By Larry Gage
Special to the PRESS
The year 2019 is rapidly drawing to a close, so even though we’re only halfway through the school year your instrumental music reporter just thought it would be an opportune time to consider the “State of the Program” and remind everybody how grateful we should all be to have such a successful music program at Port Isabel High.
That it has been another outstanding year for the program is not exactly news. It’s more like business as usual. When I was in high school in Iowa, a couple decades ago, none of us in the instrumental music program at good ol’ Hampton High could have imagined the kind of high school programs that currently exist here in South Texas.
To learn more about it the Press recently cornered Port Isabel I.S.D. Head Director of Bands, Scott Hartsfield, in his office at the high school and grilled him about how it all happens.
To begin with, marching season did not exactly start off on a high note this past fall. At last year’s State Marching Contest in San Antonio, the Silver Tarpon Marching Band did not have a good outing. Technical difficulties sabotaged, as it were, their performance, and they did not qualify for the finals of the competition.
“We had a lot of electronic things that went down in the AlamoDome,” Hartsfield said recently. “So they were all a little down when they started the season (2019). We kept telling them, ‘It’s one given day, guys. Let’s move on – it’s another year.’”
It was decided, long before the start of marching season last summer, that the band would return to cords for the electronic parts of the show. The elimination of wireless electronics greatly reduced the chances of anything going wrong in that area.
Contest season culminated with an Overall Grand Champion award at last fall’s contest at Robstown. It was very much a morale booster for the entire band.
“Out of 32 schools our little bitty band came out on top,” Hartsfield said. “The kids were pumped up and it was a great way to go into “Pigskin” the following week, because they were a different group of kids.”
The Pigskin Marching Festival at Mercedes was actually the final contest of the season and, just as it did at two contests previous to the Robstown event in October, the band received straight Division I ratings for its performance.
It was a boost for the entire department as the band transitioned from marching to concert season. Last week’s well-attended Winter Concert was outstanding and Hartsfield was very pleased with how it all went down.
“Preparing for the Christmas concert the kids were a little more motivated to do well. It went well. All three bands, concert, symphonic, and wind ensemble, performed. And the mariachi also performed – they opened it up.”
Most of the members of this year’s marching band will be back next year. A relatively small senior class will graduate in the spring and the freshmen class was the largest of the four classes in the program this year.
And next year is a “State” year. All Texas high school bands, each according to its class, compete every other year to try to make it to the state marching contest in San Antonio. Plans for next year’s show are already in the works.
“We’re not sure what we’re going to do for next year’s show,” Hartsfield told the Press. “We’re throwing around a bunch of ideas….visualize the show and planning how we’re going to do it.”
As usual it will be a very busy second semester for the music department in 2020 and a lot of good stuff is on the calendar. Regional auditions will be held, for one thing.
“At Regional some kids advanced onto Area. So, eight kids are going to be auditioning, and there’s a chance for all eight to be All-State musicians.”
One of the rewards, Hartsfield said, of being a music teacher is to see his former students when they return to Port Isabel after, say, getting their music degrees and starting their own teaching careers.
“At the Christmas concert the other night, I asked all veterans of the Silver Tarpon band in attendance to stand and be recognized. And I will see kids that I haven’t seen in twenty-something years, and it’s just super-rewarding.”
This is Hartsfield’s 26th year as a music teacher, his 24th at Port Isabel, and he admits it’s been quite a ride.
“The time has gone by so fast and you know it’s been a good experience when you look back and say, “Where did the time go? It’s just gone by super-fast.”
Retirement, in the near future, is a possibility, Hartsfield said, but right now he is just too busy to really spend much time thinking about it.
“I could retire in two years if I wanted to. I just don’t know if I want to do it yet.”