Forty-five minutes a day in the mornings, Ana Aguayo, 17, confines herself to practice room in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School band hall to play the marimbas where a connection with the instrument and music quickly replaces the stress of school and family. In the afternoons she meets and plays with the rest of the band, and as the percussion section leader oversees eight other students.
Aguayo, an active member of the National Honor Society and Inter Act Club and prospective student of The University of Texas at Austin, has been playing percussion since sixth grade and credits music with the discipline behind her academic success, ability to prioritize, work in groups in and outside band, compete and even approach defeats better.
“Students that are involved in music are some of the brightest kids in school,” said Scott Randall, band director at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High school. “They learn how to meet deadlines, plan ways to meet certain goals, work hard at maintaining good grades to remain eligible (in band) and several other skills that help them in the academics.”
Students use both hemispheres of the brain while learning and performing music; enabling them to develop skills that require the use of both the logic and creative sides of their brains in other fields of education, he added.
“Music crosses paths with all other disciplines; in music we count note values and subdivisions of the beat,” said Moises Llanes, Edinburg North High School’s orchestra director, about music’s relationship to math.
There is also a correlation between music and language because music is a language with rules of grammar, syntax and phrase construction. In learning the principles of sound production students learn many scientific terms as well like frequency, friction and amplitude, he said.
“History is a big part, too,” added Llanes. “We play music from the renaissance period to pop; that’s 500 years of music literature and history.”
The historical context of music is what drives many students to appreciate music as more than just an elective. Students in music classes learn about application, composers and how and why they composed during a time period, said Anthony Martinez, choir director at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High school.
“When I play a musical piece by Beethoven or Vivaldi I kind of feel important since they’ve played it and I’m playing it too,” said Michael Lizcano, 16, violin player at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School.
Music education also plays a role in helping students built confidence and speak effectively and publicly in other stages of their lives.
Albert Garcia, one of the orchestra and mariachi directors at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, said orchestra students are good communicators and better prepared to accept constructive criticism in adulthood after so much exposure to it during high school music competitions like University Interscholastic League (UIL), where students will perform in front of judges.
All eligible students get to compete in UIL Orchestra Solo and Ensemble, said Adriana Olivan, another orchestra and mariachi director at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, where they are judged on posture and presentation. This preparation and training, along with their ability to commit themselves to a discipline, gives students an advantage in college and in the work field.
Students cannot be afraid; they need to market themselves and be well-spoken said Martinez. Being part of a music program helps students attain social skills and higher their self esteem.
“I used to be shy, but I opened up and talk to people now,” said Andrew Valdez, 17, viola player at Edinburg North High School. “Orchestra helps me do things I wouldn’t do before. I always wanted to be in mariachi, and this year I tried out.”
Working together for one goal is an important lesson music students learn early. Each instrument’s sound has a place in a music piece and none can be discriminated if the piece is to be played as the composer intended.
“You learn how other people work and how they react,” said Michael about being part of a group. “Once it all comes together, we’re all just one.”
Team work skills, along with discipline, creativity, practice, efficiency and an opportunity to express themselves by sharing the universal language of music are all benefits students in music programs get, regardless of whether they pursue a career in music or not, said Chad Dempsey, Edinburg North High School’s band director.
Being part of these programs also promotes community and school pride, as well as camaraderie around peers, said Dempsey. There is a lot of civic pride in marching bands; Edinburg North High School’s band performs at grand opening ceremonies in the city often.
The same is true for many districts; businesses and local governments often request performances by local high school music groups for a variety of functions, which fills many students like Michael and Maria Elizalde, 17, violin player at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, with a sense of pride for their school band.
Recently the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School orchestra played at the Pharr Hub Phestival where Elizalde said she was able to give back to the community by playing her violin for an audience of local residents.
“I love being out there to perform,” said Michael. “Doing a good job and knowing the audience is happy with what we’re playing.”
Monica Folk, executive director of the Valley Symphony Orchestra & Chorale in McAllen, said having a professional music group like the Valley Symphony Orchestra has many benefits for the community such as enchancing the quality of life for valley residents, supporting local professional musicians, attracting cultural tourism and providing high quality music education opportunities.
The Valley Symphony Orchestra offers three educational programs; educational concerts for over 8,000 students, the South Texas Youth Symphony composed of 65 musicians from high schools and some middles schools from all across the Valley, and Success Thru Strings, a tuition-based, early violin program for first graders.
Musicians in the Valley Symphony Orchestra work with students in these educational programs. Some are also local music teachers and professors who are committed to preserving classical music in the community and passing their love for it on to students like Elizalde, who said she now has a taste for classical music and can enjoy the riches of life in a more intellectual sense.