HOUSTON – Houston salutatorian Anthony Gonzalez was a member of the Mississippi Lions All-State Band that won the Lions International Band Championship last month in Italy.

Gonzalez – who graduated from Houston High School earlier this year, was chosen as second chair of eight musicians for the tuba section of the All-State Band.

His parents are Ana and Jorge Gonzalez of Houston.

It was his second consecutive year to be chosen, and he was a young man on the way up. Last year he was chosen sixth chair in the band, which won in international competition in Las Vegas, Nev.

Said Gonzalez’ teacher, Houston Band Director Eric Malone: “Being selected for the All-State Band is the highest achievement for a high school musician in the state of Mississippi.

“It was also quite an honor for Anthony to be chosen for this year’s band as well as last year’s band. He overcame a lot of pressure: In each case, he had only five or six minutes during auditions to show off all his years of training.”

It was the seventh consecutive time the band has won the international competition. Competition was deep and broad – some 125 bands from around the world completed. It’s estimated that 10,000 people saw part or all of the competition.

Competition was also intense for the right to be a member of the band.

Hundreds of students from across Mississippi completed for that privilege, and eventually, 145 were chosen. The band’s makeup also included a flag line and rifle line.

Gonzalez’ journey which ended in Italy actually began last August, when the audition materials were made available. Hours of practice led to November auditions, followed a week later with callbacks for a select group.

Those chosen met from June 23 to July 2 at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville to prepare for the competition.

The band, including staff and support staff, were divided into four groups which boarded four separate flights out of New Orleans Wednesday morning, July 3 – all bound for Milan, Italy, where they competed Saturday morning, July 6 in the Lions International Parade.

They returned to this country on Thursday, July 11, after visiting sites in Milan, Florence and Rome, Malone and Gonzalez said.

Asked what makes Gonzalez such an outstanding musician, Malone replied, “Discipline and dedication – he’s always working hard always working hard, always believing he could be better. That’s a good trait to have in music. He always makes time to practice, and he’s always willing to help others as well,” Malone said.

Those chosen to the band are responsible for paying their own way when it travels to international competition. Gonzalez helped defray the estimated $4,350 cost of the trip by setting up a gofundme account last year.

Area residents and businesses responded generously; the account raised about $500-600 toward the cost of the trip. The Houston Band Boosters and Houston Exchange Club helped out, along with other contributors, he said: “Donor Harry Dendy then gave $1,000, my church, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Houston, helped as well. Between all of them, I pretty well got what I needed.”

Earning a place in the Lions All-State Band was one of the major challenges of his life, he recalled this week.

“It took lots and lots of preparation months before the actual audition. It was really difficult, both due to the level of players and the caliber of the music. I’d come home from school and practice an hour or hour and a half a day. I had to prepare for the best, and also for the worst,” he said.

Part of the pressure on him also came from who he was representing, he said. “All of us auditioning felt we were representing something bigger than ourselves. I was representing my hometown and church and school and state, and all the people who helped me prepare for this.”

The biggest hurdles he had to overcome to get where he is was the constant drive of forcing himself to practice, even when he didn’t want to, and the stress of the auditions themselves, he recalled.

“I had to keep reminding myself of my goal, and how badly I wanted to reach it, and to not cut any corners,” he said.

“I’d walk into the practice room and see so many other good musicians. I had to work on not psyching myself out. I had to control my nerves and the anticipation of waiting for something to happen. I didn’t want to wreck before the audition even started.

“I had to focus on the music I had prepared to play, concentrate on what I sounded like as I was playing, and playing my best for the judges during the 5-8 minute audition,” he said.

Gonzalez plans to attend The University of Mississippi this fall. He’s earned enough money from scholarships – including one from the Lions – to be able to attend Ole Miss straight out. He’s undecided about a major, he said this week.

“I’m researching a couple different options. I’ve looked into their Modern Language department and some aspects of journalism. I’m going to list narrow things down and see what I enjoy most,” he said.

Whatever his choice, he knows the discipline and effort he put into becoming a All-State Band member are tools that will help him build a successful future.

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