HERSCHER — By all measures, Gunnar Tejes is a well-rounded, talented and driven young man.
On a typical school day, the 15-year-old sophomore arrives at Herscher High School at 7:45 a.m. and doesn’t return home until 7 p.m. or later, devoting his time to extracurricular activities like marching band, scholastic bowl and the robotics team.
This year, he has taken on the role of directing his classmates to perform songs on the field as drum major for the HHS marching band.
He also has earned a spot in a marching band on a bigger scale.
Tejes has been accepted to play alto saxophone in the 300-piece Bands of America Honor Band as it marches in the 132nd Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif. The annual parade marks the start of the Rose Bowl Game.
“My family usually watches the parade every year, so it’s really going to be surreal to be able to be in there and watch recordings of it,” Tejes said.
The Bands of America Honor Band is part of the Music For All Foundation, which advocates for music education nationwide. The band has marched in the 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017 Rose Parade and aims to make history by including members from each of the 50 states in the 2021 parade, according to the BOA website.
“I took a while to audition because I didn’t know if I was going to get in,” Tejes said. “I didn’t want to risk getting told no, but I finally did it and I got lucky and got in.”
Those who know Tejes, including band director Karl Domalik, can vouch that it was more than luck that led to his acceptance.
“His work ethic, his practice ethic and his overall drive to want to do this definitely propelled him into that position to be able to join the Honor Band this year,” Domalik said.
}Tejes will have the opportunity not only to perform and march in the parade, but also to explore attractions in California like Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory.
What he’s looking forward to most, however, is the challenge of completing the 5-mile parade route.
“It’s a long parade, but I think it will be really cool to see everyone on the sides cheering us on while we’re marching through and also meeting all the people that I wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise,” Tejes said.
Tejes recalls sitting in his lunch period when he received a text from his parents saying that he had been accepted for the BOA Honor Band.
“I realized what they were talking about; I just didn’t think it was true,” he said. “So I checked my email and I saw it, and I kind of [thought] this isn’t real. I put my phone down, picked it back up, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is real.’”
At that point Tejes rushed to the music department to inform his band director.
“Personally, as a band director, I’m proud that [his effort] paid off for him,” Domalik said. “Not that there was ever any doubt, but it’s more so who knows what the competition might look like, how rigorous their application process might be.”
Tejes was the first HHS student to apply for the BOA Honor Band.
Domalik said students do not have to be perfect players to be accepted in the band, but they have to demonstrate that they are capable on their instruments. Moreover, the application process requires students to submit an essay and audition video.
Domalik said he hopes Tejes’ example shows other students that putting in the effort for an opportunity like this is worth it.
Tejes’ classmates congratulated him when they heard the news; some even treated him “like royalty.”
“Some of them said they were proud of me, which is really cool to hear,” Tejes said.
Tejes was drawn to the saxophone as early as fifth grade, but when he got to try out instruments at school, he chose the trombone.
“I thought [trombone] was easier,” he said. “It really wasn’t.”
But his parents picked up on his desire to play saxophone, so they surprised him with one as a gift for Christmas.
Tejes joined the jazz band in seventh and eighth grade and then the marching band when he got to high school.
“I started listening to a lot more music once I got to high school that included the saxophone, because marching band is my first passion, but jazz is a really close second,” he said. “Listening to a lot of really good saxophone players has got me to develop how I play and what I should sound like.”
To prepare for the Rose Parade, Tejes will have to memorize the parade tune and send in video playing tests along the way to determine where he will be placed in the band.
Tejes said he wants to be a high school or collegiate band director when he gets older, and he hopes his role as drum major and his part in the BOA Honor Band will be stepping stones.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but I know that the possibility and the opportunity of doing this is gonna outweigh any nerves that I’ll have,” he said. “I just need to play.”