Top Army musician to mentor BISD choir students

By Gary Long
The Brownsville Herald

News story photo
Photo credit: U.S. Army Field Band
Capt. Pena returns to his hometown in Texas to work with Brownsville Independent School District students, Oct. 22-23, as they prepare for upcoming All-Region Chorus auditions.
The conductor of the U.S. Army Soldiers’ Chorus, along with a cadre of supporting musicians, will be in Brownsville today [Oct. 22] and Saturday to work with Brownsville Independent School District music students as they prepare for upcoming All-Region Chorus auditions.

U.S. Army Capt. Leonel A. Peña’s return to the Rio Grande Valley comes at the urging of Hanna High School choir director Gene Holkup, who was choir director at McAllen Memorial High School when Peña was a student there.

Peña, also the associate bandmaster of the U.S. Army Field Band, is an Edinburg native and the youngest person and first Hispanic to serve as a U.S. Army Band conductor.

"My principal purpose was to show our kids from the Valley that they can go on and achieve something great in music at the national level, which is what Capt. Peña has done," Dennis Pitcock, BISD supervisor of choral music, said of bringing Peña here.

As part of the program, two all-city choirs will perform in a special free concert at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Arts Center on the Fort Brown Campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College.

Laura Farnell, a nationally recognized composer from Arlington, will guest conduct the 110-member all-city middle school choir. Peña will conduct the all-city high school choir, which is 90 members strong. Rehearsals and clinics are scheduled today and Saturday.

Peña is bringing with him the U.S. Army MedCom Band out of Fort Sam Houston to provide brass and percussion accompaniment. The choir will perform John Rotter’s "Gloria," a multimedia work that includes horns and drums.

Pitcock thanked Arts Center director Dan Barnard for making the facility available to BISD after a last-minute cancellation. The state-of-the-art performance hall has been booked solid virtually since opening in January.

High school students who are participating have successfully auditioned for the All-District Chorus, and are preparing for All-Region Chorus auditions and subsequently, Texas All-State Choir auditions.

Pitcock said having the events in Brownsville is a plus.

"The TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) district and regional choir concerts are always in Donna and unfortunately, many of our parents are unable to go," Pitcock said. "This time we’ll be able to feature those kids locally."

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