Today we can say that art in Latin America is no longer a monopoly of elites and that it has become a social right a right for all the people ... To sing and to play together means to intimately coexist. José Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema in 1975
Enriching Lives through Music (ELM for short) was founded in 2008 as a Pilot project by Jane Kramer Ph.D. when she received a one-year Time Out grant from Vassar College to “pursue a passion and/or take a risk.” The music school started with just 15 recorder students and has now grown to over 150 students, in classes such as chorus, orchestra, chamber music. In addition, ELM offers a parent music group and now an academic support program. As an intern in 2017-2018, I played the violin and viola alongside students, took inventory, and cleaned instruments. Currently, I serve as the academic support coordinator who pairs students and tutors together during this time of distance learning. In addition to working at ELM, I have been a summer string teacher for Valley Vibes youth orchestra in Sonoma, and a summer intern for the harmony program in NYC. Viviana Garcia for withitgirl May 2021
Tell us about yourself. Where were you born/raised? Heritage?
I grew up in Mill Valley, I lived in the same house all my life. Both of my parents are from Mexico and I am a first-generation student. I’m a junior at NYU.
When did you start playing music and what instruments? What does playing these instruments mean to you?
I began playing either piano or drums in elementary school. Growing up I was very interested in music-making, once I understood how music worked through various patterns, I was hooked, it was easy.
I began playing the violin in the 4th grade when they offered it as an extracurricular at school. By middle school I understood the patterns of string instruments as the teacher let me explore other instruments in the classroom, I soon understood how the viola and cello worked. I went back to the piano and it was easier now that I understood more about music and it felt easier to just sit and play. I then picked up a guitar my parents bought me on a family trip that went unused for many years and began to teach myself some chords. After that, it was very easy to transfer that to the ukulele. And suddenly within 3-4 years, I knew how to play 5 instruments well enough to begin offering private lessons to those younger than me locally.
For the longest time, I felt like I wasn’t that good of a singer and chose to “hide” behind all the instruments I play. Therefore when I was younger these instruments were my voice, I always chose to play instead of sing. Every time I was happy or sad I would turn to the violin (the instrument that comes easiest to me) and just play, it was how I expressed my emotions. (today I understand why instruments were my voice and my self-expression and it is one of the many things that makes music so powerful and so important for younger students)
Today the largest thing playing music means to me is community. I have met so many amazing people that have shaped my life through playing music with them. Music brings us together through a universal language.
Is there anything you would like to share about your family life or culture that informed your passion for music?
Neither of my parents are musicians but they really enjoy listening to music, so ever since I was little I would always listen to music in the car or from the radio in the bathroom in the morning. Before I developed my own tastes in music (i.e discovered Hannah Montana on the tv and radio Disney, then my friends showing me Alice radio) I knew that I would listen to Timbiriche in my mom's car, and Guns and Roses and Shania Twain in my dad's car. Once I began getting into classical music the radio in the bathroom was always set to KDFC and my dad would turn it on every morning.
My parents have always been supportive of my musical explorations. They always worked really hard to set aside enough money for private lessons and instrument upgrades. They are both very passionate about their jobs which taught me how to be passionate about my job and always work for what I believed in. I’m very thankful for them for always making sure I have everything I need to succeed.
Tells us more about the other side of playing classical music that most people don't know about. You referenced it being very physical.
Composers from the last several hundred years have left us with many classical compositions that we still play today. (I don’t know if this is something many people don't know about but,) Some may think that their manuscripts and transcriptions are highly detailed instructions for exactly how the piece should be played. Now some composers do this, but more often their manuscripts and transcriptions are merely blueprints that the musician can interpret in their own way. Changing the length of a note or a dynamic can bring so much life into a piece. This is something a robot or computer can’t do, it can certainly preserve and play millions of classical works the way that they were written, but only a musician can bring it to life.
In addition, performing is very physical, there are so many moving parts between each of your hands and fingers, to the strength of your core all while you are trying to mentally process the music a few seconds ahead of what you are currently playing in order to perform everything accurately.
What is it like teaching younger students about classical music? Challenges?
When I introduce younger students to classical music I like to find tunes that they will most likely recognize when they listen to a recording of the piece. This is so I can take a melody that they already know and teach them about the composer, and the story of the piece so they can put a well-known melody living inside their head into context.
The piece that sparked my interest in classical music was Spring from the 4 Seasons by Vivaldi. I had stumbled on it through a youtube recommendation and when I heard the melody I immediately recognized it and was so excited to learn that there are about 40 minutes more to it. I went out and bought the score and started following along with the captions Vivaldi wrote in the music while listening to the piece. This is when I realized that music can paint a landscape and tell a story, and since then I've started listening to more classical music.
How is learning to play classical music changing the social make-up of musicians?
Playing in an orchestra is really just community music-making, almost 100 musicians come together to play the same piece at the same time, to bring the little black lines dots on the paper to life.
How has playing music “getting into the music zone” helped other areas of your life?
One time, my private teacher took me rock climbing, and the planning and focus involved reminded me a lot of music. The apprehension before beginning for me was the same for both. Also, the orchestra has many parallels to sports.
When I was little, I played soccer. The ball is the melody, and it gets passed around the orchestra. In terms of violin playing, When you kick the ball, you wholeheartedly commit to that motion, and you have to follow through. Focus and structure are all important between the two activities. Thinking ahead to the next move.
I used to horseback ride for a few years during the summer at a camp I went to in Maine, and I started making a lot of connections between violin playing and horseback riding. You have to constantly be paying attention to every part of your body while being relaxed and focusing on where you are going next. You can't lose focus or get stressed otherwise you fall (I've taken a couple of falls)
What does switching between different genres of music feel like?
It can be a relaxing experience to switch from an intense classical piece to something pop. Each genre has its own feeling. It feels good to debrief my practicing frustrations by playing something easy and familiar. But the idea of genres can be overrated.
You spoke about improvisation - could you expand on that?
When I was in high school I started trying to play the music that I listened to daily by ear. I would put my favorite playlist on shuffle and with one earbud in my right ear and my violin on my left shoulder I would noodle around to find the key the piece was in, then start to try to play the melody and eventually improvise a harmony. After doing this for a few years alone in my bedroom, I now enjoy jamming with my friends.
What continues to inspire you, and what change do you hope to see/create?
I hope to make music accessible for all. I really admire the El Sistema model of making music free for everyone and using music to create and strengthen a community. In addition, I have worked with students with disabilities, making music adaptive and inclusive for students of all abilities. In the perfect world, I hope to see music accessible to everyone everywhere, independent of ability and financial circumstances. I hope to focus my work on meeting this goal. I hope to do everything I can to make this dream a reality.
Are there any womxn musicians that you admire or have influenced you? Classical, Folk, Rock? And why? Are there any younger ones on your radar?
The two things I look from the most in the female pop artists are how personal their music is to them and the community they bring together.
Taylor Swift is a female artist I admire greatly. She uses songwriting to express her experiences and emotions and always does everything she can to make sure her music is as personal as possible (especially now with her re-records). I am so amazed by how she sells out the largest stadiums in the country multiple nights in a row. I always get so emotional when I think about how many people gather to see one person. This one person created a community that can come together to sing all the words to their songs and dance with each other.
Every time I’m at a concert I almost cry when I see everyone hold their lights up and wave them back and forth. Because the venue is dark during the concert you have no idea how many people you are surrounded by until you look around to see thousands of little lights and each one being exactly one audience member.
Billie Eilish is a younger artist that is definitely on everyone’s radar.
Billie alongside her brother Fin.. has done an incredible job taking her pain and turning it into something beautiful and relatable, she uses music to express her pain and the amount of people that resonate with it are looking to her as an idol. She brings the importance of mental health forward with her music.
What does GIRLHOOD mean to you?
Girlhood means women helping each other, hyping each other up, always being there for each other, and open with each other.
Check out some of Viviana's Favorite Tunes:
El Sistema Program: Wikipedia
Ted Talk: José Antonio Abreu founded El Sistema in 1975
Elm Program: Marin County, California
Heart of Marin’s Volunteer of the Year- Viviana Garcia with Kate Fitzsimmons Marin IJ
Additional Photo/Video Credits:
First Video: 8 by Billie Eilish. Performed from Dublin, Ireland.
Collage 1: left Viviana with Drums 2005. right Viviana with Piano 2002.