for the Arkansas Youth Orchestra, she said.
For more information, contact Griebling at (501) 450-1249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or email@example.com.