Tucker Vaeth, 17, has been playing marimba for three years and has been selected from more than 3,000 students to play in the U.S. Army All-American marching band.
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The students in band class with Tucker Vaeth will tell you he’s no ordinary high-schooler.
“Tucker’s special,” Kati Swanson said, echoing a sentiment shared by other students as they gathered in their teacher’s office before band class.
Vaeth, 17, is a senior at Clayton High School. On Tuesday, two representatives from the U.S. Army attended a special ceremony held just for him. They gave him a jacket he’ll wear in the marching band for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game on Jan. 5 in San Antonio.
“We weren’t surprised,” Swanson said.
Vaeth stands out not only because he can teach himself a song on the piano without looking at sheet music; he also plays an instrument that’s so big he can’t take it home.
“People who play trumpet can bring their instrument home,” Vaeth said. “Mine’s like seven feet long, it doesn’t work that way.”
Vaeth has been staying after school to practice the music he’ll play on the marimba at the bowl game. The marimba is set up like a piano. The musician uses mallets to strike the keys on it. For the size of the instrument, it has a rather gentle tone.
This is the second year in a row that a student from Clayton High School has been honored with a place in the bowl game’s marching band. Last year, Sydney Jones was chosen for the band’s color guard.
Tucker said he was inspired by Sydney. “I said to myself, ‘I want to do that next year,’” he said.
But he wasn’t sure it was possible. To earn the prestigious honor, students must be nominated in their junior year. They then send in an audition tape and compete against more than 3,000 other students from across the country to be among the 125 chosen.
Even Vaeth’s band teacher, John Pearson, said he wasn’t 100 percent certain that Vaeth would make it. “He’s very hardworking,” Pearson said. But he acknowledged the height of the challenge.
Pearson sat next to Vaeth on stage during the ceremony at Clayton High, looking like a proud parent. He was the one who first gave Vaeth the big news in July.
“I didn’t know what to say,” said Vaeth, reflecting on that phone call from Pearson. “I was elated.”
Vaeth’s mother, Dawn, said her son has a gift, but he has also devoted his life to music.
Ever since he received the sheet music for the songs he’ll playing at the bowl game, Vaeth has been spending extra time at school. He has to complete two video performances before he travels to San Antonio so the conductors can see that he’s been practicing.
“We just do the fine tuning when we get there,” Vaeth said. Vaeth has already been accepted to Western Carolina University, where he hopes to study music production.
“He’s soon going to try out for their music school,” said his mother. First, he has to fly across the country and perform.
“He’s never flown before,” Dawn Vaeth said.
Once he lands, Vaeth will spend five days rehearsing with the marching band. Three other students from the Triangle were chosen to play in the band. They are Samantha Gonzalez and Cliff Johnson of Smithfield-Selma High and Brian Holtshouser of Athens Drive High.
The game is scheduled to air at 1 p.m. Jan. 5 on NBC stations.