For one North Bergen High School senior, music has always been both a passion and a work in progress.
Leonardo De Jesus began piano lessons as a child and learned other instruments in later years. He benefited from a musically competitive relationship with his older brother Miguel, who is now a musical director at a church. In fourth grade, the elder Miguel borrowed Leonardo’s clarinet so he could be in marching band in college.
“It’s always motivating competition,” said Leonardo.
Leonardo discovered marching band for himself when he was a freshman in high school. Then, former North Bergen High School alum Carmen Arrojo, along with his teachers, taught him how to play the xylophone and marimba, piano-like percussion instruments.
“I’ve learned to love [the marimba] more and more every day.” – Leonardo De Jesus
“I’ve learned to love [the marimba] more and more every day,” said Leonardo.
All of his hard work paid off last month when Leonardo was the fourth student in North Bergen High School history to make the All-State Band.
Making the audition
Leonardo performed the marimba solo “Yellow After the Rain,” by Mitchell Peters a few months ago in an audition for the North Jersey Region Band. He had to perform the song, different scales, and a sight reading for three judges who had their backs to him, in order to make sure judging was totally based on sound.
He made the audition and went on to perform four difficult pieces on the xylophone and marimba with students across the North Jersey region.
“It’s a reality check,” said Leonardo. “You think you’re the best from the school and then you go to one place where all the best are, and it is really eye-opening.”
Then he auditioned for the All-State Band, using the same solo as he did previously.
Back home, he found out he made it when his internet went down and asked a friend to check his e-mail.
After the friend told him he had made it, he woke up his parents and started “jumping around.”
Leonardo practiced a total of 24 hours with the best players in the state before their performance at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark on Feb. 20.
They performed a march by composer John Philip Sousa called “Semper Fidelis,” as well as “Song for Lindsay” and “Spoon River.”
And the beat goes on
Leonardo, who also performs drums in his own band with friends, will attend New Jersey City University next year as a music education major.
He would like to return to his alma mater after school to volunteer as a tech for marching band and give help to elementary and high school up-and-comers.
“I want to come back and do as much as possible because this place has done a lot for me,” said Leonardo.
Other than that, it’s “sleep, eat, practice, and school.”
Music District Supervisor George Haviland said that Leonardo may also help out with their summer music program.
“He basically is one of the most dedicated students I’ve had in the last 28 years,” said Haviland. “He practices very consistently, during school and after school. In the last week, he has offered to donate his services…I wish I had another 1,000 Leos.”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.