Arts4All Blog

Get to Know Quinteto Latino

Posted March 12th, 2018  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA presents Quinteto Latino on Saturday, March 17, 7:30pm at Tateuchi Hall. Quinteto Latino, a Bay Area wind quintet, builds community through Latino classical music. Featuring flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn, this unique ensemble expands the boundaries of classical music tradition by performing works exclusively by Latino composers. Learn more about Quinteto Latino and their mission.


Photo Credit: Jovanni Casaus, Photography By Jovanni

Armando Castellano, French Horn & Director of Quinteto Latino

Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into music?

I started playing the trumpet in the 4th grade. I wanted to play the flute, but my dad wanted me to play in a mariachi band so he wanted me to learn trumpet. I switched to the French horn in high school because they needed more French horn players. School was really hard for me, and music was something I could do well—it grounded me, kept me in school and helped me with my self esteem.

It sounds like you had access to music education in school. What was that like and how did you continue your studies after high school?

My older sisters did get music lessons in school, but I started 4th grade right after Prop 13 passed. My parents actually had to pay for me to get lessons through an after-school program.  It was held at a different school by the local junior high band teacher. When I went on to junior high, my teacher let me play all the instruments in band, and he would even let me take home the instruments. I learned all the fingering and a working knowledge of all wind instruments this way.

I played in orchestras in high school and in community college and I transferred to UCLA to study Horn Performance and Chicano Studies. I then went on to the Conservatory in New York.

There are not many classical ensembles focusing solely on Latino classical music. What inspired you to form the quintet?

I didn’t see any people of color playing French horn until I was 17. This was in 1987, and his name was Jerome Ashby. When I was playing in orchestras in high school and college, 100% of the composers we studied were white and male. I was very upset about it in college, coming from my Chicano Studies classes to studying music that was heavily Euro-focused. That’s why I decided to start Quinteto Latino, to have more representation and diversity within classical music. I was also inspired by Quarteto Latino Americano, who were Mexican brothers and an African American ensemble called Imani, who I am good friends with.

Quinteto Latino celebrates Latino/a classical composers. Who are your favorite composers?

I don’t really have a favorite composer. I think that it’s more about being able to spark an interest in audiences that wasn’t there before. People are so surprised what it sounds like, they think it will be like salsa or banda, even seasoned professionals think that. It feels really good to be in a concert hall, in a formal setting, for us to be talking about why we focus on that change in the industry.

Quinteto Latino has performed at hundreds of school assemblies in San Francisco and throughout Northern California, and you recently visited schools in the Mountain View Whisman School District as part of our Music in Action series. What is the best part of performing at these assemblies?

Playing diverse music for a diverse audience is the best part. We reflect the kids—when we use Spanish, when we talk about the culture, they can see themselves on the stage. We also present the different cultures of each of the five performers. We want to model that behavior, that you can come from different backgrounds and still work together and honor your different cultures.

How do you engage kids in classical music that might be unfamiliar to them?

We talk about composers, tell stories about them, about the music and the language. In the classroom, in any grade, it’s important to reflect on what is best for the community I am serving. I learn about what their wants and needs are and come up with projects that are based on their existing knowledge, age group, and culture.

What is the difference between what you do in a school concert vs. a more traditional performance?

We play the same pieces and we do tell stories in both settings. The differences are that in a school program we have to play very short pieces and be more interactive. We’re focusing on curriculum points and our communications are age appropriate. In a formal setting there is a much longer artistic arc. We can play 15 minute pieces but we are still telling stories about us and our journey around the piece. Essentially it’s the same music but the audience is able to consume it at a much higher level.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced advocating for inclusion and diversity within the classical music field?

Opportunities. Most of the time, I would say 100% of the time I am the only POC playing in the orchestra, it’s a very low percentage of people of color in the classical music field. When you’re the only one, you have to be strong, you have to be especially good, because you don’t have any allies to help pull you up. I don’t do too much to measure my success, I just keep moving forward and I just keep having these conversations. There’s also a real devaluing of arts around the US. A lot of artists, especially people of color, are undervaluing their work. I do a lot of education around how much we should be getting paid and why we’re worth paying for.

What advice do you have for other music programs, organizations, and schools that want to be more inclusive? How can they get started?

My advice is that either you’re all in and its organization-wide or it often doesn’t work. Start with staffing, especially at the top, because it trickles down. I often ask who is in charge, what does the diversity in the organization look like. For example, we’ve recently been invited to a program on the east coast. They are reaching out to POC students and teaching culturally diverse classical music. I asked them, “how many of your teachers are actually people of color?”. They’re taking that into account, and I am heading over there this fall.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring musicians, especially those from under-served communities?

It’s hard looking for a model in your family or community if you’re the first one studying music professionally or even going to college. Whatever it is you’re doing, look to the most successful person—what are they doing, how are they acting, how often are they working or practicing. Imitating that and finding who my allies are, whether it is a teacher or someone in my community, always helped to propel me to the next step.

What are Quinteto Latino’s plans for the future?

We will continue our residencies, concert performances and mentoring the next generation in classical music and social activism. We are also looking forward to CSMA hosting our 2018 Seminario Program, to mentor early stage professional musicians of color.

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