The Tyler Junior College Wind Ensemble is about to take a historic turn in the spotlight.
For 102 years, the Texas Music Educators Association has held an annual convention of Texas elementary through college music programs, including band, choir, orchestra and elementary music. It is one of the largest such gatherings in the country, attracting some 10,000 active music educators and about 30,000 attendees from across the nation and around the world each year.
Also, for 102 years, the association has invited groups from almost every educational level to perform — with one exception, until now: TJC will be the first junior/community college ever to perform a featured concert at TMEA.
“This has been a very, very long time coming, and I could not be prouder of these students,” TJC Director of Bands Jeremy Strickland said.
The performance is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11, in the Lila Cockrell Theatre in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio. The other two college wind ensembles performing this year are Tarleton State University and The University of Texas at Austin.
“We’re talking about a 2,300-seat auditorium that, for most concerts, is full,” he said. “Concerts for the big universities like UT Austin and the University of North Texas and for military groups such as the United States Marine Band are standing-room only. Ours will be full.”
Strickland began his quest for the TMEA performance soon after he joined TJC in 2015.
“We weren’t even allowed to apply at first — and when I asked them why, I already knew, which is the quality [of a two-year college] isn’t normally seen as something they want to put out there,” he said.
Unlike their four-year counterparts, the student roster in a two-year program such as TJC changes by roughly 50 percent each year, with the new half being freshmen.
“But then I reminded them that junior high honor bands are invited to perform at TMEA each year, and they change over by half every year, just like we do,” he said.
He continued, “And if you allow us to have this opportunity, our bands will get better because the students will work harder to push toward a goal like this.”
The 56-member wind ensemble is TJC’s premier instrumental group.
“It’s competitive to get in,” he said. “You have to audition. There are music majors and non-majors, and there are people who were in it last year who didn’t make it this year.”
The 50-minute TMEA concert program will consist of six pieces, including three world premieres that have been commissioned especially for this performance.
Strickland will share conducting duties with Dr. Eddie Airheart, TJC assistant director of bands and professor of music and woodwinds.
“TJC music, trumpet and jazz professor Micah Bell has written a piece called ‘The Red House’ that he will also perform on,” Strickland said.
There’s also a commissioned work by Kevin Day, an established young composer — and former student of Strickland and Airheart from their time at TCU — whose music is being played by top ensembles around the world.
“We had Kevin write a slow piece that’s about 5 minutes in length,” Strickland said. “We also wanted it to be a Grade 4 level of difficulty because we want him to get it on the UIL contest list. If it gets on that list and schools buy it, the score will say ‘Commissioned by Jeremy Strickland, for the Tyler Junior College Wind Ensemble,’ which gets our name out there to even more people.”
Dr. Tim Rhea, director of bands at Texas A&M University in College Station, was commissioned to write “Stump Burner March,” which includes themes from 21 different marches and is what Strickland calls “a brazen nod to the rich history of military marching bands in East Texas.”
“We wanted this concert to be challenging and entertaining,” he said. “It’s designed to include a variety of genres in hopes that everyone will hear something they enjoy. It’s also designed to establish that we deserve to be there and can play literature at the highest level well.”
The students and instructors will return a little early from the holiday break to squeeze in more rehearsal time.
“It’s important to mention that everyone in the band department has been involved,” Strickland said. “Micah Bell (trumpets), Dr. Danny Chapa (low brass), Dr. Eddie Airheart (woodwinds) and Tom McGowan (percussion) have been running section rehearsals on Tuesdays and getting everyone ready. (Department chair and professor) Heather Mensch has also done sectionals with trombones. It’s been a huge team effort.”
Strickland said the TJC band program’s all-in, all-the-time approach is very different from what is customary in a university band program.
“A lot of the four-year schools have developed into a music conservatory mindset, and it doesn’t work as well for what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “The applied professors might offer a suggestion on style or an instrument choice, but that’s pretty much the extent of their involvement. If you’re a music education institution, the more people you have working with your students all the time, the better off your students are. That’s what it should be about, and that’s how we do it here.”
Airheart can’t wait to get on the TMEA stage and show what the students can do, and that fact that this is all happening in the TJC band program’s 75th season is icing on the cake.
“It took 75 years to get us down to San Antonio,” he said. “This will be a defining moment for this program. Bet on it.”
Three previous TJC band directors — Tom Mensch, Gary Jordan and Ronald Todd — will also be introduced at the TMEA performance.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today, if not for them,” Strickland said.
He also sees TJC’s TMEA selection as a call to arms for Texas community/junior college bands.
“We had two goals for doing this,” he said. “I wanted TJC to be the first, but I also wanted every junior college in the state to know that they have this opportunity, so that they can start pushing their ensembles to get better.”
He hopes TMEA will begin inviting more two-year college programs to perform; but right now, he’s focused on how this affects his own program in the long and short runs.
“In addition to the historic-first aspect, the exposure we get from this performance will also be a pivotal moment in the kind of students we attract to our program from now on,” he said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve gotten students who could’ve gone anywhere, and they chose us. They chose to come here for the experience, the small classes, the price and everything that’s right about TJC.
“The TMEA performance is going to kick our program into a whole new gear.”
The TJC Wind Ensemble members and their hometowns: Tania Andrews, Canton; Sidney Arnold, Hideaway; Brady Blaylock, Lindale; Hannah Boyer, Hideaway; Brody Bradshaw, Bullard; Christian Butler, Bullard; Alison Cheney, Lindale; Aaron Crow, Canton; Ana Cruz, Mineola; Ellery D’Angelo, Mineola; Emily Dean, Bullard; Bonnie Dyess, Canton; Sarah Elliott, Royse City; Cameran Fay, Gladewater; Emily Fulwood, Fate; Alana Galaz, Mineola; James Gentry, Crandall; Roger Gonzalez, Palestine; Tyler Hannan, Tyler; Aiden Hannawald, Wills Point; Sebastian Hernandez, Marshall; Collin Hill, Lindale; Samuel Hooker, Jacksonville; Anna Hudson, Canton; Maya Huffman, Gladewater; Callie Hyde, Canton; Bryce Jackson, Spring; Nicole Jensen, Fort Worth; David Landrum, Canton; Leighann Langston, Bullard; Olivia Lester, The Colony; Linzy Manis, Carrollton; Cameron Miller, Tyler; Sydney Moseley, Frankston; Harvey Nguyen, Whitehouse; Richard Nolen, Frankston; Jillian Nutt, Mesquite; John Park, Lindale; Mariah Parnell, Tyler; Curt Pearson, Tyler; Joshua Plunkett, Gilmer; Rayann Rowland, Quitman; Isaac Sanders, Bullard; Jett Schnackenberg, Mansfield; Justin Shaw, Weatherford; Mitchell Shulka, Fort Worth; Grace Stanley, Bullard; Chris Stewart, Henderson; Lauren Taylor, Pineland; Dominic Theriot, Forney; Andrew Thompson, Sumner; Adam Tudor, Crandall; Megan Wansley, Whitehouse; Bree Williams, Mineola; and Jada Williams, Mesquite.
For more information on the TJC Band program, go to TJC.edu/Band.