LOS FRESNOS — The eighth annual Big Squeeze competition made its way to the Rio Grande Valley this Saturday, introducing another round of talent.
It’s not grapefruits these contestants were squeezing, but rather, accordions. The event took place in the Los Fresnos High School Auditorium.
“Young people are empowered by music,” said Ronnie Rodriguez, principal of the school.
The competition consists of performers all under the age of 21 representing the next generation of local accordion artists.
“These are young people who are from the area,” Rodriguez said, “and they have so much talent.”
Although contestants came from all over the Valley, several LFHS students were involved with the event.
“We are very proud of our accordion program here,” said Rodriguez.
The school started an accordion class, offered as an elective for students.
“About three years ago, Juan Longoria Jr. walked in here for a job interview,” Rodriguez said. “During our meeting, I asked him what was in the black box next to him, when he took out his accordion and started playing for me.”
Longoria was an aid in the theater arts department when he helped to establish the first ever accordion course for LFHS.
“The program has really grown,” said Rodriguez, “and it’s important to encourage this beautiful music because it is such a strong part of our culture here.”
Longoria is a role model for the students and helps lead the program under the music department’s mariachi division. Aside from teaching students, Longoria is well known for a title he obtained a few years ago.
In 2007, Longoria impressed audiences with his own artistic talents and became the first person ever to win the popular Big Squeeze Contest.
“My wife and I are very proud of him,” said his father, Juan. “My son won first place when he competed in Houston, which is when he received his award and a cash prize.”
“My other son, Federico ‘Freddy’ Longoria, is accompanying a few of the contestants tonight,” he said.
Federico played alongside 11-year-old Leonardo Duenez from Canales Elementary in Brownsville and Los Fresnos High School’s very own sophomore student, Jose Gonzalez.
“Jose is a really good player,” said audience member Monique, also a student from LFHS. “There are a lot of really good players out there, so we came to cheer him on.”
The Texas Folklife organization representatives have organized the competitions in an effort to showcase young accordionists in their local community. Participating contestants from across the state played tunes of the polka, zydeco and conjunto genres.
“For many of our competitors up here tonight, this is their largest crowd,” said the Big Squeeze master of ceremonies, “so we thank you for being so welcoming to them.” The MC continued, “This is our second to last showcase for 2014, so if you know anyone 21 and under who can play, let them know to sign up.” She stated, “We are trying to continue the conjunto tradition through younger generations, and in the Rio Grande Valley, it is strongly greeted and supported.” The Texas Folklife representative continued, “We are very proud to be here presenting this newer generation of conjunto players.”
Rodriguez. Said, “Being a part of and performing the music is a team effort and a really good experience for the students.”
The school has been involved in countless efforts to provide students with the opportunity to build their self-esteem, character and grow intellectuality through the art of music. With programs such as the chorus, band and mariachi club already in effect, many students are able to find their strengths and talents. LFHS has, however, opened new doors to students who never realized a hidden talent for the art of the accordion.
“It is a beautiful form of music,” Rodriguez said, “and we must continue to keep the tradition alive.”
Contestant Juan Duenez made it to the finals held last year in Austin and competed again this year for another shot at the winning title. All participants following Saturday’s event vied for a chance into the next round of auditions to be held in San Antonio on April 4th.
After that, the finalists will be announced on April the 11th. They will compete at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin again on April 26th.
The final competitions will also serve as a concert for attendees.
Curtis Poullard and the Creole Zydeco band will be in the performance line-up. Grammy Award winner Sunnny Sauceda, The Fabulous Polkasonics and 2013 Big Squeeze Champion Michael Ramos will also be performing.
The master of ceremonies continued, “This is the eighth year we do this, and three out of seven of the good standing contenders came from the Rio Grande Valley.” South Texas is home to many talented musicians, and support of the accordion art will continue to grow as younger generations are encouraged to pursue the music.
As the prominent musician Lawrence Welk once said, “I knew nothing of the real life of a musician, but I seemed to see myself standing in front of great crowds of people, playing my accordion.”
It is with great excitement that the Texas Folklife foundation, along with supporters such as LFHS accordion students, continues to introduce the community to young musicians and their accordions. Many people believe music to be the universal language, and local conjunto lovers will continue to introduce the art of the accordion as a growing phenomenon among the younger generations.