I do not come from a family of musicians nor did I receive any specialized training in music aside from a few mandatory piano lessons at age 8 and even then, my mother used to bribe me with hot-dogs to get me to actually go to them. However, I was definitely born into a family with fine taste and an appreciation for a variety of music and styles. From my mother, I began to get acquainted with classical music and she would consistently play a variety of “Greatest Hits” compilations from various composers, which is where I think I got my love for approachable and catchy music. Among these CDs there was one of Edvard Grieg’s most well-known orchestral compositions to wake up my sister and I in the morning, beginning with Morning Mood, of course. From my father, a man with a huge smile and a charismatic personality, I discovered popular music. He would always come home with CD’s of world music that his friends would recommend to him and I have many early memories listening to music from Brazil, Rock, Salsa among many others. For the record, the very first song I remember liking, and the one that my mom recalls being the first song I ever asked to be played in the car was Roxanne by The Police. However, my Wonder Years where defined for my absolute love and devotion to The Beatles and if I were to credit anyone with sparking my joy for music and my interest in composition, it would have be them.
The date 09/09/09 would become significant to my career because it was the date in which The Beatles RockBand and it would change my life forever. Something that you have to know about me is that I have an obsessive personality. From a young age, I would go from being totally obsessed about dinosaurs, to being obsessed about The Godfather movies, then slasher films, then fish for some reason and then, finally, The Beatles. As I mentioned earlier, I began playing a little piano when I was 8 but nothing about it really sparked my interest but when a videogame about The Beatles’ music came out, I became completely enamored by it. I must have played those songs in repeat about a million times, always singing along with the plastic guitar or drum part. Naturally, after some time spent on it, I became bored with the game and remembered that I played an actual instrument, so I went back to the piano.
Now, the importance of the fact that the Beatles where so important to me would be very significant to my career for various reasons. Firstly, I would always admire the fact that Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote their own music and once I understood this, I knew that when I went back to playing real instruments that’s what I would always want to do. Secondly, the variety and richness of sounds, styles and genres that the Beatles explored with their music became something that I was determined to do as well, which is where I believe that my interest in writing music in various genres comes from.
I tried writing pop songs just like Billy Joel and The Beatles them for a little while but because of my classical music experience, coming from those neglected piano lesson years, I began to become interested in the capabilities of classically trained performers and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the other big influence for me. It is at this time that I started to become interested in Classical Music and I realized that my music was far better suited for that.
It was during the following years when I was in high school where I further devolved my interest in classical music. I enrolled for a pre-college degree in the Benémerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in my hometown to take more piano lessons and I met my first composition teacher. I distinctly remember arriving on the first day and have a fellow classmate introduce me to Chopin. I will always remember when I heard the famous nocturne in Eb major for the first time. It was during these years that I wrote my first meaningful composition, Jacarandas en el Suelo, which my family still insists to this day is the best piece I will ever write. For my last year in High School, I was surprisingly hired to write the music for a musical called Máscaras del Sinsentido which was about the life of Victor Frankly and his struggles during World War II. I wrote some good music for it and it was really good for me because it prompted my first Television interview at age 17.
Then, came by big break. For many years I had a Russian Piano teacher, a no-nonsense type of character who was obviously not particularly excited about me as a pianist and who would politely remind me that I should probably look into becoming a composer instead. I never get upset about it because she was absolutely correct and if it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in Juilliard. For three years she would consistently remind me about a annual composition competition that was happening in Mexico City, she would say that it was being run by one of Mexico’s top composers and that I should definitely think about applying. She was talking about the Arturo Márquez Composition Competition, one of the most prestigious in the country. The first time she brought it up, I was still getting started writing music so it didn’t seem like a good idea at the time. The second year, it sounded more attractive, but I figured that I should better prepare for next year when I was completely ready and when the third edition came along, I decided to finally stop procrastinating and go for it. It was my first orchestral competition and I knew it would be unlikely that I get it but, after a funny incident that you can read about in the “story time!” section of my website, I won, with a piece called Gran Fantasía & Fuga Latina “Talavera”.
Winning this competition once again symbolized a huge career turning point for me for two main reasons. It would become the very first time that I would get any academic validation that my music was good and, after scanning the members of the jury, I realized that one of the judges was renowned Mexican composer Samuel Zyman, a professor at The Juilliard School in New York. Needless to say, once I learnt this, I got very excited and did all I could to get in touch with him and, after some back and forth, he motivated me to audition for Juilliard. Winning this competition also helped me rethink the significance of Arturo Marquez’s Danzón Nº2 and it motivated me to pursue and continue his legacy with my own type of music that incorporates modern Latin dance rhythms.
Another key element to understand where I come from is to know that my cousins on my father’s side just happen to all become musicians in this generation. In my city, a program similar to Venezuela’s El Sistema opened its doors to Mexican children across México called Esperanza Azteca and all of the cousins my age became involved in it. Out of all my family members who participated, 5 cousins became professional musicians because of Esperanza Azteca and once I got into music, it drew us together too. So now it appears that I finally got the musician family that I wanted so much and we became closer than ever. One thing that distinguished them was that, at parties, they were all good dancers and I was always the odd-one-out that would sit in the corner and complain all the nigh away. After much bullying and some growing on my part, I decided to learn how to dance Latin music. I learned to dance Salsa, Cumbia and Bachata and it also changed my life immensely. I stopped being the angry kid in the corner to become the outgoing salsa dancer. This would of course reflect on my music and, upon winning the Arturo Márquez prize, I became even more motivated to work with Latin music. This was all thank to my cousin’s bullying.
Today, I am in my dream school and living in New York City and many things about me remain the same. I still love The Beatles and I am still an obsessive person. These days, I am much more interested in Latin fashion and you will very likely spot me walking around Central Park or at Juilliard sporting a variety of colorful guayaberas. The decision to start wearing them was a very conscious way for me to distinguish myself and to present my culture as exciting and full of energy and it has done wonders for me at Juilliard, where there is little presence of Latin Culture. I am very excited to say that many people are beginning to appreciate me for my work and also for the work I do and I couldn’t be more happy to say that my identity as a citizen of Latin America is a badge that I wear with honor and pride and I will use it to help make life and society become a little more enjoyable… and much spicier!