Cardinal drum major enjoys grand senior year

Benjamin Jaso, 18, has enjoyed his senior year as drum major for the Harlingen High School Marching Band. (Travis Whitehead/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN – He missed out on marching band last year because of COVID-19.

But Benjamin Jaso, 18, has more than made up for it this year.

Benjamin, a senior at Harlingen High School, was technically in band last year, but he did everything in cyberspace to avoid infection from the dreaded virus. He spent long hours practicing his tenor saxophone in the safety of his home, missing dearly the camaraderie of classmates and teachers and anxiously awaiting the day he could rejoin them.

His perseverance during the long anxious hours of practice paid off superbly.

Benjamin was this year’s drum major for the Cardinal band, which qualified for the UIL Marching Band State Championships.

The band accomplished this first by making first division in October at the 78th Annual Pigskin Jubilee Marching Contest and then the area competition.

They followed their UIL success with a trip in December to Chicago for the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference.

Not a bad comeback, but Benjamin has been playing for a long time.

“I’ve been playing sax since sixth grade,” Jaso said. “I started in La Feria, and then I moved here in seventh grade to Memorial Middle School and that’s where my playing really took off. I really got the best education I could get.”

So strong and disciplined was his dedication to the instrument that COVID-19 couldn’t dissuade him from his practice during the lockdown.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

Being socially distant from everyone – and in fact isolated during his practice – he couldn’t draw from the energy of his fellow players. In fact, many music programs throughout the state closed down. While the Harlingen music program went virtual, though, that didn’t mean it stopped.

Quite the contrary, actually.

“What separates us from them is that we kept going no matter the circumstances,” he said.

The district’s music department set up platforms through which students could perform for their instructors online.

Cardinal Band instructor Maria Coronado has herself explained in previous interviews how she was able to observe and listen to her students from her office or other locations.

Jaso delivered strong commendations to school administrators and music educators for their quick improvisation in creating ways for students to stay in practice and keep up with their studies.

“We made sure we were safe while we were doing it,” he said. “We made sure that the momentum of our band program kept on going.”

And so it happened that Jaso enjoyed a fine senior year, which included performing as drum major with the Cardinal band throughout South Texas.

“We went to a lot of competitions all across South Texas, and we qualified for Pigskin. We did very well, and we qualified for area. And we just kept on stacking all these different competitions, and then we qualified for the state level,” he said. “Since we are from the Valley, we were competing with a lot of other amazing bands. Just being able to compete at the state level was such a big honor, especially me being drum major. I got to meet a lot of bands, a lot of drum majors, and I made a lot of connections.”

He also enjoyed his trip to the windy city of Chicago in December for the Clinic.

“It was very cold, but it was very fun,” he said. “We got to experience a lot of clinics, a lot of bands, other bands and orchestras that were invited. We performed with a pretty decent group. I was a little bit nervous because we were performing in front of teachers and other educators, but it was a really fun concert.”

Interestingly, he plans to study chemistry at UTRGV with the goal of becoming a teacher.

“I’ve always been an advocate for teaching,” he said. “You change people’s lives, just like my music educators changed not only how I play as a musician but also how I interact with people, how I got to meet these incredible people in my life. Teaching is a virtue.”

But he plans to keep up with his saxophone. He’s getting ready to purchase his own tenor sax and keep composing his own music.

Yes, he does that too.