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10th Annual Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition (Updated)

Orpheus Guitar Trio–1st place winner in the elementary small ensemble division

Congratulations a million!!!


By John Kramer

To those who thought it was crazy to take a group of elementary students to a competition in Brownsville, Texas:  I agree with you.  It was a huge time commitment both in preparation and in driving, but worth it in every way.  More young guitar ensembles should consider going because it was a fun and memorable experience.  The Orpheus Guitar Trio, consisting of Fabio (9 years old), Ari (11 years old), and Teles (12 years old) won 1st place in the elementary small ensemble division at the 10th annual Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition.  The students also received a masterclass from UT Brownsville guitar instructor Dr. Jon Dotson and saw the acclaimed Los Romeros perform.  I really wish I had accomplished that much by that age!

The festival featured concerts by Isaac Bustos, Denis Azabagic, and Los Romeros in the absolutely stunning Arts Center at The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.  Small and large ensembles from around the country competed over 3 days in elementary, middle, high school, and college divisions.  The ensembles were all really incredible and raised the bar for what young guitar ensembles are capable of accomplishing.  McCallum High School and Fulmore Middle School from Austin won 1st prizes in their divisions, beating intensely talented competition from as far as California.

The Orpheus Guitar Trio played the pieces Hush You Bye (arr. by Matt Hinsley) and Valse Poeticos n.1 by Enrique Granados (arr. by Travis Marcum), both from  They were really impressive; especially considering one of the students joined the group less than 2 weeks earlier.  I conducted rehearsals at Orpheus Academy of Music and taught them to perform without a conductor.  My job as their coach was to provide them skills to play well together on their own.  A student would cue the beginning and ends of the pieces as well as any fermatas, ritardandos, repeats, or difficult entrances.  When it was time to perform I helped with the tuning and open the door to the stage for them, they did the rest.

Saturday was an ideal day—my students performed, I spent several hours on the beach, I watched Los Romeros perform, and the winners of the competition were announced.  I had never been to the Valley before, but had a joyful time in Brownsville.  The UTB/TSC campus was beautiful, and nearby downtown Brownsville was charming.  Every restaurant I ate at was delicious and inexpensive.  Almost everything was in Spanish, but the people were kind and patient enough that I functioned mostly in English with limited Spanish.  South Padre Island was about a 30-minute drive away and I went both Saturday and Sunday.  The beaches were nicer than the rest of the Gulf west of the Mississippi with clean white sand.  I was still in my swimsuit and covered in sand at the concert Saturday night where the competition results were announced.  All of the winning students were thrilled to hear their ensembles announced, including the students from Orpheus who spend the second half of the concert in a winning induced state of euphoria.

I made the 5-6 hour drive to Brownsville Friday afternoon taking the scenic route through Seguin.  I’ve lived in Austin my entire life and enjoyed driving through Texas as long as it’s not on the interstate.  It was a gorgeous drive with wildflowers and lush rolling grasslands through country.  I was accompanied by music from Austin bands, including the new album Alhambra by Mother Falcon and some EPs by the Marmalakes.  I listened to each several dozen times while occasionally tuning in to some local radio stations.  Coming back I stopped to get some fresh Valley oranges and grapefruits from a street vendor and then made the long trip home.

I’m now back in Austin finishing up my semester and preparing the trio for another potential performance at the Long Center.  Next year I’d definitely like to go back to Brownsville for the festival.  I hope to see the same group keep performing, improving and winning more prizes.  For Fabio, Ari, and Teles, what they experienced at the competition will be something to remember for the rest of their lives.  They are fortunate to have this kind of ensemble experience at a young age since it develops musicianship and will inspire them to continue performing in ensembles for life.  I foresee the same group competing for the middle and high school divisions years from now.


Click on the link below to see the video footage of their performance:


2 Responses to “10th Annual Brownsville Guitar Ensemble Festival and Competition (Updated)”

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  2. administrator says:

    Congratulations to the John and the Orpheus Guitar Trio! You guys are awesome! Sounds like you had a great time.

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