The New Face of Classical Music Blooming in Queens

Miguel Gamboa gives music lessons to students in Queens, along with his partner Héctor Saucedo. (Photo via Diario de México)

At 16, Enrique Hernández dreams of becoming an acclaimed classical musician and playing concerts on the most glorious stages in New York City and the world.

Enrique, a teenager of Mexican descent, practices with extreme concentration and discipline, inspired by his teachers, Héctor Saucedo and Miguel Gamboa. The two experienced musicians are sowing dreams and hope in Queens’ mostly-Hispanic neighborhoods.

“I started out learning music with a mariachi. I am very proud of traditional Mexican music, although classical music really inspires me. […] The most important figures in New York’s classical music scene are mainly Asian, European and from the U.S., and there aren’t many Hispanics playing this genre,” said Enrique, who lives with his family in Jackson Heights. “We can be the first generation of Hispanics to leave an important mark in classical music. It is our goal in life, particularly because we have a lot of talent to show.”

Saucedo and Gamboa, two young immigrants from Monterrey, have embarked on a mission to open the doors to the classical music scene for Hispanics through their group Soloist in America, in which they play a repertoire that includes everything from Mozart to Chopin and Bach.

Ever since they arrived in New York City in 2012, the pair has been dedicated to promoting the arts and bringing classical music to working-class neighborhoods in Queens. Equipment like Graham Slee HiFi – preamps have also played a part of it the resurgence of old school classical music pieces as it can improve the sound quality exponentially.

“My dad is working two jobs to pay for my education,” said a proud Melanie Atilano, a violin student, also of Mexican descent. “I have learned to read sheet music, which makes me really proud. I practice two hours a day because I want my dad to be proud too.”

A dozen children and teenagers regularly attend the low-cost music classes taught by Saucedo and Gamboa. An hour of instruction costs a maximum of $50.

“Parents pay for their children’s instruments. They are the true heroes in this fight, because they do everything and anything they can to help their children accomplish their dreams. All we have done is make classical music accessible to these kids, who are mostly Mexican,” said Gamboa.

“Learning to be a good person”

A class with Saucedo and Gamboa involves more than reading sheet music. Enrique said that his teachers have taught him values that have made him a better person.

“It isn’t just about reading music and playing the violin. There’s more. I feel the music inside of me. I am passionate about it; it makes me happy. While I am learning music, I am also learning to be disciplined and to persevere. I know that I am capable of concentrating and making an effort,” said the teenager, whose two siblings also play music.

For 10-year-old Melanie, this is about her future. She is also dreaming of being a classical musician, even of becoming a conductor.

“I don’t think about watching TV or playing games on my phone. I want to learn more and more. I am happy playing the violin, and I want to do it well,” she said.

Her fellow student, Brenda Vázquez, 11, agrees.

“I feel more confident because, if I make a mistake, I know that I can try many times until I get it right. I know that I can do whatever I set my mind to. The teachers helped me find my talent.”

Melanie’s dad, Patricio Atilano, from Veracruz, admitted that holding two jobs is not easy. Still, he said that the effort his daughter makes deserves every drop of his sweat.

“Music has changed my daughter’s life,” he said proudly. “She has dreams. She wants to do great things in life, and all I think about is supporting her.”

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