Salida High School Jazz Band returned from the Heritage Music Festival in San Antonio, Texas, with two awards, a nationally ranked performance and memories to last a lifetime. The band traveled via charter bus March 30 to April 2 to participate in the adjudication festival.

Junior trombonist Sawyer Cliff joked the trip took forever. “We watched all three Lord of the Rings movies consecutively, and we still didn’t get there. It took 18 hours.”

Band Director André Wilkins took 16 students to the festival for a “touring experience. This is what’s expected of you in the profession.”

Wilkins said there are similar adjudication festivals on the East Coast and in St. Louis, but he chose San Antonio for the cultural attractions. The students went to the Alamo, the San Antonio Riverwalk, the San Antonio Symphony and Six Flags. The students said Six Flags was their favorite part and the best ride was a roller coaster called the Iron Rattler, which advertises an 81-degree drop angle.

Wilkins said, “The clinics and the adjudicators were nationally known musicians and education programs. It was a higher caliber festival than what the students have participated in before – which have been largely regional.”

Junior trombonist Ryan O’Connor said receiving feedback from nationally known judges gave more insight into their playing and performance ability. The band was judged against a national standard and received a bronze rating. He said he was proud of the students for representing their school so well. It was the first time the Salida High Jazz Band had participated in a national festival.

The students raised funds for more than a year for the trip. “We’ve had wonderful support from the Rotary Club, Moonlight Mondays, Salida Soup and the Chaffee County Fair and Rodeo,” Wilkins said.

Salida was one of eight instrumental bands, and the only jazz band, in addition to seven choirs that also competed. The furthest school came from Pennsylvania, and another, from Arkansas. Salida was the only ensemble from Colorado and won the Spirit Award for the weekend. Wilkins said winning the Spirit Award was “the most emotional part of the trip. As an educator you don’t just try to teach your students your content area, you try to teach them to be good human beings, too.”

The Spirit Award is given to the ensemble that best represents their school. It reflects student behavior at the festival, theme park and award ceremony. The staff made many compliments about how polite and enthusiastic they were, said Wilkins, adding he was told they were the “clear-cut” winners.

Cliff said he thought they won because “we’re chill Colorado kids who were high-fiving everybody.”

Sophomore guitarist Alan Mueller won an Outstanding Maestro Award at the festival. He was one of five students to win.

“Alan is a truly gifted musician and guitar player,” Wilkins said. “Out of the hundreds of kids eligible for this award, he shined above them by being the musician I see everyday in class. I’m a very lucky teacher.” Wilkins said he knew Mueller was gifted when he heard him perform “Blackbird” by the Beatles in seventh grade. 

Mueller said he was “very surprised” to win. “It was pretty cool. It was the first time I’ve been awarded anything on a band trip.” His all-glass trophy is “proudly displayed” at his house, he said. Mueller plans to continue his music education, possibly majoring in music in college. He said he’d like to have a career in music, too. While Mueller said he wouldn’t want to travel to San Antonio again – unless by plane – he also hopes to win the Outstanding Maestro Award again next year.

“I am very proud of them,” Wilkins said. “To be able to travel 18 hours and across a time zone and an elevation difference of nearly 7,000 feet – it’s impressive to be able to do what they did.”

To hear the band’s entire four-piece performance, follow this link.