HARLINGEN — They stood united as one, employing their separate talents to deliver a powerful and beautiful performance of the National Anthem.
“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,” sang Gabby Rae Garza, 17, Aaron Blount, 15, and Gabriella Celine Garza, 17. The three Harlingen students were singing to a speechless audience of about 15,000 attending the Spurs game Monday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio.
They wove their harmonies into a union of spirits that stretched its wing like a gallant eagle, unflinching and bold. Behind them, the Harlingen CISD symphony orchestra demonstrated its musical prowess under the direction of Ronnie Rios.
“How do I describe this?” he said rhetorically. “I was as excited at the highest level after the performance because of the ovation that the kids got. I was thrilled for them.”
While the audience listened with speechless abandon, the three singers themselves were somewhat star-struck by the magnitude of the moment.
“When I walked onto the court and looked around and saw all the people, it blew me away,” said Gabby Rae, a senior at Harlingen High School.
“I wasn’t expecting there to be that many people,” she said.
But, she quickly stepped up to the challenge.
“I was really focused on our concert and I think that helped with my nerves,” she said.
Just days later, Aaron still seemed dazzled by the event.
“As soon as we got up there and the lights went down, it was like a rush of adrenaline,” said Aaron, a sophomore at Harlingen High School South.
Both she and Gabby Rae are in the musical theater track at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.
“I was just on cloud nine the whole time,” Aaron said.
The anticipation could be a little intimidating for the best of singers. Gabriella Celine, a senior at Harlingen High School, experienced a moment of stage fright.
“Right before we were going on stage to sing, I had to talk to myself, ‘It’s going to happen right now,’” she recalled.
And honestly, once up on stage and singing with such courage and conviction, they produced a rich and stately sound that endeared the audience. Everyone stood, cheered, clapped in adoration of this fresh and innovative delivery of the National Anthem.
So powerful was the response that three people, including Rios, told almost the same story about Chuck Cureau, the announcer.
“He told the kids that in his 11 years of assisting with the Spurs, this was the best National Anthem he had ever heard,” Rios said.
Monica Scott-Blount, Aaron’s mother, had heard something from Cureau even before the performance when the young ladies were warming up backstage.
“He came over and asked me, ‘Are these professionals?’” she recalled. “I said, ‘No sir, they are all high school kids.’ Eyes and mouth wide open, he gasped and said, ‘Oh, my God. They are incredible.’”
The singers actually began working on their National Anthem during the summer, when Rios asked them to sing at the beginning-of-the-year kickoff for teachers. They listened to YouTube recordings of the iconic American song and developed their own rendition based on those influences.
Their performance at the kickoff impressed everyone and videos of it went viral. Rios had already taken bands to perform at the Spurs venue. Soon he was presenting an application for the three singers and the orchestra to perform, and it was promptly accepted.
A few changes arose as they adapted their performance to an orchestral arrangement by Harlingen South Band Director Richard De La Riva. This allowed their delivery to be enhanced by about 40 students from the HCISD symphony orchestra who performed with them under Rios’s direction. Band and orchestra students from HHS, Harlingen South, and the Harlingen School of Health Professions made up the group.
“It was a collaborative arrangement to fit our symphony orchestra and for some of the material the girls were already doing,” Rios said.
And all those hours and days and weeks of preparation showed themselves on the stage — and to a delighted audience.
“As they were walking off the court after the performance, people in the floor level seating were complimenting the kids and were high-fiving them,” Rios said.
The thrill of the moment still resonated in his voice.
“It was a great recognition for our school district,” he said.
Aaron, an aspiring professional entertainer, was joyous about the opportunities this might open for them. Did this take her work to another level?
“For sure,” she said without hesitation.