SAN JUAN — Band rehearsals during an August afternoon at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School appear not unlike others throughout the Rio Grande Valley. But here at PSJA, the Mighty Bear Band is working toward something new: making it to state for the first time in their history.
With their show this year entitled “Starry Night,” inspired by the classic Vincent van Gogh work that has donned everything from T-shirts to shower curtains, the band is optimistic they can finally go all the way. However, it is also reflective of a greater philosophy.
The program is about the students’ connection to everything, said John Garza, head band director.
“Even though the universe is big and it’s expanding and they seem like they’re a small speck of the universe, they’re all important,” Garza said of the show’s meaning. “Everything we do, everybody matters.”
And that, he said, particularly rings true within a marching band.
“Marching band is the ultimate team sport,” he said, “because everybody here is on the varsity; it’s the only time in any kind of sport where there’s no bench — everybody’s playing, everybody’s performing.”
That message is communicated to and resounds with the students.
“It defines that we’re all connected one way or another; no matter where we come from, who we are, we’re all connected,” said Danna Posada, assistant drum major. “It just means a lot to me.”
The program includes “Moonlight Sonata” by Ludwig van Beethoven and “Claire de Lune” by Claude Debussy. The last movement of the show is a sort of a mash-up of those two pieces.
Just like the compositions the band selected, their visuals also depict classic references. Paintings of van Gogh’s much-beloved “The Starry Night” will be featured on the field throughout the performance.
This year’s program is the best one yet, was the consensus among some of the students, and the hope is that this year they will make it to state.
Unlike their PSJA North and PSJA Memorial sister schools, the PSJA Bear Band has never made it far enough to compete at the state level.
The bands are only eligible to compete at state every other year. This year is the last chance for the current crop of seniors and juniors to make PSJA band history by qualifying for state.
Head Drum Major Marina Rodriguez, a senior, said this final opportunity meant a lot to her.
“You take it and then you grow,” Rodriguez said of past losses. “If you keep going again you’re like, ‘OK, this is your last time, you really need to make it count.’”
“There is a lot more intensity, I would say,” she said of this year versus a non-state year. “I try harder.”
Despite the varying intensity from one year to the next, the drum majors agreed that there is always plenty of hard work involved in planning, rehearsing and performing their shows that remains unknown to others.
“I can’t explain how much focus that each one of these kids has in their marching,” said Daniel Heredia, assistant drum major. “They have to make sure they know what time they’re on; they have to make sure they’re at the right place with the music; they’re playing with the right dynamics; they’re playing with the right articulation; they’re watching the drum majors; and they’re listening to what’s going on.
“It’s like a million things going on, and that requires so much focus.”
One of the hardest things every year, whether it’s a state year or not, is ensuring all the students including the freshmen, are on the same level.
“Probably the fact that you have to basically put a whole new aspect into these kids that come in,” said Marina Rodriguez, the head drum major, of what she believes is most difficult. “Every year, you have another batch that comes in, you have to teach the same thing and it’s all over again.”
“We’re all on the same team and so far it’s been a lot of hard work,” Posada said. “I won’t lie, it’s been pretty hard but I know our band is getting better together.”
It’s that idea of working together that makes their show this year so special to many of the students.
“The essence of the show is beautiful,” said Alayza Gallardo, a senior trumpet player. “I think it captures what this band really shows and how much pride we have.”
Gallardo was just a sophomore the last time it was a state year for them, when they narrowly missed making it to the finals of the area contest, which is the state-qualifying contest.
“We’re a family and we have to work together,” Gallardo said. “I guess what we’re trying to show here is go big or go home.”