When Abel Ocañas picked out the euphonium to play in the sixth grade beginner band, he did so because it was one of the free instruments offered by his school to learn to play.
A euphonium - from the Greek "well sounding" - is an upright brass instrument that creates a sound somewhat between a trombone and a tuba. Also called a baritone, it has been referred to as the "cello of the brass family" by masters of the instrument.
"Music is something that I love to do and I enjoy," said Ocañas, who graduated from The University of Texas-Pan American in May 2012 with a degree in music education and hopes to become a high school band director.
Time, dedication and a passion for playing well on this "well sounding" instrument has Ocañas and seven of his fellow euphonium and tuba players at UTPA traveling to Linz, Austria in June to attend the 2012 International Tuba Euphonium Conference where they will perform with musicians from around the world. The UTPA Tuba Euphonium Ensemble was one of only seven collegiate tuba euphonium ensembles from the United States invited to perform.
In addition, the RGV Tuba Euphonium Quartet - comprising Ocañas and UTPA students George Sanchez (euphonium), Osvaldo Lopez (tuba) and Victor Rodriguez (tuba) - will compete in the finals of the ensemble competition at the conference. Selected through a competitive recording submission, the quartet will vie live against top student groups from some of the best music universities in the country and groups from England, France and Spain.
UTPA freshman Jesus Ruiz was also selected as a finalist in the Young Artist Tuba competition for students 19 years or younger and recent UTPA alumnus Saul Regalado, now a graduate student at UT Austin, advanced to the finals in the Artist Euphonium competition for students who have not yet gained a full time performance position.
Other UTPA students who will participate in the ensemble performance include Alexis Alba, Loida Guerrero, and Amy Guzman.
"The Tuba Euphonium Studio here at UTPA is really doing some remarkable stuff," said Dr. Scott Roeder, assistant professor of music who directs the groups. "I am always amazed at what these students have accomplished and am so proud of them for it."
Roeder will be an invited guest artist at the conference and perform the European premiere of "Sonata for Tuba" by Dr. Justin Writer, an assistant professor of music at UTPA.
Roeder said the international conference is held every two years and is the pinnacle event in the world for tuba and euphonium musicians. Those musicians advancing to the final rounds of the competitions come from some of the top music schools in the country, such as Indiana University, University of Michigan and Eastman School of Music, he said.
"Some of the other finalist ensembles are made up of graduate students at these top institutions. The fact that all the competitors from UTPA are undergraduates makes it all the more extraordinary," Roeder said.
To get to the final round of competition, the recording submission by the quartet was judged on quality of sound, execution of music, strength of ensemble and, most importantly, musical expression. The quartet members, all trained in Rio Grande Valley schools, had an advantage of playing together often in a local professional band.
"Rarely do I encounter any musicians that play together as much as these four. When you take that much performance time and put it with their individual abilities they have developed while studying music at UTPA, you get a group that gets to this level," Roeder said.
Roeder said the students worked extremely hard to raise the funds necessary for the trip and spent many hours of practice to prepare for the competition. Participation in competitions elevates the students' skills on their instruments and provides an opportunity for them to perform in front of and network with world-class educators, he said.
"These students will come back to UTPA and be an example of what is possible and hopefully inspire more students to reach for a higher level of musicianship," Roeder said.
Ocañas, who has never travelled abroad, called the trip a once in a lifetime experience. He described UTPA's music department as amazing and said he is grateful for the mentorship and motivation he has received from Roeder and other music educators he has studied under who have enabled him to be a successful performer and a musical ambassador for the University.
"Being able to represent our department and University overseas is extraordinary," said Ocañas. "I hope that the local community gains a better sense of the successes that our University music programs are having and ensuring continued support for future performances and events to come."