Stories from our Fellows: Alex Aranzabal
How did you get started in classical music?
I started cello through my public elementary school, because in fourth grade they would let everyone choose an orchestra instrument. I didn’t think much of it; it was mostly because I was so terrible at sports. My parents were like, “If he can’t do sports, he has to do another extracurricular.”
I eventually got a private teacher at Manchester Community Music School, and I realized music was something I was passionate about. My teacher played part of the second Bach Cello Suite for me, which was something I hadn’t experienced before. I still think about it, because it was very moving.
What do you envision for yourself after high school?
I think I might just try to do it all: performing, teaching. I am hoping to stay at New England Conservatory and work with groups like Project STEP (String Training Education Program) and Boston BEAM. I want to be a part of those things because they have been so impactful in my life. My first summer camp was Sphinx Performance Academy at the Curtis Institute. Having my first camp be one where I was surrounded by BIPOC musicians was really powerful for me. I’d never seen it, and I’d never thought it was really possible.
What challenges have affected your music journey?
I’ve always been surrounded by white or Asian musicians, and constantly, my achievements have been attributed to my skin color. Like, acceptances at summer camps or scholarships are always attributed to my race, and oftentimes people will try to diminish what I do. I’ve experienced teachers saying things about my character, but it’s not actually based on my character, it’s based on how I look.
“The reason we play music is because it brings people together through love and connectivity. The only way we can do that is by expanding the music we play, expanding the repertoire, expanding the different kinds of people in the orchestras.”
How has participation in the Festival Orchestra helped you on your journey?
Being part of the National Pathways Festival Orchestra is … I don’t know if “culture shock” is the right word. It’s something unique that I don’t often get to experience: being surrounded by really talented BIPOC musicians. Our conductor last year, Lina González-Granados, is Latina. Brandon Leonard, who’s my friend, was sitting right next to me in the orchestra. He’s been in the Sphinx junior competition for years, and he’s been my biggest inspiration for a long time. It’s so cool that I get to sit next to him and play with him.
Seeing other BIPOC musicians who are doing amazingly well is super inspiring. You get the sense that this is possible and this is a thing that is celebrated. It gives you inspiration into why you should continue to work hard.
What are your hopes for the future of classical music (as an art form and an industry)?
A lot of people are scared of diversity in the arts because they think it will diminish traditional, Western music. Of course, that music is incredibly beautiful. But people are scared of pop music or other forms of music because they’re worried it will take away from the specialness of classical music.
I think the importance of music in society, and the reason we play music, is because it brings people together through love and connectivity. The only way we can do that is by expanding the music we play — with works by women, non-binary, and BIPOC composers — expanding the repertoire, expanding the different kinds of people in the orchestras. Diversity brings a lot of innovation and connects people even more.
Grade 12 at time of interview, February 2023
- National Pathways Festival Orchestra in 2022 & 2023
- New England Conservatory Preparatory School: Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, principal cello
- New England Conservatory Preparatory School: Chamber Music Intensive Performance Seminar (CHIPS)
- Sphinx Performance Academy
- Walnut Hill School for the Arts