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Two Marble Falls HS jazz band musicians earn top region spots

ROUND ROCK — Two Marble Falls High School jazz band musicians have earned top chairs in the Texas Music Educators Association Region 26 High School Jazz Band.

Senior Austin Hill made second-chair alto saxophone while junior Kyle Lavka earned the bass guitar spot in the band. 

The event was held Sept. 20 at  Stony Point High School. 

“I’m very proud of the hard work put in by these young men to earn a spot in a premiere band of jazz musicians,” said high school jazz band director David Langford. “It took many hours of practice to get that far.” 

In order to audition for the region band, both players had to prepare three musical selections in addition to being able to improvise a solo, Langford said. The musical selections included a swing-style piece, a balance-style piece and a Latin or “funk” style piece, he added. 

Both players agreed the audition material was pretty tough.

“It’s just fast with some random notes that come out of nowhere,” Lavka said of the bass guitar music.

Hill agreed the tempo was difficult, but so was the solo part of the audition. 

“The improv part was a bit tricky because it’s still pretty new to me,” said Hill, who has been playing saxophone since sixth grade and playing in the jazz band for two years. Hill has only been working on improvisation for a couple of months. 

Improvisation can prove very challenging, Hill said.

“With improv, you create your own solo while you’re playing,” he added.

This was the first year either student tried out for the jazz band. 

“I decided it’s my senior year and it was the only competition that I hadn’t tried before, so I thought I would give it a shot,” Hill said. 

Lavka decided to test his guitar-playing abilities. 

“I needed something to challenge me,” he said. 

Even with hours of practice, most people would still be nervous about auditioning in a room with five different judges. However, that wasn’t the case with either player.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Lavka said. “I just thought of it as practicing my music with other people there.”

Performing their auditions with other contestants in the same room proved to be an advantage for Hill. 

Both musicians went through a “blind” audition where the judges sit behind a curtain or divider, Langford said. They don’t know who the player is or where he came from. 

“I knew I was one of the better players in the room,” Hill said. “It wasn’t as intimidating because the judges were behind a curtain.”

When the results from the auditions were posted, both players were surprised. 

“I was relieved because I wasn’t sure that I played well enough to make the band,” said Lavka, who first picked up a bass guitar when he was 10 years old. “I’m hoping I make (state jazz band).”

After finding out that they made the region jazz band, both Hill and Lavka had to make a recording of their music to send in. Judges will listen to the recordings submitted from the other regions in the state of Texas. From there, the judges will pick who makes the State Jazz Band. 

“There are 28 regions in Texas with 18 or 19 people in each region jazz band. For the All-State Jazz Band, they only take two alto saxophones and one bass guitar player,” Langford said. 

Students who make the All-State Jazz Band will be notified in November, Langford said. In February, they will travel to San Antonio where they will participate in a clinic and perform a concert with an internationally famous jazz musician at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention. The convention will be attended by music teachers and educators numbering more than 20,000.

“It’s a big honor to perform at this convention,” Langford said. 

Based on their recordings, both players feel they have a decent shot at making the state jazz band. 

“I did a lot better in the recording for state than I did for the region audition,” Lavka said. 

Hill credited the atmosphere of the recording room.

“It was a lot more relaxed,” Hill said. “It was just me and the recording folks in the room. They used a really high-tech recording system to get a perfect recording to send in. I thought I did a lot better also.” 

While they wait to find out whether they made the state band, both players will prepare for the region jazz band clinic Nov. 17 and the jazz band concert on Nov. 18, both of which will take place at Georgetown High School. 

Regardless of whether either player makes the state band, Langford is pleased with the accomplishments by both Hill and Lavka. 

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Langford said. “Both of these young men are in rarified company.”