Making school history at Millsap High by earning All-State band honors in 2020 made Lexie Cheek feel triumphant.
So she did it all over again.
Cheek is Millsap’s first student to make All-State band twice. Last year, she and bass clarinet player Cayden Clark were the first to achieve the top honor.
Rising above hundreds of other students statewide to become one of the handful selected to All-State each year is what band students strive for.
“That drive is what we’re looking for with anybody — a football player, an English teacher or a musician,” said Millsap Band Director Jeff Johnson. “That’s what sets the All-State kids apart. They just will not quit until they accomplish that goal. It’s a constant drive forward.”
Cheek accomplished her difficult task by relentless practice, he said. Sometimes, he sees her walking down the school hallway playing air flute — practicing her fingering positions on a pretend flute.
“Lexi practices nonstop,” he said. “It’s always going through her head. It is so engrained in her.”
The work ethic displayed by Cheek is necessary to make All-State, Johnson said.
“It’s definitely a cutthroat competition,” he said. “If you don’t have [work ethic], there is not a chance for you at all. You have to be the best of the best and be able to consistently lay it down. A perfect performance.”
Cheek directs much of her success to Johnson. The band director arrived in Millsap five years ago when Cheek was in seventh grade and somewhat disillusioned with what she considered the band’s lack of focus and intensity.
Johnson set out to improve the program but struggled to motivate students initially, Cheek said.
“Nobody liked him at first,” she said. “I mean, I liked him, but nobody that wasn’t me liked him. It was a transition.”
Students warmed up to him before long, she said.
“People realized this guy is not here to hurt us,” she said. “He is here to make us better. We don’t always like the way he makes us better, but that’s his goal. Now, we all have a chill relationship with him.”
Johnson saw early on that Cheek was somebody who could excel individually and make the band better as a whole. He encouraged her to work harder.
“In junior high, she was definitely our best flute,” he said.
To achieve All-State, students must first qualify for All-Region and All-Area. Only 10 flutists earn All-State, and only one makes first chair.
Cheek auditioned for All-Region in eighth grade but didn’t advance. She worked harder but failed again in ninth grade.
She worked harder still.
As a sophomore, she not only made All-Region, she earned first chair, “which, to me, is just mind-blowing,” Johnson said. “She went from not even making All-Region band to going all the way up to first place at All-Regional level.”
Last year, Cheek made fourth chair All-State. Her heart is set on first chair this year.
The three girls who placed ahead of her in 2020 were seniors and no longer competing. Cheek has practiced harder than ever during the past year. She bought a better flute than the ones she had been borrowing from the school. In addition, she’s been taking private lessons from Jan Crisanti, the former principal flutist at Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for 35 years.
Auditions to determine chair order on the state level are held in February most years. The pandemic, however, delayed them until June. That leaves several months for Cheek to prepare for her big moment.
“It’s not easy, but that’s what makes it fun,” Cheek said. “If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s rewarding.”
After graduating high school in spring, she plans to attend the University of Missouri on scholarship and major in music. She wants to play flute professionally in a symphony orchestra one day.
“That’s the goal as of right now,” she said.
If that’s the goal, chances are good Cheek will accomplish it. In addition to being one of the top flutists in Texas schools, she is an A student, third in her senior class academically and president of Millsap’s Beta Club, a nonprofit youth organization that promotes academic achievement and community service.
She hopes earning All-State honors twice will show future Millsap band students what’s possible. Maybe, she said, they will think, “Well, she did it, and she’s from Millsap, so it’s not impossible. Maybe I can do it.”