Rio Grande Valley accordionists win 2019 Big Squeeze contest

Perla Hernandez, 16, of Roma, wows the crowd at the 13th Annual Texas Folklife Big Squeeze Semifinals at the Museum of South Texas History April 27 in Edinburg. Hernandez won in the Conjunto 17 and under category of the Texas Folklife Big Squeeze Youth Accordionist competition in Austin May 11. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Rio Grande Valley natives were crowned champions of the Texas Folklife Big Squeeze Youth Accordionist competition May 11 at the Bullock State History Museum in Austin.

Showcasing their skills in polka, Cajun and zydeco, and conjunto accordion music, Perla Hernandez of Roma and Eduardo Garza of Mission were among four students selected as the 2019 Big Squeeze Youth Accordion Champions.

Hernandez, 16, won in the Conjunto 17 and under category, while Garza, 18, took the Conjunto 18-21 Anthony Ortiz Jr. award.

At the April 13 Palmview qualifying competition, Garza, a student at Palmview High School who has been playing since he was 9 years old, said: “As an accordion player, I feel like my role is to pass it on and teach other people how to play.”

Hernandez, a junior at Roma High School, said at the April 27 Roma semifinals that she “played more complicated songs” this year and “was a bit nervous.”

The competition started with 49 student accordionists who competed in nine showcases across the state. From these prelim showcases, 12 semifinalists were selected to compete at the Museum of South Texas in Edinburg. From there, six finalists were chosen to perform at Austin.

The four winners took home a prize package valued at more than $4,000, including a Hohner accordion and cash prize. The winners will also have the opportunity to perform onstage with renowned Texas musicians at Texas Folklife’s 30th annual Accordion Kings & Queens Concert at the Houston Miller Outdoor Theater June 1.

The Big Squeeze is hosted by Texas Folklife, a nonprofit organization that focuses on protecting Texas culture by supporting accordion musicians.

With the closing of the 2019 competition, Texas Folklife Executive Director Charlie Lockwood said that he was impressed by the drive of the student competitors.

“These talented youth accordionist express an undeniable joy, passion, and high level of musicians through their playing,” Lockwood said. “It has been wonderful to see the tremendous amount of family and community support each of them has throughout the Big Squeeze season.”