Music programs back on track after challenging year


Band director Babatunde Onibudo conducts the Akins Full Symphonic Orchestra at UIL Concert and Sightreading Evaluation in March.

Brenden Kelly & Diego Hernandez News & Entertainment Editors For a few Akins musicians, when classes end on May 27 it will not mean the end of their school performances this year.

Three Akins musicians have earned a spot in the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Competition starting May 30. Senior Rommel Vallecillo-Drews, senior Lily Costilla, and sophomore Pedro Salas will be performing at this competition, which will put them up against some of the best student musicians in the state.

This is just one example of how Akins musicians have excelled this year despite the challenges and COVID-related interruptions all Akins students have experienced this school year. Orchestra director Thomas Mann said there have been many highlights for Akins music students.“I think that that kind of changes every day, so right this second I would say last night because last night was the Fine Arts (Spring) Festival, but tomorrow check with me again and it’ll probably be something that happened today,” he said. “That’s the cool thing about teaching music and orchestra, is that every day is something really spectacular. You don’t walk away a day saying, “Well today was boring.”

With this also being the first year back in-person since the quarantine started in March of 2020, many of the academic extracurricular activities have suffered from some setbacks, including the orchestra department.

“We faced a challenge that’s going to be with us for a few more years, at least,” Mann said. “Ensembles could not perform together for almost two years, so that group of students that were in sixth grade went basically two years without touching instruments in an ensemble setting, and then all of a sudden now they’re in high school and have to play and compete at (the) 6A varsity high school level, and when the last time that you were with an orchestra was when you were in sixth grade, is insane. So that was the biggest challenge, to get everybody up to speed.”

Fortunately, the underclassmen students joining the orchestra in person for the first time this year aren’t alone. Mann says they’ve had guidance from highly experienced senior students like Rommel Valecillo-Drews, Lily Costillas, and Maria Contreras.

“Maria Contreras, Rommel Vallecillo-Drews, and Lily Costilla have been outstanding, just being leaders for the rest of the orchestra, for all those young kids that are coming in that have that gap of not being able to play, for them to just bring them on board and take them under their wings,” Mann said.

The three students going to compete on May 30 are part of the “Akins String Trio.” Among the orchestra students, three of them have advanced to the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Competition, or TSSEC for short. Known as the “Akins String Trio”, these include Pedro Salas, Rommel Valecillo-Drews, and Lily Costilla.

Apart from performing with the “Akins String Trio”, Salas is preparing to also play his own violin solo as well. He says he practices in the mornings for around thirty minutes, all throughout lunch, and at home for about 2 hours. Sometimes he’ll practice for up to 3 hours a day.

“It’s tough, having to go through so much time,” he said. “But it pays off in the end. Just performing it is exhilarating, and I definitely feel proud and accomplished.”