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Highlands trombonist tapped for Macy's Day Parade

Highlands Macy's Day Parade PlayerHighlands junior Benjamin Mendez has a lot to be thankful for this year. The trombone player in the Mighty Owls marching band is on his way to New York City tomorrow to begin rehearsals for the Macy’s Great American Marching Band, an All-Star band with top musicians from all over the country tapped to march in the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving. Mendez is the first musician from SAISD to have earned this distinction.


After a relatively late virtual audition in September, Mendez found out he got in. He had only a few weeks to gather the money for travel and lodging in New York for the week of rehearsals and performance, a price tag of more than $2,000 for lodging alone, not to mention the hefty price tag of a last-minute flight to New York over Thanksgiving. It definitely caught Ben’s family off guard.


That’s when the SAISD Familia stepped in. Responding to a fundraiser with the SAISD Foundation, Ben’s extended “family,” near and far, including a large number of Highlands Owls alumni, rallied together to help make sure he could represent the district at the iconic parade, raising the needed funds in just a couple of weeks.


“Words are not enough to describe the gratitude,” Mendez said. “I am beyond grateful to everyone who was able to chip in the funds necessary for this opportunity.”


It’s the latest in a series of serendipitous moments in Mendez’s life that brought him to this point. He got his start in music in a band class at Forbes Academy, a placement that would change his life.


That’s where he first picked up the trombone.


“I chose to play the trombone in middle school, not knowing it was the hardest instrument, and I kind of got the hang of it,” Mendez said. “Throughout my middle school years, I was the only trombone. That put a lot of pressure on me to get better. The things you can do with the slide make it really a fun instrument to play.”


He continued with band in high school, and has really enjoyed the transition into high school and the marching component band at that level provides. 


“In middle school it’s more concerts and once you get to high school it’s much more than just sitting down and playing an instrument,” Mendez said. “Having the upperclassmen there to guide me on the way to the path I am right now was really a magical experience. It lit the flame that is my passion for music, and it has gotten me to realize that what I want to do in the future is study music and go into music performance or theory.”


Mendez found out about the Macy’s opportunity from Highlands band director David Torch, who is new to the campus this year. Mendez, the band president, had to submit videos of both a marching sample and a music sample to the Macy's Great American Marching Band as a virtual audition. Auditions for the 185 musician parts were accepted on a rolling basis starting in January. 


He submitted his materials in September. A week later, he was notified he got the part.


“I wasn’t going to be a downer if I didn’t get it,” Mendez said. “Auditioning is a process in itself. Luckily, I got the part. I’ll be representing where I grew up and live.”


Torch said he couldn’t be more excited for Mendez and the opportunity afforded to him by the generosity of the SAISD community.


“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Torch said. “That’s why we are so grateful that the SAISD Foundation and its donors really helped make a dream come true for Ben.”


This story has been updated.


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