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Published: February 02, 2024

Lights, Cymbals, Action: UT Student Performs Under Pressure

Jillian Núñez ’25 squinted to find her conductor under the harsh stage lights’ glare and steadily breathed in rhythm.

Lights, Cymbals, Action: UT Student Performs Under PressureJillian Núñez and her UT bandmates; seniors Hannah Caraker and Charlie Bub and junior Garrett Owen at the 2024 Florida Intercollegiate Band during the Florida Music Educator's Conference. Photo provided by Jillian Núñez

Improvisation has never been Núñez’s style. But on this particular Friday in January, Núñez, a music education major, was asked by conductor Cynthia Turner twice to play extra parts in the statewide FMEA conference’s collegiate concert.

Núñez, along with three other UT students, participated in one of the largest music education professional development conferences, hosted every year in downtown Tampa. According to the Florida Music Education Association’s (FMEA) website, top musicians like Núñez have the opportunity to play in any of 250 clinic sessions and concerts and 23 all-state ensembles while at the conference.

The FMEA event works differently than most other statewide music education conferences. Instead of auditioning with scales, sight-reading and études, students fill out an application and then are recommended by their directors or teachers.

“Jill is one of those band members that you can always rely on,” said Brandon McDannald, director of bands, music education and horn.

“Every band director needs a percussionist that can help realize how the written parts get assigned and actually performed. She is that person. Jill also makes sure that our equipment moves happen as they should, as the percussion section has so many moving parts that other sections don’t.”

Núñez, who was an alternate last year, had no idea that she would be the cornerstone of the rhythm section, playing timpani and marimba. 

“When you're selected as an alternate, you don't get to perform, you're on standby. It's like in sports, on the bench. But this year, getting to go was really fun; I got way more out of it than I anticipated getting out of it,” she said.

For three months, Núñez rehearsed on UT’s state-of-the-art instruments that were lent to the conference, an advantage that non-UT students didn’t have, but Núñez would need.

McDannald commented that the band would not run without performers like Núñez. In the frenetic pace of the concert, his words rang true.

The 72-member band only had two and a half days to rehearse together before the concert. On the second day, the conductor pulled Núñez aside. 

“[On] my song off, they forgot to assign a part. So, I got music on Thursday for Friday.” Núñez said.

Núñez practiced over 24 hours of music as the clock counted down to the one-hour concert.

Then, eight hours before the concert, Núñez was pulled aside for the second time by the conductor, who asked Núñez to double a part on the timpani.

“We modified the part so that it was achievable to learn in that amount of time. But in that situation, I think, anybody would say, you just try. You at least just try— that’s just the professional thing to do.”

Finally, under the blinding glare of the Marriott ballroom’s lights, Núñez and the band performed the concert.

The band moved as one unit; the concert was a success.

With the pressure of the concert and the added music over, Núñez noted the benefits of handling unexpected pressure. 

“I think it really challenged my musicianship, getting all the music that late. I thought I knew what to expect. And it ended up being something that was entirely different,” Núñez said.

“But, I felt it really pushed me — which, at this point, I felt like I needed that. You need to graduate and send yourself out there to go be a professional. And in the music world, it definitely helps when you’re applying to places to say you’ve done things like that.”

Story by Lena Malpeli '25 

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