At 5-foot-1, Martha Placeres stands at the slightly elevated conductor’s stand at the helm of the cavernous Red Hall.
As she motions with her hands and arms, a sea of violinists, cellists and brass players follow her with almost exact precision, the tempo shifting as Placeres sees fit.
“Sin miedo,” Placeres told her students during a recent class in the Arts Center at the University of Texas at Brownsville-Texas Southmost College.
“Sometimes they are not sure how to come in because it’s very soft,” the 33-year-old said.
“Most of them (students) are from Mexico, so they understand,” Placeres said of her Spanish command for “without fear.”
Placeres, a professor of music at UTB-TSC, has been teaching students at the campus for 10 years.
On this occasion, Placeres and her symphonic orchestra class are practicing segments of the Overture of 1812 by Russian Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Farandole” by Georges Bizet, and a few other pieces they plan to perform Tuesday for the UTB Symphony Orchestra Fall 2012 Concert.
Originally from Puebla, Mexico, Placeres grew up in a music environment.
“I guess everything started with my grandfather,” Placeres said. “He was a professional opera singer in Mexico City.”
As an opera singer and someone surrounded by many Mexican composers, Fausto de Andrés y Aguirre was given the task of rescuing the ailing Puebla State Conservatory of Music. Under his control, the school began offering degrees. He passed his love of music on to his 12 children, Placeres said.
“He made sure that every single one of his sons and daughters could learn a little bit of music so they could understand his job,” Placeres said. “Growing up, it was just a part of my childhood.”
After completing her music education master’s degree at UTB-TSC, Placeres stayed on as a professor to assist the string instrument program at the university.
Because of her wide music connections in Mexico, she has pursued partnerships for the music program on campus with the Escuela Superior de Musica “Fausto de Andrés y Aguirre” in Cholula, Mexico.
A violinist herself, Placeres said she performs once or twice in a semester, but that teaching takes up most of her time.
“I really enjoy both, I really like teaching my students and seeing how they get better in time,” she said. “But, teaching is very time consuming. Sometimes we wish we have 30-hour days so we can do everything we need to do.”
Violinist Rosa Galicia, of Matamoros, takes multiple courses with Placeres.
“She always explains everything in detail,” said the 19-year-old. “She tries to see your difficulty and she tries to help you.”
Senior student Jessie Galvas plays the trumpet in the orchestra and has taken classes with Placeres since his freshman year at UTB-TSC.
“Since she’s from Puebla, she brings her expertise from over there and from what I’ve heard it’s harder to make it in music there,” the 22-year-old said. “She really emphasizes trying our hardest and pushing us to make it.”
The concert will be performed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20. Tickets are $5.