Vela Middle School the best jazz band in Texas

There were tears of joy inside the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory on Friday afternoon.

A surprise announcement brought on the emotional reaction from Vela Middle School students as they were told the jazz band qualified to perform at the state’s prestigious Texas Music Educators Association conference in San Antonio next school year.

The invitation means Vela Middle School’s jazz ensemble led by director Erika Uribe is the best in the state.

“There’s nothing better for an educator than to seeing their students’ efforts rewarded,” Uribe said. “It’s the best part of teaching.”

The Vela Middle School jazz band submitted a recording of three musical pieces earlier this year in hopes of being selected as the sole middle school band to advance to the state level. Their dreams became a reality this week when the Texas Music Educators Association revealed that Vela Middle School was indeed invited to the event.

The big announcement came as a surprise to the students, who did not anticipate it taking place at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.

“We’ve been hoping that this would happen for several months now, and after the phone call came in from TMEA, we knew we wanted to make it special for the students,” Uribe said, noting the surprise was organized with the students in mind.

Parents of the jazz band members, as well as Harlingen CISD Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos, attended the event.

“This is the first time an HCISD middle school has been invited to perform at TMEA’s conference in front of the top music educators and performers in the state,” Dr. Cavazos said. “I am super proud of our impressive student musicians, who continue to break glass ceilings and pave the way for future generations.”

Jordan Phipps, who plays the baritone and tenor saxophones in the jazz band, said he thought staff and administration were going to speak about Harlingen CISD construction projects.

“When I came here I thought it would be a presentation on a new school or something,” he said following the surprise. “I basically couldn’t stop smiling, and it was great to be here. I couldn’t believe it.”

Phipps, an incoming eighth-grader, will spend his summer improving his already impressive musical skills.

“I know that we just have to do our best and practice, practice, practice,” he said, adding that he would like to become a band director in the future. 

After overhearing that Phipps would like to study music in college and become a band director, Harlingen CISD’s director of music programs Ronnie Rios handed him his school district-issued name tag, symbolic of passing the baton to a future music educator like himself. 

Until then, however, Phipps plans to continue becoming a better musician on the saxophones and bassoon, which he plays for the Vela Middle School concert band. 

Phipps and his jazz bandmates often spent extra hours outside of band class practicing. They would often make their way to the band hall during lunch as well as after and before school hours.

“By listening to them and anybody that’s a big band fan will say the kids sounds amazing,” Rios said. “Our kids prepared and worked very hard. I got to see that up close, and the end result was that the recording entered into the statewide contest was amazing. They sound like a high school band.”

The TMEA convention will be held in February 2020 in San Antonio where the students will again showcase their musical talents.

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