Out of 10,000 students who tried out, only 286 made All-State Band for the Association of Texas Small School Bands, include students from Danbury ISD and Sweeny ISD.
This will not be Danbury ISD senior Hunter Johnston’s first time heading to All-State, he said. Johnston picked up the tuba six years ago and hasn’t seemed to put it down since.
“I play a couple of hours a day and it means a lot to me,” Johnston said. ”I made state last year. It feels good to make it again.”
The all-state competition is a months-long process of picking the best from schools to play in a concert in February in San Antonio.
The process begins at the start of the school year, when Texas students who want to audition get the same piece of music, Danbury ISD Band Director Joshua Baskin said.
“Everyone has the same music, and the first weekend in December, we all go to Stafford High School and they audition for a blind panel of five judges that sits behind a screen and everyone plays the same thing and they get ranked from the first chair to however many there are,” Baskin said.
From there, if selected, they go to an Area competition, which took place in Corpus Christi a few weeks ago, Baskin said.
Those who are selected for All-State Band attend a clinic and concert from Feb. 9-12 in San Antonio.
“That is the highest level they can go as an individual musician,” Baskin said. “There they rehearse for six hours a day on Thursday and Friday of that week and Saturday morning they play a concert.”
When they get there, the students will audition once again to determine what chair they will be placed.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Johnston said. “You don’t audition with the same music from region or Area competitions. You get new music, and I hardly have any time to practice.”
Since Johnston plays tuba, it’s all the same parts of music, so the chair assignment it just for bragging rights, Johnston said.
They only have 10 to 12 hours to practice really hard, college-level music, Baskin said.
“Whether he gets the last chair, he’s still one of the eight best tuba players in all of the state of Texas for 1A to 4A,” Baskin said. “It’s the biggest music convention of all of Texas. Every music and college director is there. It’s a band nerd utopia.”
Johnston is considering studying music in college, he said.
“It’s probably what I’m going to do to make my career, what it’s looking like right now,” he said. “I feel like it will pave the way to go to some colleges making state two years in a row.”
Repeating as an all-state performer has raised the level of interest from colleges, he said.
“I was already getting a lot of offers for one year and now going two years makes it even better,” Johnston said. “I’m looking at going to Blinn Junior College and then transferring to another school; I haven’t decided which yet.”
It would be cool to get one of the first three chairs, Johnston said.
“I’ve met some of the people that are there, and it’s a whole new world compared to what I do,” Johnston said. “It’s cool to go back because I get to talk to a lot of people I met last year and get to play some of the harder music. I’m excited to go and experience it for myself.”
Although this is Sweeny junior Frank Carmona’s first time going to state, he is no stranger to what is expected, he said.
“It’s an honor, and it feels good,” Carmona said. “My brother also made it when he was in high school so it’s like continuing our legacy because at least in our house. His plaques are still on the wall in the hallway, so every time I walk by, I see them. Getting to have my plaques with my name on them would be an honor because it’s not easy to do.”
Carmona plays the saxophone and said he could go to school for music, but he is not yet sure if he will.
“After high school, I want to go into teaching,” Carmona said. “I am considering music because I enjoy it, but I also enjoy math. My plan as of now is to get a dual degree. I want to go to the University of Texas, and they have an amazing music program.”
Since this will be his first time at state, he is trying to be as prepared as possible, he said.
“I’m excited to experience the whole thing,” Carmona said. “I started practicing the material in October, and I started honing in on the small details during Thanksgiving and Christmas break. I would say this process is not for everyone. It’s very mentally draining and nit-picky. Everyone is playing at the same level as you, if not better than you.”
There will be four others playing tenor saxophone, Carmona said.
“I’ve nervous because I’m getting to play with all of the amazing musicians from Texas,” Carmona said. “I’m also very excited because the music this year for the concert is renowned because it’s hard music to play.”
Sweeny ISD Band Director Jessica Loggins said she is “super proud” of her student.
“He’s always been a hard worker and has been consistent with wanting to get better,” Loggins said. “Even during the pandemic he was taking lessons online and did everything he needed to. He lives in the band hall and leads by example in the best way possible.”
Since making state, Carmona’s bandmates are excited and proud of him, freshman Kaden Hale said.
“It’s very inspiring that I can look up to him and, amazingly, someone from little ol’ Sweeny got state,” Hale said. “He put in all of the hard work, so it’s good on him. I love that for him — he puts in the work, he deserves it.”