From Film Scores to Test Scores, Mara Arredondo Does It All

By Staci Engman
Photos courtesy of Mara Arredondo & the Classical Music Institute

Viola player Mara Arredondo’s music career is varied and distinguished, and she’s only just begun. Her career has allowed her to traverse the country and perform with some of classical music’s biggest stars. Now in her third year with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra (EPSO), Mara’s looking forward to performing this season’s exciting repertoire and working for the first time with world-renowned, Grammy Award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey.

Mara’s also in her third year of teaching music in El Paso’s public schools and currently works at the Young Women’s STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy. She is a passionate and articulate champion of arts education.

Here’s what she had to say about music, STEAM education, her current work, and her future ambitions.

Q: Where are you from originally? How long have you been in El Paso?

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I moved away for 6 years to study music, then moved back in 2016.

Q: How did you get involved with music? When did you know it would be your career path?

I knew I wanted to get involved with music when I saw my mom playing her viola. I felt such an urgency and excitement to get my hands on an instrument! As soon as I got an instrument, I challenged myself to learn as many things as possible. I’d learn various movie score melodies by ear. Ever since, I just never thought twice about pursuing music for the rest of my life.

Q: Who were your music instructors?

I started viola lessons with my mom, and she switched me fairly quickly into Guillermo Quezada’s viola studio. I studied with him for 7 years. At Texas Tech University, I studied viola with Renee Skerik, Kimberly Sparr, and Annie Chalex-Boyle. Additionally, I studied chamber music with Jeffrey Lastrapes and Annie Chalex-Boyle. After my undergraduate degree, I went to the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and studied viola with Atar Arad, string pedagogy with Mimi Zweig, chamber music with Masumi Per Rostad, and orchestra repertoire with Edward Gazoleus.

Q: What is your role in the El Paso Symphony Orchestra (EPSO)?

I sit third chair, which is technically associate principal. In the case that the first two chairs are absent, I’d be principal. I sit together with my mom [fourth chair violist, Monica Arredondo] in the second stand.

Q: What are some of the high points of your work with the EPSO so far?

I think my favorite concert so far has been the music of John Williams. I’ve always been fascinated with film score, and have memorized so much of the music of composers such as Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Danny Elfman. It is a dream of mine to work as a session musician in California to record the soundtracks to the movies we love.
I’m also very excited for this 2018-2019 season with the symphony. We are playing really beautiful and intriguing pieces. Among one of those is my favorite cello concerto, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor. The second movement is absolutely gorgeous! Zuill Bailey will be performing the concerto in January.

Q: Who are some of the notable musicians you’ve worked with?

During my time in Lubbock, I won a spot with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra. Every two years they do a Gala concert where they bring in really big artists. I was lucky to be part of the Gala concert in September of 2013 with artist Yo-Yo Ma performing the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor. I also performed in a student chamber orchestra at Indiana University led by famous violinist Joshua Bell.

Q: Where else, beside El Paso, has your music career led you?

My music career has led me to various places such as Durango, Colorado; Baltimore, Maryland; New York, New York; San Antonio, Texas; Austin, Texas; Lubbock, Texas; Bloomington, Indiana.

Q: How long have you been teaching? Which schools have you worked for?

I am on my third year teaching. I started in elementary in Ysleta Independent School District for two years, then moved up to middle school and soon high school with the Young Women’s STEAM Research and Preparatory Academy in El Paso Independent School District.

Q: What is the importance of an arts education? What is its role in a STEAM education?

I could go on and on about the importance of arts education. It is something I am so deeply passionate about and hope that more people gain a better perspective on it. Learning a fine art teaches students skills that are transferable to all subject fields. They learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary for math and science. They learn communication and collaborative skills necessary for reading, writing, and social studies, and they learn the creativity necessary for all of the above. They learn to self-analyze their own work and the skills necessary to improve. They learn responsibility, dedication, ambition. They learn that it takes practice, motivation, and dedication to achieve anything. These are all real-world skills that can be applied in any subject field and are essential for success. Music and art are a science, they are mathematical, they are historical, they are a foreign language, and through the motions required to create art, are also defined as physical education. Additionally, an artist learns several social-emotional characteristics. They can identify beauty, sensitivity, compassion, excitement, understanding. I teach music to share all of these beautiful experiences with the minds of young and eager students.

Q: What are some of the high points of your teaching career so far?

As I am on my third year teaching, I have been able to witness my beginners that I had the last two years grow into talented and dedicated musicians that love music as much as I do. There is no reward greater than that!

Q: How would you introduce someone to classical music?

I like to use movie music to get kids excited about orchestra. I also like to use the famous pieces such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Additionally, I use videos from the 2Cellos, Time For Three, and The Piano Guys.

Q: Which composers, songs, and conductors would make a great starting point for learning about classical music?

Composers- Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky.
Conductors- Claudio Abbado, Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Leonard Bernstein.

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