By Trishna Buch
The Texas City Independent School District’s Director Of Visual And Performing Arts, Joe Figarelli, has been with the school district since 2009. And it was around this time that the Texas City High School jazz band was started. Fast-forward nine years and the Swinging Stingaree Jazz Band is highly respected in the community. In fact, its members recently performed at a jazz festival at Sam Houston State University where they earned superior ratings from all of the judges. Along with the Swinging Stingaree Jazz Band, the La Marque High School also started its own jazz band—the Cougar Jazz Band—in January of this year. And Figarelli
told me that both bands, along with all of the Fine Arts programs at TCISD, “represent our school to the community.” He also spoke highly of Matthew Raines—the director of the TCHS band—and Daniel Quintana—the director of the
LMHS band—for the work they do with the students. As Director Of Visual And Performing Arts, Figarelli has numerous responsibilities. He told me that he, along with the principals, is in charge of hiring for the Fine Arts department. He is also in charge of aligning the curriculum, making sure the district’s expectations are met and is in charge of the entire Fine Arts department budget. Figarelli, who is TCISD’s first Fine Arts Director, has been involved with the Fine Arts professionally for 25 years, told me that he had always been interested in the
field. When he was in middle school he was in band, playing the trumpet and quickly became first chair. He continued his journey in high-school where he became an all-st ate trumpet player and played solo with the marching band, concert band, jazz band and mariachi band. “The love of music I gained by playing my trumpet, and being surrounded by great musicians and great teachers, inspired me to want to do this as a career.” He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration, earned a position as a Band Director at Harlingen, before joining TCISD in 2009.
He told me that the reason he decided to move from being a Band Director to a Director Of Visual And Performing Arts was because he wanted to “go a little further and help all the kids of all the Fine Arts programs.” He also spoke very highly about the TCISD Fine Arts program by discussing its exceptionality, the superior ratings every individual group receives and its community involvement. “The Fine Arts programs are the ambassadors of our schools and they represent us to the highest degree possible.” As per his position, Figarelli is in charge of all of the Fine Arts programs at TCISD which include: band, choir, art, theater and dance. However, because of the upcoming Jazz Festival and the fact that April is Jazz Month, I wanted to talk to him about the TCHS and LMHS jazz bands. Before going into detail, it’s important to understand how the TCISD band program works. Any student who is interested in playing an instrument is either a member of the concert band or the symphonic band. Figarelli told me that it is in the fifth or sixth grade, depending on whether the student is attending the Texas City schools or the La Marque schools, that they would decide which Fine Arts program they are interested in joining. Therefore, from a band perspective, the
students would have been playing the instrument for a few years before reaching the high school level. Once they reach high-school, the students can stay in either concert or symphonic band—depending on their skills—and can also join one of the many band extensions. These extensions include jazz band, mariachi band, indoor percussion, pep band and much more. Figarelli also told me that students can be a part of multiple extension bands and can also be in more than one Fine Arts program—art and band, for example—if their schedule allows for it. In keeping with this information, it should be no surprise that students who want to
join the Jazz Band must have had previous experience in playing an instrument. “Of course, there are exceptions,” Figarelli told me. “If the student is interested in playing an instrument that is not a typical band instrument, like the electric guitar, they just come in, audition for us and are then chosen to be a part of the Jazz band.” He told me that, along with these auditions, exceptions are also made for students new to the district. If a student is new to TCISD and therefore has not been a part of its band program from the fifth or sixth grade level, they can join the band and its extension programs if they have had previous experience playing
an instrument or if they go through an audition process.