For Dr. Richard Griffin, board chairman of Young Texas Artists Music Competition, one of the best things about watching the annual Finalists’ Concert is taking in the performers’ expressions.
After years of playing saxophone, Griffin understands their journey.
“They go to a place that is just for them,” he said. “They experience a connectivity and creation that’s unique and phenomenal. I am fortunate enough to have approached the edge of that, but it’s fun to let them guide me into it.”
Griffin, who has been involved with YTA since the 1980s, tends to dismiss his own experiences playing the saxophone, the instrument he learned as a child while living in oil camps south and east of Houston during his father’s years with the petroleum industry.
“When I was 13 I started playing in rock ‘n’ roll bands. I played with some people who made it big: Johnny Winter and Edgar Winter and some others. We had a great time, but it does not compare with the artistry of these fine musicians. It didn’t take so much talent for me to do it.”
Still, Griffin acknowledges, his rock ‘n’ roll days did lead to some memorable life experiences during high school, when he was living near Beaumont, Texas. His band pal Johnny Winter, who went on to have a successful career as a blues guitarist and singer, was dating future rock legend Janice Joplin, a native of nearby Port Arthur.
“This was before she (Joplin) was famous,” Griffin said. “She was a rascal, but a talented, creative rascal. I didn’t even know how to misbehave. She was really a new experience for me and Johnny.”
The reason Griffin didn’t know how to misbehave, he explains, was the result of growing up under the watchful eyes of multiple mothers in the oil camps. Not that he’s complaining.
“It was absolutely wonderful. We could wander around there; and whatever yard we were in, the lady of that house could spank us, or give us cookies and milk or put us down for a nap. So we were always under the supervision of a caring person.”
Though Griffin’s father worked in the oil fields—the best way he knew of to support his family during the Great Depression—his first career goal was education. Ultimately, his example inspired Griffin to choose that field for himself.
“My father was always a teacher in his behavior, and I always admired him,” Griffin said. “He loved books, and I think it was ingrained in me that teaching was a natural thing to do.”
Richard and his sweetheart, Ann, both attended Lamar University in Beaumont and married after graduation. Ann taught high school English, and Griffin got his start as a sixth-grade teacher in Port Arthur.
Over the years, he held teaching and administrative positions in Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico before serving as superintendent of Conroe Independent School District north of Houston for 10 years.
Leading Conroe ISD was an especially rewarding experience, Griffin said. “It was, and still is, one of the best school districts in the nation. It’s rich with strong families, magnificent teachers, and ethical expectations.”
Conroe has remained home to Griffin long since he retired from his superintendent’s position and moved on to other roles, including university teaching and running his own consulting company.
Supporting the Arts
In the late 1980s, Griffin befriended fellow Conroe resident A. Lavoy Moore, whose daughter, Susie Moore Pokorski, had assumed leadership of the Young Texas Artists Music Competition.
“He asked me if I’d like to co-sponsor the YTA dinner on stage with him, which I was pleased to do,” Griffin said. “Ann and I did that until he passed away.”
Accepting Moore’s invitation was an easy decision for Griffin.
“Classical music has always made sense to me; it’s beautiful. Some of the finest sermons I’ve heard in my life are from classical music – it rivals the best in poetry. It just moves me like nothing else.”
The Griffins remained active with YTA, and Griffin became a board member. Supporting and guiding the organization has become very close to his heart, he said.
“Young Texas Artists appeals to those who are very serious about their art. Susie is bringing in some of the finest musicians anywhere to listen to these young artists and to give them feedback on their playing and advice on the next steps they should be taking. It’s just a wonderful opportunity. I’m so proud to be part of it.”
As an added bonus, Griffin said, the young musicians who compete with YTA get to perform in an outstanding venue: Crighton Theatre in downtown Conroe.
“Every musician I’ve talked to who performed in the Crighton Theatre has said it is one of the best they’ve ever been in. I remember Burl Ives coming here and actually stopping his music and saying in his entire career, this was one of the finest theatres he’d ever played. He cut off all acoustical and electronic support and played the guitar, and it was just wonderful.”
It also has been exciting, Griffin said, to follow the successes of the musicians who’ve competed with YTA over the years.
“We have had some go on to become very, very successful, and when they comment about that, they talk about their involvement with YTA, which is very encouraging to us.”