Story by Caroline Richardson
Photos by Hannah Vickers
He’s a UT journalism lecturer. He’s a radio DJ. He’s a former news producer for NBC. And apparently, Bob Garcia-Buckalew is even a closet musician.
Endearingly known by his students as “Professor Bob” and even “Uncle Bob,” Garcia-Buckalew has always made it a priority to get to know his students on a personal level, readily sharing with them the wisdom he has gained from years of journalistic experience. But a lesser-known aspect of Garcia-Buckalew’s life is his work with the Austin Symphony Center and growth as a music prodigy.
Garcia-Buckalew’s passion for classical music began at an early age. In his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, music education was a key part of the curriculum, from elementary school on. “They would introduce us to the lives of the composers. Man, it just really resonated with me,” he says. “That began my lifelong love of classical music in this small Texas town. It is paradoxical in a lot of ways.”
Garcia-Buckalew played the saxophone, string bass and piano growing up, composing his own pieces as a teenager. “I wrote things for the high school orchestra. I was somewhat destined to be a kind of composer or conductor, but I totally fell in love with journalism. Who knows why?” he says with a chuckle.
After falling in love with his first job as a radio DJ, Garcia-Buckalew put music on the backburner. “I figured I would have a career in music on some level,” he says “Then I discovered broadcasting, and everything shifted.”
Music and journalism did not stay separate for long, however, as his music knowledge and storytelling skills now enhance one another. “I am a music fan, and I have some music education, but I’m really a journalist. And I like to go digging for stories about the music,” Garcia-Buckalew says. In the late ‘70s, he worked as the executive news producer for KSAT-TV in San Antonio: “I did all of their music pieces for television. I would get to interview musicians and bands — everything from the great composer Eric Copeland to the Sex Pistols.”
As the pre-concert lecturer for the Austin Symphony Center for the last eight years, Garcia-Buckalew has also hosted free “Concert Conversations” at 7 p.m. in the concert hall on classical concert nights for the last eight years. These lectures precede the 8 p.m. shows, which often include guest soloists, conductors and composers.
Because of his journalistic background, Garcia-Buckalew tends to skim over the technical aspects of each composer’s piece and go straight for the fun facts and quirks that make each musician unique. He says that’s the information people enjoy hearing anyway. “I talk about the fact that Bach got into a knife fight and spent a lot of time in jail. I talk about where they were when they wrote it, whether they were fighting with their wives or not — it’s just fascinating,” he says. “I find little journalistic tidbits that make these composers come to life.”
If he is in the right mood, Garcia-Buckalew holds “Name This Piece” competitions, where the first person to identify the title of the music wins a free Gatti’s pizza. He says the concert-goers get really into it. “They’re in their concert gear and everything,” he adds.
With the task of entertaining nearly 500 people on any given night, Garcia-Buckalew knows he has to keep things interesting. For him, it’s “all about having fun” and sprinkling a little humor into the show. “If the audience can’t laugh a couple of times, I wasn’t successful,” he says.