Local jazz kids make the grade

Jacob Moreno is a trumpet player for the Harlingen High School Jazz Ensemble. Courtesy photo

HARLINGEN — Jordan Phipps is stoked about Chicago.

“ I am so excited to be representing HCISD in Chicago. We are all so proud,” said Jordan, an eighth grade alto saxophone player for the Vela Middle School Jazz I band.

HCISD stands for Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District.

Jordan and the rest of the jazz crew make up the only middle school jazz band to win a place at the 74th Annual Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference in Chicago. The event will give them a chance to perform along with numerous other bands from places near and far.

While the COVID-19 lockdown has cast uncertainty in so many plans, this clinic won’t take place until December. So, Vela Middle School Jazz I, along with the Harlingen High School Jazz Ensemble, just might make it to the event. It will be a memorable experience if they do, said Ronnie Rios, director of music for the district.

“ I believe this is the first time in Midwest history we’ve had two groups from this size of town accepted for this prestigious event, ever,” he said. “HHS, they were there in 2003, 2015 and then this is their third time going. And now Vela the first time.”

The HHS band was delighted by the news.

“ Being invited to the 2020 Midwest clinic has really shown me that no matter how tough the obstacles, if a group of people are all focused and determined to reach the same goal, they are unstoppable,” said Jacob Moreno, 12th grade trumpet player in the HHS Jazz Ensemble.

His instructor, Maria Coronado, was excited by the possibilities presented to her students.

“ I am very honored that we were invited to perform in Chicago and really excited to represent HCISD, and the city of Harlingen, and the state of Texas,” Coronado said.

Applying for the coveted opportunity took place in early March, before the COVID-19 lockdown.

Damasio Valadez is a member of the Harlingen High School Jazz Ensemble. Courtesy photo
Jacob Moreno is a trumpet player for the Harlingen High School Jazz Ensemble. Courtesy photo

“ They sent in a portfolio consisting of the group’s recent successes,” Rios said. “They also sent information about the music curriculum at their schools, and of course a recording of their band’s performance.”

The Vela kids sent recordings of three pieces, one of them being Chick Corea’s “Spain.” They also performed “At the End of the Day”, “Just in Time”, and “Market Street”. The recordings impressed the judges as well as their instructor, Erika Uribe.

“ We’re thrilled for our students to have this opportunity,” said Uribe, associate director for the Vela band and director of Vela Jazz I.

“ We’re the only middle school jazz band in the entire country to be selected and it’s a great privilege and honor,” she said. “The kids put in a large amount of work throughout the entire year. When you put in that amount of work, the students begin to sound closer to a professional musician versus an amateur.”

Rios concurred, acknowledging hard work and talent by both the Vela and HHS musicians.

“ It’s a combination of dedicated teachers and kids that want to be great at things and talented kids that want to achieve at a high level,” Rios said. “You mix those together and as long as the information is good that you’re giving the kids, you’re pretty much going to be successful nine times out of ten.”

The gravity of such an accomplishment was evident to the students as well. Just ask Damasio Valadez, a senior in the HHS Jazz Ensemble.

“ The opportunity for the honors jazz ensemble to be invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic is a great accomplishment,” Damasio said. “As an ensemble working diligently for months, even practicing during our breaks, to witness our goals come to fruition is rewarding.”

Nothing can change the significance of the bands’ feat. However, the chance to perform in the Windy City in December depends on the behavior of COVID-19. Will the lockdowns cancel the event? Only the future knows.

“ We’re hoping for some miracle to get us close to some kind of normal,” Rios said.

Whatever that normal may be, the extraordinary can’t be denied. Vela and HHS have accomplished something fabulous.