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“Music should be fun!” Thoughts from iliana Rose, Nuestro Tiempo Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble’s New Leader

“Music should be fun!” Thoughts from iliana Rose, Nuestro Tiempo Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble’s New Leader

   We are thrilled to welcome iliana Rose as the new Director of our acclaimed newly introduced free, jazz education program, Nuestro Tiempo. Led by renowned Latin Jazz educators, Nuestro Tiempo students play repertoire in a Latin Jazz orchestra and learn fundamentals, Latin Jazz history and stage presence.  This is a unique opportunity for student musicians in grades 7-12 to study an exciting facet of jazz that combines the chords and improvisational techniques of traditional jazz with Latin instruments and rhythms.

Our new Director, iliana Rose, was born in Miami and is steeped in Cuban rhythms and culture. She graduated from the University of Miami and the National Piano Guild with performance degrees. She has worked with industry greats including Calixto Oviedo, Alain Perez, Pedro Calvo, Herman Olivera, Jimmy Branly, Richie Gajate Garcia, Munyungo Jackson, Walfredo Reyes Jr., Rene Camacho, Oskar Cartaya, Justo Almario, and Alberto Salas. She was the musical director of projects spanning multiple genres including: The Arsenio Rodriguez Project- a 12 piece band playing traditional Cuban music; Las Chikas- LA’s hottest all female salsa orchestra; opera singers Maximo Marcuso and Veronica Bell and Cuban theatrical singers Candi Sosa and Cristina Rebull. An international touring and recording artist, she composes music for films and arranges songs for bands of all sizes and genres, prompting her to create her publishing company “In Step Original Music.”

She took the time to talk about her musical journey.

Tell us about your musical roots.
I’m a first generation Cuban American and growing up I listened to all sorts of music. As a kid, I wanted to fit in. So, I listened to everything that was on the radio. But at home, there was always Cuban music and Latin music being played. I started playing piano when I was four years old…and it was very classical. When you play classical piano, it’s very much a solo endeavor. So, after a few years I got incredibly lonely, and I joined the middle school band. That changed my life completely because I got to play piano in the jazz band, but I also started to play wind instruments. I started to play the clarinet and the saxophone. I got introduced to jazz and to playing in in an ensemble. That was the first time I got goosebumps from music. I remember I was in sixth grade. We were playing a Bach piece, and that feeling of being connected to everyone in the room and the power of that harmony and the power of music. I couldn’t verbalize that in the moment, but I said, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to generate this feeling not just for myself, but for the audience.”

Which of your passions won out early in your career, teaching or performing?
I knew that I could be a rock star and teach, but I couldn’t be a band director and a rock star. So, I put the performing piece first. After college I said, “I’m going to California to be rich and famous.” I didn’t know anybody. I just I packed a couple of suitcases and moved to LA. My mom was horrified, but my parents were incredibly supportive.

How did the way you learn prepare you for dealing with students?
In Los Angeles, I was playing with a lot of salsa orchestras. Being Cuban American out there, I didn’t always know where I really fit in musically. So, because of that, I would overcompensate by being incredibly prepared. And my classical background really taught me a strong work ethic, because you had to play it. You couldn’t just wing it. You had to play it the exact way that Beethoven wrote it. I remember just practicing and practicing, sometimes five or six hours a day, just to get some of these tunes in my brain and to be able to play them perfectly. Whatever I lack in talent I make up for in work ethic. I know a lot of musicians who could just show up and they’re absolutely brilliant and they didn’t even open the book. I can’t do that. I need to sit with it. I need to absorb what is happening.

How does that translate to you being able to work with a range of students?
I can appreciate the individual way that people learn, because it didn’t come easy to me. I’ve learned to have patience with not just myself but with my students. Then it’s also a lot of fun to find creative ways, different ways, of teaching the same thing. Oftentimes I’ve had one band director say the same thing over and over and over again. Then some guest clinician walks in and says the same thing, but with a slightly different angle and all of a sudden it clicks. So, it’s a lot of fun for me to find a variety of ways of teaching the same thing.

What can students expect as you step into this new role in our program?
My philosophy is that music should be fun. That it should be a beautiful, positive experience and a way to help change the world. I’m all about creating a really loving space where we are free of judgment, where we can experiment, where we can grow musically.

What can parents expect?
My parents were band parents. They were very involved with my musical education. And since I’m now a parent, I know how much parents sacrifice – not only financially but just timewise driving your child to the place. So, I really appreciate not just the students and the effort that they put in on their own time in practicing the music, but it I really appreciate the parents as well. I’m all about good energy, and making it be a joyful experience for everyone.

It’s Latin music, and it’s supposed to be fun. It’s not Brahams or Mahler. I really think that part of the gift of music is it keeps us young because we get to connect to the energy of the world. Sound can be very healing. So, when we’re having fun and playing, there’s just nothing better than that.

Middle and high school student musicians with at least one year on their instruments are encouraged to audition for Nuestro Tiempo Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble. We are able to offer accepted student scholarships that cover the cost of participation, making this program free for all students. This program is made possible through special grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, Arts & Science Council, and NC Arts Council.
Please register to an audition at VAPA Center.

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