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Celebrating heritage: Band marching to new, Latino beat in Bridgeport

By Austin Jackson | Published Wednesday, October 17, 2018
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Beat of Their Own Drum

BEAT OF THEIR OWN DRUM – Members of the Bridgeport marching band including Nohemi Lara, Vivianna Galicia, Nadia Arriaga, Yaritza Delacerda, Lizeth Olmos, and Mersedes Martinez show off the masks they will wear during their Dia De Los Muertos performances. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A good ear is an essential instrument for musicians. To make a beautiful sound they must know what it sounds like.

When Jesse Speer took the Bridgeport band director job late this summer, he turned his ear to the students.

He saw their faces, heard their desires, and began teaching a style of music that he personally had never taught.

“I listened,” the educator in his 11th year said.

Soon, the band began shifting it’s tune.

This year at football games, district-wide pep rallies, and band performances, the Bridgeport band has been showcasing a new, Latino-influenced sound.

Speer said the new sound embraces and celebrates the heritage of a large part of the Bridgeport student body.

More than 50 percent of Bridgeport’s student body is Hispanic, according to the 2017 Texas Academic Performance Report .

For many of the students, it means the world to play the music they grew up with.

Bull Pride

BULL PRIDE – Bridgeport color guard members Vivianna Galicia, Nohemi Lara, Yaritza Delacerda, Mersedes Martinez, Nadia Arriaga and Lizeth Olmos dress wear their customes ahead of the band’s contest in Ponder. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“This is more than just a marching band show for them. This is their heritage. This is a part of who they are,” Speer said. “Allowing them to express that has been amazing to watch. They’ve been falling in love with it. It helps them fall in love with the program. It helps them fall in love with who they are.”

The band played songs inspired by the Disney/Pixar movie “CoCo” this weekend in Ponder for their regionals competition. They featured a Dia De Los Muertos theme, donning masks as they hope to secure a superior rating.

“We started looking at different Latin music that we thought could tell a story,” Speer said. “We wanted to honor and celebrate the culture. But it also allows us to be entertaining for the crowd and the students. That’s a big step for Bridgeport. To add some energy and excitement to what we’re doing.”

Speer said when his two drum majors heard his plans, they were thrilled, and ever since he’s pushed forward with the new theme.

“There’s an opportunity in band where students get to learn a new language, music,” Speer said. “Not many parts of the world are fortunate enough to live in a country that values music. Here at Bridgeport, we have great facilities and we get the opportunity to let kids foster that love for music.”

Sebastian Brown, a Bridgeport senior and band leader, said in previous years the band didn’t dispay this kind of energy.

“For him to bring the Latin feel, for me, it’s amazing,” Brown said. “Me being half-hispanic, it’s something I can relate to. It’s something I know and I’m really about.”

The band is expected to grow from 60 students this year to 100 by next year.

While Speer said the music has helped Hispanic students embrace their heritage, band students who didn’t grow up in a Hispanic household have embraced playing the new songs.

“As far as I’ve heard it’s never been done here before,” Holli Birdsong said. “I love it. And when you go to college and advanced band, it’s good to learn latin-style music and to honor those people. They’re a part of our country. Whether you appreciate it or not, they’re there. So I think it was a really good thing they brought it in.”

“Our old show wasn’t as entertaining as this one, so we have a better chance of advancing,” she added.

While Speer has turned a keen ear to the band, so has the band to the football players and athletes.

Brown said last year, football players asked if they could play the Florida State Seminole War Chant during games. He said they weren’t allowed to play the chant in previous years, but this year, they’ve added it to their Friday night repertoire.

“We’re more engaged,” Brown said. “We’re more engaged with the students and with the football team. The football players love it. It’s a team effort.”

“It’s what they want so we give it to them,” Birdsong added.

Speer has also added a mariachi band, where he and students are learning to play instruments like the guitarron. He hopes to expand on jazz band and advanced classes in the coming years.

If everything goes to plan, Speer hopes to capitalize on the new school-wide excitement behind the band.

“I have a vision,” Speer said. “When I got here it was the perfect storm, the perfect fit.”

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