College boy using jazz music to recover after nearly losing his life


From the day Rome was born, singing has surrounded her at home.

The Covington Middle School Jazz Band has a unique group of musicians with an eclectic group of students, including a teenage girl whose story of perseverance inspires those around her.

Jazz is sometimes difficult to describe for those who have never played it.

Arnie Yanez has been a percussionist most of his life, becoming addicted to jazz along the way.

As an alumnus of the University of Texas, he is now in his 27th year of teaching and is one of the group directors at Covington Middle School Fine Arts Academy.

“The articulation of jazz is very different,” Yanez said. “Kids need to feel the swing and split the rhythm into threes. They need to read and interpret the music differently.”

Yanez is now the manager of the jazz band, as his band performs at many festivals, concerts and for school.

“It’s very, very competitive to get into the jazz band,” Yanez said.

Anabelle Lujan is an eighth grade student in the trumpet section of the jazz band and comes from a family with several musicians. She said she loves the freedom that can come with jazz.

“You get more rhythm when you get into jazz,” Anabelle said.

Another eighth-grader who got into jazz later than most of these middle schoolers is Rome Henderson, who has lived in Austin all her life. From the day Rome was born, singing has surrounded her at home.

“I kind of grew up around him and then picked him up,” Rome said. “I was like, ‘Oh, I like this. Sounds good to me.'”

Rome has also always had something in her life from the day she was born – something missing.

“When I was born I had a hole in my heart,” Rome said. “They [the doctors] finally said, you will have a heart transplant.”

Growing up, Rome didn’t really notice too many heart or respiratory problems – until the middle of her seventh year during the holidays.

“I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe and went into heart failure,” Rome said. “I started saying, ‘I can’t do this. Mom, take me to the hospital.’

Rome went to the hospital to get that heart transplant she knew was inevitable.

What she didn’t realize was how long she would not only have to be in the hospital, but also unconscious.

“Honestly, I don’t remember being there that much because I was in an induced coma for a good part of it,” Rome said. “Then I slowly woke up and started the recovery process.”

Rome couldn’t just wake up and go back to normal life. With her new heart, she had to learn to walk, jump and just function. In addition to familiarizing herself with her breathing, Rome also had to rediscover something important to her: singing.

“I can barely speak, but I want to sing again,” Rome said. “I knew I had to make it happen.”

As Rome began to acclimatize to life, she sent a video of herself singing to one of her friends. While the video was playing on her friend’s phone, Yanez was in the room and heard something that piqued her interest.

“I heard some notes, and I heard a voice and I said, ‘Who is that? ‘” Yanez said. “‘What is that?’ I said, ‘Rome? Our Rome?'”

Rome was an involved college girl – playing the violin in the orchestra, dancing for the dance team and managing the football team, but not jazz.

“I called Rome’s mom and asked her if she would be interested,” Yanez said. “I could just tell that his singing style could work very well in jazz.”

“At first I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know,'” Rome said. “Thinking about it, I ended up getting addicted.”

While Rome acted like they had to think things through in their decision-making process, Yanez imagines their eighth-grade singer a little differently.

“She never once said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this? ‘” Yanez said. “It’s always, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.'”

Xavier Chapa is an eighth grader who plays in the percussion section of the jazz band and he echoed that sentiment from Yanez.

“It’s really special to have him in this group,” Xavier said. “She makes this band so much better.”

Anabelle Lujan plays trumpet for the jazz band, from a family of musicians like Rome. She said Rome’s perseverance is something that inspires her.

“She’s not afraid to be herself in any room,” Anabelle said. “She can brighten it up. She’s been through so much and then it’s nothing now.”

“When she came back, her energy was so different,” Yanez said. “There was so much more. Everything about her was…it was alive and vibrant. I was drawn to that, and I wanted that for my whole band.”

So now, just over a year after nearly losing his life, Rome has restored his singing voice and discovered a new musical genre in jazz. While it’s obviously a tough experience to go through — especially for a college kid — she’s grateful to have had music to help her through it all.

“Whenever hard times come up or whatever, that’s kind of what I want to do,” Rome said. “It’s really special for me.”

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Henry R. Wright