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My passion in life is composing and sharing music. I'm a composer, classical guitarist, orchestral/choral conductor and organist. Below you can read more about some of my experiences, education and what I do in a question & answer format.
Q: You have many compositions. Tell us about your creativity.
A: When I was a child I wanted to be an artist and I used to draw a lot. I dreamed about being a painter. Then in my high school years, I discovered music. As I listened to classical music I noticed I could understand its language. Lacking scores to follow the music and play it, I wrote it down by ear and it was such a joy to do that. I always felt intuitively that my strongest area was creating, but I was very shy to do that. I overcame my shyness after I completed my musical studies, so now I write and share my music because through it I'd love to bring joy, love, compassion and healing. My music is very melodic, poetic, expressive and people love it for its beauty. I have awarded top prizes in hymn competitions and my compositions are performed by internationally acclaimed artists and ensembles. My sacred music, which consists of music for choir, organ, piano and guitar, cover all the church year. Many of my compositions can be heard in my Youtube channel. I have taught music analysis, counterpoint, harmony and music appreciation in several schools, including the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, the Conservatorio Nacional de Música of Santo Domingo, and the Instituto de Cultura y Arte. I studied composition with Tania León, Alice Parker and William Averitt, and counterpoint with the Dominican composer, Manuel Simó.
Q: The guitar seems to be your primary instrument. How's that so?
A: Yes. It is. I got in love with the guitar ever since my older brother brought one home. My friend Ney Collins taught me a couple of chords, then I taught myself to read the lessons of the "First Lessons for Guitar by Julio Sagreras." I finished that 1st book and then I applied to the National Conservatory of Music of Santo Domingo. At the same time I began taking guitar lessons I also began taking piano lessons and later I studied organ, so the guitar is my 1st instrument, organ the 2nd, and piano the 3rd.
Q: Tell us about your musical education.
A: I began my basic musical studies at the local Music Academy "Patria" in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic, which consisted only of two years of solfege or music singing/reading. Later I attended the Conservatorio Nacional de Música of Santo Domingo where I studied with guitar teachers Rafael Lagares and Luis Francisco Simó. At first it was a joy to attend that school. Let me give you an example of how much drive I had. I remember that on one of my class days, I heard in the news that there were strikes in Santo Domingo, but nothing would stop me from attending music lessons, which was one hour drive from my home. So I went and just before arriving to Santo Domingo, the bus driver decided to leave us far from the station because he saw police, tanks and military fighting people from the strikes. That didn't stop me and I walked with my guitar, returning only when people began telling that it was too dangerous to cross the bridge. Later I began to notice that my joy and drive didn't match that of most of my teachers. Only Rafael Lagares encouraged me a little and we played a few guitar duets in different places. I became disappointed with the system when the school closed for two years and I tried to find other school options. I found out that the Universidad Adventista Dominicana in Bonao, was beginning a music program with Rafael Chalas, who studied guitar in Puerto Rico. I registered, but I became very disappointed because I spent the first weeks there and I didn't receive any music classes at all. I throught it was a fraud scheme or something that was very irresponsible and I quickly left. I was speecheless when the school authorities told me not to tell anybody about what had happened. So I was unsucessful in finding another school and I lost two years of education. After classes resumed at the conservatory, I noticed again the lack of enthusiasm and then I decided to complete my musical studies in the USA. Against my father's wishes, I went to New York City and attended the most affordable school, Brooklyn College, and did my BM there. Luckily, it was at the most affordable school where I found my great teachers and encouragement. Sherman Van Solkema was my wonderful music theory teacher who showed me how to compose music from different periods. After I finished my BM I went to the University of Texas at Austin, but all the hardships I endured in NY to be able to study took a toll on me, and to make matters worse, I arrived in Texas with little money and a place to live for a few weeks only. A wonderful Mexican immigrant helped me get an affordable room in his apartment. I remember another Mexican roommate used to tell me his experiences as laborer in Texas, sleeping on trees, etc. I also began to read a lot of Hispanic writers at the Hispanic Library at the university, which was huge. Then after a year, I decided to go back to the DR and help a little by teaching the music students there. So I taught for about seven years there.
Q: How did your teaching career develop in the DR and how was your experience there?
A: I went back to the DR because I was promised a guitar teaching position at the National Conservatory of Music. As soon as I arrived, the Estudio Dina hired me as a guitar teacher. However, before classes started at the Conservatory of Music I had to clear a scheduling conflict between the Conservatory of Music and the Estudio Dina. The Estudio Dina wasn't flexible with the guitar schedule and its owner threatened to call the authorities at the Conservatory to convince them not to hire me. The director of the Conservatory wasn't flexible with the schedule either, so being a shy person, I ended up working at the Estudio Dina only. However, the following year an American classical guitarist gave a concert and masterclass at the Conservatory, I played for him and I was able to teach there because of his recommendation. I also taught at the Instituto de Cultura y Arte in Santiago, which was a great experience with very talented musicians, and at the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. Now I teach guitar at Randolph College and in my studio in Charlottesville, VA.
Q: What about your performing career?
A: I spent seven years teaching in the DR and my career developed slowly at first, as I had to open my way. There wasn't any tradition of solo performers offering regular concert tours in the different towns and provinces, so I traveled to many cities, introducing myself and offering guitar concerts. The 1st concert was at the Centro Cultural Dominico-Americano in Santiago and they believed me only after watching a video I left with them. After that, I managed to play often and I had some great and bad experiences doing that. In some places they treated me wonderfully, such as during a solo guitar concert at the Basilica de Higuey and others. In other places, they promised to cover travel expenses, but didn't. The worst experience I had was again at the Universidad Adventista Dominicana in Bonao. I had called the music teacher at that time, Maria Vera, to offer a guitar concert, but he insisted on me traveling from Santo Domingo to Bonao to talk about it in person. I arrived the day we agreed to meet, but I couldn't find him at all in the very small campus. People spread the word and finally he called me from his home which was on the university campus. I asked him where I had to meet him and he told me there was no need to meet as we could talk about the concert by phone. That was insane, but I opted to have faith. I arrived again the day of the concert and I couldn't find him again. People spread the word and he sent me a message that he couldn't organize the guitar concert, but that some students would help me to gather some people for the concert. My faith didn't pay off.
After a few years, my performing career began to develop and I was intrigued when I noticed a note on my studio door at the Conservatory of Music from the Acroarte (which organized the Premios Casandra, now Premios Soberano) asking me to bring some documents. I didn't know who they were. I ended up being nominated several times to those awards and won once. I have been invited to perform twice at the Ibero-Americano Guitar Festival in Washington DC, twice at the Eastern Shore Guitar Festival and Workshop in Maryland, at the Bethlehem Guitar Festival at Moravian College, and guitar festivals and competitions in the Dominican Republic, among others. I have performed two solo recitals at Carnegie Hall in NY; at El Teatro Nacional, El Teatro del Cibao, the National Conservatory of Music, the Universidad Autónoma and the Universidad Central del Este in the Dominican Republic; Bilkent University and Marmara University in Turkey; East Carolina University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, Pacific Union College, City College, Randolph College, Sweet Briar College, Brooklyn College, Mary Baldwin College, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and Shenandoah University in the USA, among others; plus many churches, TV and Radio stations throughout the USA, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Turkey, Venezuela, and Canada. I was the recipient to the highest classical music award (El Casandra, now known as El Soberano) in the Dominican Republic and I have organized seven guitar festivals in the Dominican Republic, where I have invited renowned guitarists. I organize the Charlottesville Classical Guitar Festival & Competition and the Charlottesville Classical Guitar Concert Series.
Q: Are you also a conductor?
A: Yes. I did a master's degree in orchestral conducting and did choral conducting studies, too. I have led the Filarmónica del Cibao, the Shenandoah University Symphony Orchestra, and the Sinfónica Juvenil "Juan Pablo Duarte". As a choral conductor, I have led the "National Police Choir", the Supreme Court of Justice Choir and I have been a section leader at the "National Choir", all in the Dominican Republic. I studied orchestral conducting with Jan Wagner, Jan Wnek, Fernando Geraldes and Scott Nelson; and choral conducting with Robert Shafer, and Steven Cooksey.
Q: Church music seems to be one of your strong areas, right?
A: I grew up with church music and I love it and it'll be always an important part of my life. I have worked in churches as organist and choir/music director since 1991. I have a graduate church music certificate from Shenandoah University, which is a 3-year summer program. Its program director, Dr. Steven Cooksey, was a great person and knowing that the 1st year I didn't have enough money to pay for the program, he took out his check book and wrote me a $500 check. Just like that. In this program I learned about the American Guild of Organists and its certification program. So now I have four of the five professional certifications that the AGO (American Guild of Organists) awards and a Doctorate of Sacred Music (non-accredited) from the Graduate Theological Foundation. I perform sacred music concerts in churches and I am the music director and organist at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. I studied organ with Frank Speller, Steven Cooksey, Dale Krider and David Norfrey.