Lights, books and music highlighted the second day of the Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) held at The University of Texas-Pan American March 2.
FESTIBA was designed to encourage literacy and broaden the cultural awareness of South Texas through numerous mediums - books, poetry, drama, dance, music, art, and much more - while also recognizing the talented arts and humanities faculty and students at UTPA.
After hearing Rice read one of his stories and answer a multitude of questions, Shannon Cerda, an eighth grade student at Chavez Middle School in La Joya, said she was surprised to find Rice very entertaining and that she learned something new about writing.
"I learned that you can write about anything, like from the past or your childhood. I always thought you had to make stuff up," she said. "I always wanted to be a writer, now I want to even more."
Rice, a Valley native, published "Crazy Loco" in April 2001, which was awarded the "Best Books for Young Readers Award" in 2001 from the American Library Association. His first book was "Give the Pig a Chance." Rice said in working with GEAR UP for the past seven years, he has visited almost every Valley school and discussed with students not only literature but the importance of going to college and the possibilities of becoming a writer.
"You (students) need to see people in the flesh. It's one thing to read their material but you've got to see that they are real people, that they are just like you - funny, warm, whatever. Without that, the literature itself doesn't sell it," he said. "Kids need to see the visual, so I'm just part of the tool."
Rice said the Valley has a lot to offer - writers, culture, stories and history - and was glad to see the University take a leadership role in developing much-needed events like FESTIBA.
Watching over the program's authors while at FESTIBA and their visits to a large number of Valley elementary schools was Clay Smith, the Texas Book Festival's literary director. Smith said the Texas Book Festival, held in Austin each fall, features 200 of the country's best authors and draws 40,000 people over the two-day event. However, he found FESTIBA a perfect match for the Texas Book Festival's goal of pursuing more outreach activities to high school and middle school students.
"One of the great things that I have noticed at UTPA is the sort of outreach that you have to the elementary, middle and high schools in the area. You are actually involved in bringing those kids to campus. That's something I haven't seen at other universities in the state," he said.
Smith said the long-term effects of initiatives like the Author! Author! Program and other outreach efforts to students are significant.
"If you get kids interested early on then there is a greater chance that they will continue to be learners and actually contribute to society," he said.
More than 500 GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness in Undergraduate Programs) students attended a dazzling multimedia light and music show at the Student Union Theater where they clapped and cheered to show their enthusiasm for the performance.
Dr. Salma Ghanem, chair of the communication department, said the event was organized to enlighten young students about exciting jobs.
"There are a lot of career opportunities in the arts and humanities," Ghanem said. "This is one of those opportunities and it shows that art can blend with science."
Developed by students at The University of Texas at Austin, the light show offered a half-hour of visual effects and music from movies such as, "The Matrix," "Beetlejuice," "The Lion King," and "Flash Gordon" and "Dinosaurs," among others.
Dylan Henderson, a graduate student at UT Austin, who is studying lighting design, said he hoped students would learn to appreciate and love what he does.
"We hope to inspire them and intrigue them so they will be interested in pursuing higher education and pursuing the arts," Henderson said.
"We try to find pieces of music that are dynamic, that have a great range and that are high and low," Henderson said. "Those kinds of pieces give us more variation in the music and are more exciting for the audience."
Henderson said students who pursue this field can go on to exciting jobs in the Broadway musical industry, as well as work on lighting for dance, concerts, conventions, cruise ships, and architecture.
Megan Cisneros, an eighth grade GEAR UP student from Alamo Middle School, said she had a favorite out of the seven different music/light show pieces presented to students at several different shows scheduled throughout the day in the Student Union.
"I loved the piece that they did about 'Roxanne' from (the movie) 'Moulin Rouge' because of all the lights, the light settings, and the moods. It really portrays it the way the movie did," she said.
Also as part of FESTIBA, Valley middle and high school mariachi groups had an opportunity to enhance their musical skills with instruction from several members of the international group, Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jóse Hernández, and UTPA's own award-winning mariachi.
During the all-day workshop the students were given music books and participated in mini-sessions where they were given tips on how to improve their skills on the guitarron, violin, voice, trumpets and much more. To conclude the day, the middle and high school students will square off in a competition and concert where they will showcase their talents and styles later today.
For Dominga Andrea Garza, a junior from Roma High School and a member of the Mariachi Nuevo Santander, attending today's workshop was a learning experience for her as she mastered a new song - "Mi Tierra Jalisciense" - and learned some valuable advice on playing her instrument, the violin.
"I am very thankful and honored that I was instructed by these musicians. I learned to improve my violin skills and how to interact with instructors," Garza said.
Garza, who has been playing mariachi music since the age of four, said when she graduates high school she plans to continue playing the music she grew up with at UTPA as a member of its mariachi group.
"My brother and sister are coming to UTPA and are music majors, so it is sort of a family tradition for us," Garza said.
The 17-member Mariachi Nuevo Santander were the winners of the FESTIBA Musical 2006 mariachi competition in the high school category, and will be defending their title against groups such as Valley View and Edinburg at 6 p.m. at the Fine Arts Auditorium.
The Texas Book Festival Author! Author! Program will continue during FESTIBA Community Day March 3. The authors will read from 9 a.m.-noon at the UTPA Quad, and 1-3 p.m. at the Student Union Theater. The multimedia light and music show will have performances starting at 11 a.m. at the Student Union. The free event is open to South Texas residents and will also offer musical and dance concerts, plays, workshops, exhibits, readings from authors, campus tours, and much more.
For a complete schedule of FESTIBA Community Day, visit http://www.coah.utpa.edu/Festiba/festiba.html