Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.
Middle school band takes top finish at state festival

The Miller Middle School Jazz Band took home top honors at a statewide festival. Pictured, in no order, are Kalen Shanks, Steven Urrutia, Vicente Esquivel, Eve Prince, Riley Sivilay, Taliesin LeDoux, Alvin Close, Alexandra Hathcock, Finn Freitas, Nora Diebold, Gavin McDonald, Jordynn Grimes, Keifer Hinton, Kevin Vacaflores, Maebry Kraatzx and Jazz Band Director Hector Ramirez.
Photo provided by SMCISD

Middle school band takes top finish at state festival

From left to right, Jordynn Grimes - Trombone, Kiefer Hinton - Vibraphone, Riley Sivilay - Trumpet, Eve Prince - Tenor Saxophone, Vicente Esquivel - Tenor Saxophone, Kalen Shanks - Alto Saxophone.
Photo provided by SMCISD

Middle school band takes top finish at state festival

Friday, March 31, 2023

The halls of San Marcos CISD Doris Miller Middle School are rich with the winning sounds of music this week as the Jazz Band took home top honors in a statewide festival.

Under the leadership of Band Director Hector Ramirez, the band placed first in the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Jazz Festival held Saturday, March 25.

For the director, receiving the honor at the Kingsville campus was sentimental as he is a graduate of the school.

What makes this award doubly grand for the school is that this is the second consecutive year the band has taken home first place.

In 2022 in the just past COVID-19 timeframe, there were only two jazz bands competing with the other band representing “a very established program,” Ramirez explained. This year, the competition was ramped up with approximately seven or eight bands ready to face the Miller student musicians. Ramirez said there were some heavy hitters in that competitive group creating a more intimidating environment for his band.

For their playlist, Ramirez said this year they offered “‘Moten Swing’ which is a traditional, big four on the floor swing chart” first made legendary by Count Basie decades ago. He said they then played “a rock ballad that featured our lead alto and our lead trumpet–Kalen Shanks, on saxophone and Riley Sivilay on trumpet.” In this piece, the director said there is a part where “everyone is holding a long note.”

“Riley and Kalen just have to look at each other and give each other the signal” to begin their part and work together, he said, noting this stylistic interpretation is the sign of a professional musician..

Ramirez said student musicians were chosen by the judges to receive the “All Star Big Band Award'' which is the judges’ dream team composed of the best players from all of the different bands. Recognized were Kalen Shanks (lead alto), Vicente Esquivel (lead tenor), Eve Prince (tenor saxophone), Jordynn Grimes (trombone) and Kiefer Hinton (vibraphone).

Ramirez said that they were able to listen to the judges comments and one of them was “very pleased with all of our dynamic range and the maturity that the kids show. His words were ‘it was a treat listening to your band.’” Ramirez said the kids who did solos literally “made them up on the spot,” offering sounds in the great jazz tradition of improvisation.

Their director said that he “doesn’t tell them how hard what they’re doing really is.”

When Ramirez started at the school in 2020, school officials told him they were looking to restart their jazz program.

“At the time, there was construction going on in the fine arts wing that had stopped because, as you know, the world stopped turning after spring break,” that year, Ramirez said. ”So, we were actually in the library that year because it was the only room big enough to fit all of the band students.”

“But, I made it work,” he said.

Construction on the new fine arts facilities was completed last year and according to Ramirez, the changes that were made to the facility have brought all of the programs together, creating opportunities for shared work. He cited the musical last year as an example of the collaboration.

When they started there were only 10 students in the band and the director, himself, was playing the drums, waiting for a student to step up to the position.

“By the end of that year we were playing some actual jazz-arranged charts,” Ramirez said. “We played that year for the end of the year awards for the 8th graders, and it went great.”

“With all the kiddos that we have and all the growth, we were able to make it an official, traditional, instrumentation jazz band, and I feel like that’s one of the things that really took this group to the next level. We have five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, a bass player, a drummer and then a vibraphone player that's actually laying down piano parts on vibes,” Ramirez said, “One of the things that is different about jazz band compared to a traditional symphonic or concert band is that nobody is doubling parts. Everyone has an individual part, and if you’re missing from a concert, that whole part is missing.” Ramirez said this rests responsibility on the students themselves.

“They’ve really stepped up,” he said.

Ramirez added that the band is going to submit a live recording to the Texas Music Educators Association, and if chosen in their category, the band will be invited to perform at the convention in February 2024. He said the band performed at the Hill Country Jazz Festival at Texas State earlier this year and received an award for “outstanding performance.”

The public is invited to the recording performance at 7 p.m. on May 8 in the San Marcos High School auditorium.

Ramirez said, “It’s a high pressure situation for such a young age, and I can’t speak highly enough about how well they handle all of those situations.”

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666