BIG SQUEEZE: Valley accordionists compete for state competition - Valley Morning Star : Local News

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BIG SQUEEZE: Valley accordionists compete for state competition

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Posted: Saturday, March 24, 2018 10:12 pm

LOS FRESNOS — Twelve years ago, Juan Longoria won Texas’ first statewide accordion contest.

Now, he is helping his students at Los Fresnos High School to hone their talents to compete in Texas Folklife’s Big Squeeze accordion competition.

Texas Folklife was in the Rio Grande Valley this weekend searching for talented young accordionists for this year’s contest.

“Every region of the state where we do the Big Squeeze program has talented young musicians. But those from the Valley do have a level of virtuosity and confidence on stage that is always impressive,” Charlie Lockwood, Texas Folklife’s executive director, stated.

Friday night, Texas Folklife held auditions at Los Fresnos High School, where Longoria launched a conjunto music program that has helped revive interest in the accordion-driven genre born along the Texas-Mexico border.

“There’s a lot of interest in the community and the school,” Longoria said.

Five years ago, Longoria helped launch the school district’s conjunto program with 13 students in his class.

“The programs have really blossomed,” Longoria said. “There’s a waiting list.”

Today, about 100 students take part in the program.

“It helps keep the culture alive,” Longoria said. “They want to continue the tradition of their grandpas and parents. Some come in not knowing Spanish whatsoever and they go out singing in Spanish.”

Across the Valley, school districts are reviving conjunto music.

“The music’s traditions are still very much alive in the Valley,” Alysha Hernandez, director of the Big Squeeze program, said.

Here, Cecilio Garza is a legend who has helped school districts pioneer conjunto programs.

Texas Folklife was to hold auditions yesterday at Palmview High School, where Garza, known as Don Chilo, is building its conjunto classes.

Garza said about 20 students from 12 schools are expected to audition for the Big Squeeze contest.

“The kids really love it,” he said.

Like Garza, former students have helped build the area’s conjunto programs.

Now, many of the program’s directors and teachers where former students, Garza said.

“It’s our culture,” Garza said. “A lot of the music started here in the Valley.”

As he arrived in the Valley, Texas Folklife’s Lockwood credited educators such as Garza and Longoria with building programs that are helping revive conjunto music.

“Their efforts as leaders of high school conjunto programs have helped ensure that the next generation of young musicians have the opportunity and outlet to learn to play and carry on these musical traditions,” Lockwood stated.

“Many children in the Valley grow up with conjunto and Tejano music as part of their cultural experience but it takes passionate educators and teachers like Longoria and Garza to encourage them to be active participants in the music, and to develop into tradition bearers themselves.”

After Texas Folklife holds auditions across parts of the state, this year’s Big Squeeze finalists will compete April 21 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com

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