Two Park City percussionists selected to prestigious ensemble
Musical talent runs through Portia Fernandez’s family, but she had never so much as picked up a drumstick until she decided to start playing percussion in seventh grade.
"I had a lot of friends in percussion and they said it was a lot of fun," she said. "I played trombone at the time, so I was already in band and decided it would be fun to switch because I like hitting things. I felt like it would be a good opportunity to try, then it just stuck with me."
She proved to be a natural. Two years later, Fernandez, a freshman at Treasure Mountain Junior High, is a member of one of the most prestigious percussion bands in the state. She, along with Joe Dinger, a sophomore at Park City High School, were recently accepted into the Honors Youth Percussion Ensemble (HYPE), an all-state level group put on by the University of Utah.
Fernandez said the audition, where she had to perform for Michael Sammons, a Utah professor who directs the ensemble, was so nerve wracking that her knees wobbled and she made mistakes in a piece she knew by heart.
Nonetheless, she returned home later that night to find that she had made a good enough impression to be selected.
"I was very excited," said Fernandez, the only freshman in the band. "My mom read the email first, then she came into my room and started freaking out. I was just shocked and couldn’t believe it."
Like Fernandez, Dinger was a freshman when he made HYPE last year. This year, he’s looking forward to playing a more complicated part in the piece the ensemble will perform. He is still one of the youngest players, but a year of growth has made him comfortable with his role.
"It’s much more work, but it’s also like, ‘OK, I got this,’" he said. "I know what I’m doing this year."
Bret Hughes, director of percussion for Park City High School, said it was a remarkable achievement for both Fernandez and Dinger to earn spots at such young ages in HYPE, which is typically filled with juniors and seniors. The chance to perform in the ensemble for their entire high school careers could give them a leg up if they choose to pursue music in college.
"It’s really cool for them," Hughes said. "My favorite part about it is two-fold: One, it’s great motivation for the two of them to continue what they’re doing. They were both already extremely hard workers, and this gives them another reason to continue that or even step it up to the next level. And being so young, they still have so much room to grow. For them now, they could realistically audition for music school a couple of years from now and have a pretty darn good chance of getting in. Some of the students who don’t audition for HYPE until they’re older, it might be a good experience but it might be a little too late for them to grow a lot."
Fernandez and Dinger agreed that being in HYPE offers a chance to improve drastically as musicians. They said playing alongside so many other talented percussionists is inspiring.
"I know that I’m definitely not better than a lot of the others who are absolutely fantastic musicians," Dinger said. "But no matter what you’re playing level is, they’re all really uplifting and nice and try to help you get better. It’s never negative, which is way cool."
Having two players selected to HYPE is also a good bellwether for Park City’s band program, in general. Hughes said Fernandez and Dinger serve as positive examples to the rest of the students coming up through the program.
"It’s incredible motivation for everyone else to see two of the younger students make the ensemble," he said. "It lets some of the younger students realize that it is an attainable goal and something they can aim for. And it also proves there’s something going right in this program and that we’re on the right path. It’s promising to know that talent is coming up through the program."
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