Diana Gilliland

TODA Orchestra Director of the Year - 2017

Diana Gilliland is in her 37th year teaching orchestra in schools throughout the El Paso Independent School District. She now directs the orchestra at Wiggs Middle School, a program she started in 1986, and for 30 years she has led an EPISD Summer Orchestra Program for students of all ages. Diana’s orchestras consistently received superior ratings at Region 22 concert festivals, and they have enriched the El Paso community for three decades with annual performances for the University of Texas at El Paso, the Ronald McDonald House, Lee & Beulah Moor Children's Home, and various adult care centers and community events. 

As a fourth grade student at Coldwell Elementary School, Diana Gilliland decided to play the violin in her 4th grade general music class when she first heard melodious and captivating sounds come alive from a vinyl record of Czech composer Smetana’s symphonic poem The Moldau. Mrs. Gladys L’Huillier began to describe eloquently what each instrument represented as the music unfolded but her voice fell distant when the power of the string section took over the composition. It was these beautiful orchestral colors and sounds of strings that established her love of music and resolve to play the violin and ultimately teach.

Ms. Gilliland is currently in her 37th year teaching orchestra in El Paso, Texas. She directs the orchestra at Wiggs Middle School, a program she started in 1986 as the school first opened. Her teaching career began in 1980 at Johnson, Western Hills, and Mesita Elementary Schools in the El Paso Independent School District. In 1983 she transitioned to Lamar Elementary and El Paso High School, and for eleven years she directed the Lamar Elementary, Wiggs Middle School, and El Paso High School orchestras at the same time. For 36 years of her career she taught at two or more campuses daily and for 30 years has led an EPISD Summer Orchestra Program for students of all ages.

Diana’s orchestras consistently received superior ratings for their performances at the Region 22 concert festivals with 30 years of sweepstakes and superior ratings at both El Paso High School and Wiggs Middle School. Many of her students perform with the All-Region Middle and High School Orchestras and selected students achieving higher levels at the Texas All-State Orchestra programs.

Community service, integrity, and mentorship have been seminal pillars of her programs. Since 1991, her orchestras have performed in partnership with the University for over 50 graduation ceremonies for the UTEP College of Education and a number of ceremonies for the  School of Nursing. Other service events have included performances for the Ronald McDonald House, Lee & Beulah Moor Children's Home, annual summer performances at adult care centers, and various community events.  Her orchestras have also been featured in many special school district programs and school board ceremonies.

Diana strongly believes in the exposure and nurturing of children in education at all levels and opportunities. She encourages through her involvement with the El Paso Symphony for many of her students to attend concerts and meet guest artists, conductors and other musicians. Her collaboration with the El Paso Pro Musica program has led to visits directly to her schools from world renowned cellist, Zuill Bailey, pianist Navah Perlman and other guest artists who have performed and interacted with the students. Many of the students have continued in music via university orchestras at Oberlin, MIT, Brandeis, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, The University of Texas at El Paso and Austin, and other as well as performing nationally and internationally in locations such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and venues in Spain, Portugal, China, Mexico and South America.  Students have performed and soloed with the El Paso Symphony as young artists winners, performed with the International YouTube Symphony and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas among others

Inspired by her earliest memories of Rosa Guerrero, native El Pasoan, dance performer and teacher and motivational speaker, Diana has incorporated choreography and motion into selected music performances as well as teaching classical, jazz, folk and popular music repertoire.  All these elements combined have contributed to her bringing the joy and experience of music performances to the school and surrounding community.

Diana holds a Bachelor of Music and Master of Music in Music Education. Her education background includes seminars at UCLA, the University of San Francisco, and the University of Denver where she met and observed Dr. Shinichi Suzuki working his internationally known methods. Two of her teachers were past recipients of the Texas Orchestra Directors Award,  Dr. George Webber, Austin HS, and Maestro Abraham Chavez Jr., of the University of Texas at El Paso and conductor of the El Paso Symphony Orchestra.

Diana is an active member of TODA, TMEA, Mu Omicron, and the American Federation of Musicians. For many years she was the region judging panel chair and has hosted All-Region, Concert and Sight Reading Contests and All-State Taping Auditions. At the state level she has conducted a TODA reading session, judged rounds one and two for all-state and judged on panels to select state honor, middle and high string orchestras, as well as seating auditions at the TMEA Convention and served as a two year member of the State of Texas Sight-Reading committee. For 20 years Diana was also involved with the first youth orchestra program in El Paso as a founding member, teacher and conductor with the El Paso Philharmonic Strings.

Diana also is performing her 38th season with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra first violin section and has performed with El Paso Pro Musica, El Paso Opera, The Bruce Nehring Consort, the Las Cruces Symphony, and the Angerstein String Quartet. 

Diana was selected Teacher of the Year at Wiggs Middle School (1993, 2001) and in 2014 for El Paso High School. Wiggs Middle School received outstanding recognition from Rio Grande chapter of Public Relations Society of America for outstanding public relations efforts.

Diana has received a number of other recognitions, but is most honored and humbled to be selected as the 2017 Texas Orchestra Director of the Year.

She is most grateful to the Heavenly Father for his blessings and sincerely thanks the TODA board for this incredible recognition, and all who have supported her in this journey including her teachers, colleagues, administrators, students, parents, and family. She dedicates this story to her husband Scott, an Architect with the City of El Paso, her daughter Renee, a former high school orchestra director with Katy ISD currently pursuing an Artist Diploma in conducting at the University of Denver, and her son-in-law Dr. Eddie Lowe, an ER physician.  Diana hopes to continue spreading her love of music along with her Czech violin for many years to come.