Paul “Haskell” Motheral ’52 had finally settled into the jostling tour bus with the rest of the Aggieland Orchestra in the year 1950 when their journey suddenly came to a halt in Beaumont, Texas. After a little investigation, they concluded that the bus couldn’t finish the trip to Uvalde in time for their show that night. A broken bus, however, didn’t keep these eager musicians from making their next performance. Finding alternate transportation, they arrived in Uvalde just before they took the stage at the local Aggie Christmas Dance. One talented member, Motheral recalled, even wrote an ensemble about the ordeal titled “Beaumont Breakdown” and had it ready for the band to perform at the show.
As he remembered his days as a student at Texas A&M, Motheral mentioned many memories that described the “great fun” he had touring across Texas with the Aggieland Orchestra and playing jazz in front of dance halls full of Aggie former students. Also, as a member of Texas A&M’s marching band in the fall semesters and concert band in the spring, Motheral noted, “If I wasn’t in class, studying or on the occasional date, I was playing music.”
When he and his wife Elizabeth were approached with the plan for the Music Activities Center as a place to enhance music education at Texas A&M, the couple leaped at the idea. “We were enamored with the idea of increasing the focus on extracurricular music activities for students,” Motheral said.
The campaign for the new building began in 2015 with Texas A&M agreeing to split the center’s $40 million price tag with the Texas A&M Foundation. To kick off the Foundation’s $20 million fundraising campaign, the Motherals donated the deed to their home, a villa spanning a Lake Travis peninsula with more than 1,500 feet of waterfront property. “We named the villa Monrovia after my mother because she was my artistic influence,” Motheral said. “She was a rare college graduate for the time she grew up in, as well as a classically trained opera singer.” Knowing how much she loved music, the Motherals chose to dedicate the new Aggie Band rehearsal hall in loving memory of Paul’s mother, Monrovia.
Motheral learned from his father that nothing you start matters unless you finish, so the couple pledged $250,000 in 2018 to complete the campaign’s original goal. With their latest gift, the couple chose to name the new concert band hall after Dr. Timothy Rhea, who is serving his 25th year as director of bands for Texas A&M.
“We know the new music facility will give students the opportunity to expand their art with more comfort and ease,” Motheral said. “The entire Aggie Band will be able to practice together for the first time in many years and have places to store their instruments instead of keeping them in their dorms. Overall, this will allow students’ love of music to flourish.”
Finding His Beat
Born in 1931, Motheral grew up during the Great Depression. “We didn’t have everything,” he said, “but my parents always encouraged me in music and somehow found a way to afford a clarinet and a saxophone and some lessons for me.”
Faced with choosing between music and football upon entering high school, Motheral’s band director persuaded him to choose the former with talk of moving up to the All-State Band as early as his sophomore year.
Motheral proved his director right by indeed advancing to the All-State Band, where he experienced his first taste of live jazz. “As soon as I heard some good jazz, I was hooked,” he said. Motheral even started his high school’s first swing band.
High school graduation brought Motheral to another crossroads as he tried to decide between pursuing music at the University of Colorado or a degree in engineering at Texas A&M. With the extracurriculars, however, Motheral found the best of both worlds as an Aggie.
The summer following his first year at Texas A&M, Motheral studied music at the University of Colorado, where he had the opportunity to tour with the likes of the Tex Beneke/Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Claude Thornhill Big Band. But as the Korean War approached, Motheral felt inclined to return to the Corps of Cadets and finish his degree at Texas A&M.
After serving in the war, Motheral worked in construction in South Texas and performed with the Dick Hurlbert Band until the early 1960s, when the rise of rock ’n roll led him to retire from the music scene. The Austin Jazz Society recognized Motheral for his musical accomplishments and honored him in its hall of fame in 2017. Motheral and his wife support the art of music however they can, and he continues to play for his own enjoyment.
Similar to how he thrived in music, Motheral excelled in his career as a civil engineer, starting 14 companies over many decades focused on construction and quarrying. He transferred his artistic skills acquired from playing music to the art of construction as he participated in building highways, bridges, dams and airports.
“I owe a good part of my success to music,” he said. “My major required me to use my left brain most of the time, but music let me tap into my right brain creativity and helped me avoid approaching problems with tunnel vision.”
To further emphasize the importance of balance between science and the arts, the Motherals established several scholarships in 2001 for engineering majors who participate in a musical or performing arts organization on campus.
Recognizing how music impacted his life, from creativity in his career to memories with his bandmates, Motheral hopes to create space for music to transform others as well. “When you have a beautiful gift as special as this, you need room for it to grow,” he said. “We are truly blessed to have the opportunity to give students the space to do just this.”