When the Washington State Marching Band pulled out of the Sun Bowl, El Dorado High in El Paso jumped at a once in a lifetime opportunity


EL PASO, Texas – Carl Ortega stands on a small ladder near the front of the El Dorado High Orchestra Hall. Her busy hands pause briefly and the music stops before Ortega gives her next signal, pointing her right index finger at the percussion section. A snare drum slams four times and an ensemble of flutes, clarinets and brass begins to propel a familiar song into the large orchestra hall.

Close your eyes and you would think it was Martin Stadium on a Saturday afternoon in September.

The Washington state and central Michigan football teams may be gearing up for each other on just four days’ notice, but when it comes to a la carte planning, it’s possible that no one in El Paso works on a tighter schedule than the El Dorado group. .

It all happened quickly.

When the Washington State Marching Band canceled flights to El Paso amid uncertainty over whether the Sun Bowl would go as planned after Miami was abandoned due to COVID-19 concerns, officials du Bol initially struggled to identify a replacement.

Ortega, the director of El Dorado’s sophomore group, was visiting his in-laws in Farmington, New Mexico, when he received a phone call from Armando Martinez, Socorro’s director of Fine Arts. Independent School District, measuring El Dorado’s interest in playing the Sun Bowl as a stand-in group. Martinez was ready to contact the six district high school conductors if necessary, but the search ended after just one call to Ortega.

With El Dorado students on vacation until Wednesday, some of the group have given up on family plans while others have returned to El Paso from various parts of the region and state, unwilling to pass up. an enticing opportunity to play in a nationally televised boules game.

“I had to start messaging all the kids, start talking to all the directors to see if we could put something together, and all the kids were super excited and we were able to figure it out,” Ortega said. , who sent a group message through the aptly named “BAND” phone app. “At first I was like, ‘I need to know ASAP if you can do this. I told them what it was, and they said, “Really?” And they all got excited.

The El Dorado group was a great fit for a variety of reasons, including the color scheme of their uniforms, which are black with undertones of white, red and yellow.

Danny Vega, the district music host, artfully pointed out “on a positive note, these colors weren’t purple”.

The El Dorado group regrouped on Thursday for a single rehearsal less than 20 hours before Friday kickoff at 9 a.m. Ortega didn’t receive a sheet music for the WSU fight song until Tuesday night, and the high school band made the impromptu decision to add an extra touch to their Sun Bowl number when they learned the theme “Jaws” that became another ritual of the match day experience. in Pullman.

Some students had already studied the score, and others had experimented with the material at home. But they arrived in El Dorado on Thursday with instructions to “be prepared to stay a while and bring some snacks,” according to Alexa Ortiz, a junior bass clarinet.

“We built a program, and we worked on it and prepared these students to adapt and play any situation, so I think we were confident,” said deputy group director Cesar Hinojos. “We knew we could do it. We were a little nervous because we knew it was college material and we wanted to honor the material at the highest level, and I think that’s the greatest feeling we had. But no, I think these kids are prepared.

Hinojos added, “We already had students saying, ‘Come on Cougs. “So a lot of these students agreed and they wanted to know what it was like to be in this atmosphere.”

It’s an atmosphere that students of El Dorado will experience for the first time late Friday morning, but one that Ortega is already familiar with. Five years ago, he was assistant conductor at Horizon High School in El Paso when the Stanford Marching Band was suspended for breaking school rules of conduct.

Horizon was chosen as the “stand-in” group, although the situations differ: the students were notified two weeks before the Sun Bowl, not two days.

“Well, the lack of time is the hardest part, but it’s a college level fight song,” he said. “So it’s a little harder than we’re used to, but the kids love the challenge. “

Brandon Smithson, a senior clarinetist who volunteered for the Sun Bowl, expanded on the challenge that the El Dorado band enthusiastically took on this week.

“Well, you learn your individual part (alone), but it’s not enough,” he said. “Because we all have our own versions, and it happens when you train alone or watch it, but when we actually get together everyone realizes that I should be quieter because it’s a more important voice. “

Smithson said a friend recently joked, “It’s kind of like we’re cheating” on El Dorado’s fight song, but pointed out that the Sun Bowl would be the icing on the cake for the group’s seniors. who thought they had already played their last game of football.

“It’s really cool. I was telling someone it was like the last game of football,” Smithson said. “It was sentimental before, but now it’s kind of like, oh it’s a good farewell. “


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