Sailing the seas solo
October 28, 2022
The soloists stand aside and watch the band perform the last chord in the Alma Mater. As the band marches to page one, the props scurry to their dot. Playing through portions of their music, the soloists get their microphones checked before the announcer presents the show. With little time to march and get into position, the four soloists take their spots. The drum majors start counting off and, before they have a chance to catch their breath, the journey through “Odyssey FM” begins.
The 2022 marching show, “Odyssey FM,” features four soloists: junior Aayan Patel and seniors Ryan Kaiser, Malik Hamza and Joseph Miller. Some have had solos in the past and some are new to this opportunity. From a pirate-jig opener to a jazzy ballad, the soloists must steer the band in the right direction.
Patel performs the first featured solo and sets the tone for the rest of the band to continue. He plays both the soprano and alto saxophone and was a part of the saxophone ensemble featured in the 2021 marching band show, “Penstriped.” This year, he’s front and center.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun, and it’s a huge honor to be a soloist,” Patel said. “[I’ve had] a lot of support from other band members, [and it’s] really exciting in general to be a part of being a soloist. It’s really cool to shape the solo into something I want.”
Patel also takes on a leadership role as a “squad leader” in the saxophone section and is the Health Occupations Students of America treasurer. He is also a member of the “Plexus Quartet,” the gold medalists in the 49th Annual Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and the 2022 Annual Coltman Chamber Music Competition. They’ve also won the Houston Underground Saxophone Competition.
“We’ve traveled around the United States and throughout Texas competing in various competitions,” Patel said. “We rehearse once or twice a week, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Last year, Patel played in a saxophone octet, but this year he’s been given the opportunity as a soloist to feature his musicianship, which allows him to be more assertive.
“It’s definitely taught me how to take more charge and control of what I want to put out [into the world,]” Patel said. “[I] have to play; [I] can’t back down from it. It’s more of just taking charge and getting out there.”
For younger musicians who want to put themselves out there as well, Aayan has advice for those individuals based on his own high school experience.
“Try to have a goal in mind and don’t stop until you get there,” Patel said. “Figure out what it takes to get there and do it. Don’t quit if you don’t see results at first, because I didn’t see results at first, but it just took hours to really get there.”
Having played the flute for six years, Kaiser was chosen to perform her first marching band solo this year. She decided to play the piccolo as well before a solo was announced in the opener. Kaiser said the experience has been really cool.
“It’s really nerve racking, but it does feel good at the same time knowing I get recognition,” Kaiser said. “I’ve worked really hard to get my solo to sound good. I get pretty nervous before [I perform,] but once I’m up on the prop and about to play, I feel fine.”
Kaiser auditioned for the All-State band last year and made it on flute. She is the principal player in the flute section and is a member of the Student Leadership Team in band. From middle school to high school, band has given Kaiser a lot of opportunities.
“I’ve developed really good friendships and strong close relationships throughout the years, and that’s one reason I like being in band: for the social aspect,” Kaiser said. “I also love getting better at my instrument. I really like playing the flute and piccolo — it’s fun for me. I’ve learned responsibility and how I have to take accountability, especially since I’m a soloist now [and] have a big role in the program.”
This year Kaiser’s solo in the opener features a pirate-themed melody. Overall, this experience has allowed her to contribute more to the program, she said. Taking accountability in band has transferred to her everyday life as she seeks to take these skills to college.
“I feel like I’ve grown as a person from being in band,” Kaiser said. “It’s helping me learn responsibility, so when I get to college, I’ll take more accountability of things.”
Once the boat stops moving, time stops, and Kaiser is able to hop along the deck for her solo. As soon as her feet hit the blue floor, it’s show time and Kaiser’s nerves are able to relax. She said she’s felt pressured in this role, but over time, those feelings have gone away.
“I’m kind of put on the spot, so I get to demonstrate what I’ve worked on in a way and that’s helped me grow,” Kaiser said. “[The opportunity] has made me work harder toward it because I know that everyone hears me, so I’m under a lot of pressure for that reason. I’ve been more hardworking [because] I don’t get an option to slack off on that type of thing.”
This year Miller opens the ballad with a dream. He’s always wanted the opportunity to perform a flugelhorn solo, he said, and was ecstatic to hear about the possibility of one in this year’s ballad. Although he primarily plays the trumpet, this solo allows him to play a more unknown instrument.
“I heard from [assistant director Brock] Alsaffar that there might be a flugelhorn solo somewhere in the show, and I was super excited because I’ve always wanted a flugelhorn solo,” Miller said. “It was really a struggle at first because it was hard to stay in time with the pit and everything going on. It’s hard to play the entire opener then go up and play a really soft [and] slow jazzy solo.”
Miller was a part of a trumpet trio in last year’s show. His experience was different as he learned to adjust to working as a team with the two other members, he said. The trio included him and band alumni Eloy Trevino and David Vazquez.
“It was much different than this [year] because having two other people and not really being the one that’s heard is definitely different,” Miller said. “I didn’t have to worry so much.”
A big influence for Miller has been head band director Andy Sealy. Sealy has been a role model for Miller as he continues to pursue his love for music and the trumpet.
“Mr. Sealy’s definitely a role model [for me] because just seeing that [band] is his entire life, this is all he does,” Miller said. “The fact that he gave me the opportunity to play the solo really means something to me.”
He plans on pursuing trumpet performance in the future and his dream school is the Cleveland Institute of Music. He auditioned for Greater Youth Dallas Organization last year and is now the principal trumpet player. He also auditioned and qualified for the All-State band and orchestra last year, making third in the state and second chair in the All-State orchestra.
“I don’t really know [why I decided to pursue music,] Miller said. “I think there’s just a certain feeling [I] get hearing music or playing music, it’s hard to describe the feeling.”
As Miller graduates, he hopes to leave an impact on his peers.
“I want people to hear my name and be like ‘wow he was the best,’ or ‘one of the best trumpet players to ever come through here,” Miller said. “‘He was just a chill dude who loved playing trumpet.’”
After performing a solo last year in the 2021 marching show “Penstriped,” this opportunity is not new to Hamza. His experience so far has been very fun, he said.
“I remember how much I would shake the first few weeks of having to play [last year’s] solo, and I was terrified of the idea of doing it in front of a crowd of people at an event like BOA San Antonio,” Hamza said. “But ultimately, I’ve gotten through that pressure, and it doesn’t bother me that much anymore.”
Hamza is a part of the Greater Dallas Youth Organization’s Philharmonic group and the Hebron Trombone Octet. He made the All-State band sophomore year during COVID-19, when there were no rankings, and placed 10th in the state junior year.
“[Making the All-State band] was life changing to be honest,” Hamza said. “It was a four-day trip of just making music with some of the best [high school] musicians in the state. And I got to play my favorite piece of all time, ‘Feste Romane.’”
Being given the opportunity to perform a solo this year has helped Hamza become a bolder and more outgoing individual, he said.
“I find it not very difficult to reach out to people or say how I’m really feeling because I’m not afraid of this sort of scrutiny,” Hamza said. “I have messed up while my microphone is on before [and] I’ve cracked notes before in performance, but I just brush that off and I move on.”
There’s a lot of responsibilities Hamza must bear as a soloist, he said. He must stay consistent, dedicate extra hours of preparation and give the audience a convincing performance.
“I have to be consistent, and I have to spend extra time and effort on the [marching] music than a normal person in marching band would have,” Hamza said. “I’m also under a spotlight more, which is why I have to be consistent.”
Hamza plans to major in music and is applying to eight colleges. As he experiences his last year of high school, he said he wants to leave an impact on fellow musicians because music has given him a lot of great opportunities he has today.
“Music helps me express myself,” Hamza said. “I feel like there’s only so much you can say with words, but music really resonates with me. It makes me feel [like] it’s what I need to pursue. It helps me be who I am.”