Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Big Squeeze" Finals Coming Up With Two Valley Natives‏

Josue Garcia.
 On April 3, Texas Folklife announced the finalists for this season's "Big Squeeze" accordion contest. In the Conjunto (Norteño, Tejano and Conjunto music) category, four were chosen and two happened to be from the Rio Grande Valley.

Raul Resendez is a 14-year-old accordionist and is currently attending La Joya High School. Residing in Palmview, he's been picking at the accordion for three years.

"Most of my life I have been listening to conjunto music," Resendez said. "Most of my family is Hispanic, so it runs through my family roots."

One of his key inspirations has been accordionist Beto Zapata from Grupo Pesado.

"I love the way the guy plays," Resendez said. "I always wanted to learn how to play like that. He got me interested in playing the accordion."

While Resendez learned the accordion on his own, he received guidance from his abuelo Ignacio Resendez.

"He gave me advice to play better and lose my nervousness of playing in front of an audience," Resendez said.

In the conjunto program at La Joya High School, he's also been helped by instructor Cecilio "Chilo" Garza, formely of Los Kasinos.

La Feria High School student Josue Garcia is 15 years old, and has been playing the accordion for the past three years. Growing up in La Feria, he was surrounded by conjunto music.

"It was always about conjunto," Garcia said. "We would go to parties, we were in the car, we were at the house, there was always conjunto. At first, I'm not going to lie, I wasn't a big fan of it. Because it wasn't 'in'. But after a while, it just became a part of me."

When asked if there was one specific person that got him interested in conjunto music, he pointed to his brother Benito.

"I'd always hear him (playing music)," Garcia said. "I just picked (the accordion) up from there."

Garcia is self-taught but credits accordionists Jose Luis Chavez, Joe Sanchez of Los Angeles del Sur and Juan Antonio Tapia with mentoring him.

"They are all great friends to me," Garcia said. "Anything that I am playing, they make sure to guide me in the right direction or give me tips."

Resendez and Garcia performed at the "Big Squeeze" Showcases in La Joya High School and Los Fresnos High School, respectively. Both said they weren't nervous that day.

"I have to say they were all great musicians," Garcia said of those who auditioned. "I guess, in the end, I came out as one of the lucky ones."

These two Valley natives will compete for the grand prize with Brandon Betancourt, 17, from Houston, and Rito Peña, 16, from San Antonio, at the "Big Squeeze" Finals on April 25 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. In the Polka (German, Czech and Polish music) class, the three contestants who advanced are: Brandon Hoddle, 20, from Holland; Rebecca Huck, 21, from Harker Heights; and Chris Trojacek, 20, from Ennis. For Zydeco (Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music), the three nominees are: Donovan Bourque, 14, from Beaumont; Chloe Johnson, age 14, from Moscow; and Elizabeth Kelley, age 16, from Port Neches.

The three champions that will be crowned, one per category, will be awarded with a brand-new Hohner accordion, a cash prize, and career-advancing opportunities.

Both of these young prodigies are eager to make the trip to Austin later this month.

"I've been counting the days, but it seems like each day is going by slower and slower," Garcia said.

Resendez added, "I'm really excited, I've been waiting for a big chance like this."

Raul Resendez.

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