I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and lived in a house with my mom and dad in Essex, Maryland. When I was a year old, I received a toy 8 key piano; I
quickly picked up the names of the musical notes, and I was also able to play many of the common children’s songs. Note neither of my parents ever played
a musical instrument, it was a talent I was given when I was born.
In addition, I had a toy xylophone piano, then a toy 2 octave Casio keyboard. When playing with the toy Casio, I always loved to imitate the noise of my
doorbell ringing, by programming keyboard on the electric piano instrument, and hitting the notes which would go, “Ding Dong!” I was also a fanatic on
the car horn sound effects; it would always remind me of being outside even when I was inside my home.
My parents knew that I had a talent in music, because of being able to pick up playing the piano quickly; therefore, she enrolled me in piano lessons at
the age of 4. At this time, I received a keyboard which had 61 keys, and would play with it almost every day. I began to get frustrated, because many piano
pieces I was learning for my recitals were meant to be played on an 88 key piano. Due to the note range, of extreme high or low notes, I was struggling,
not being able to play the pieces correctly with those extreme notes omitted.
During the late 1990s, I always didn’t like when my parents told me “You have to practice piano tonight!” I had no choice, I had to practice, otherwise,
I wouldn’t play the best at my recitals. I attended my first recital in March of 2001, and performed at the recitals until 2012, when I had to leave to
go to college at Berklee, and taking piano lessons wouldn’t be possible anymore. Because of the frustration mentioned above with the range of my keyboard,
in late 2001, my mom bought me a full 88 key piano, which made practicing my pieces a lot easier and convenient. Not only I knew how to play piano, but
I would always tap on various objects, to listen to what note or pitch they produced. It ranged from my legoes, to light bulbs, to metal poles outside.
The piano wasn’t my only instrument I played; I wanted to play an electric guitar ever since 2000. I would hear mean guitar solos played in songs on radio
stations, I wanted to know how they produced the effect on guitar, and how the solos were played. Shortly after receiving my acoustic guitar on Christmas
of 2000, I received a used electric guitar, and later learned that the sound effect I was thinking of in the guitar solos was distortion. I was frustrated
at first, because the guitar was too heavy for me to carry, or hold, while I was playing. I also wanted to bend the strings on the guitar, like my influences
Neal Schon from Journey, and like what Carlos Santana does. Of course, since it was an old guitar, the strings popped. I feared I would never be able to
play guitar again!
When 2002 arrived, I improvised my own guitar solos almost every day, I was very picky at this time, every solo had to start on the same note, be in the
same key, and have the 3.5 octave range, so if my song was in A Minor, the range would always be G (Third fret of low E string) to D (22nd fret of high
E string, or a note that was bent to that D). I think this was because I wanted to focus on a specific solo technique before I got more advanced.
In 2003, I wanted to write my own songs. My guitar teacher even inspired me to write my own melodies and solos. The lesson started out by my instructor
playing the song, “For the Love of God” by Steve Vai, then he told me to come up with a chord progression. Once I told him what the progression was, he
played the chords and told me to come up with a melody line. It was not difficult, and later, I thought writing melodies to be inspiring, especially to
express my thoughts of the everyday stressful events I faced at school, or any feelings of agony and pain.
Writing lyrics for my songs was hard, the songs started out by being factual information about car specifications, for instance, “This Chevrolet Blazer
does 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, and gets 25 miles per gallon highway.” I was frustrated when I was told that those types of songs didn’t express much
emotion, well, I guess I knew how to express myself, but not the way that I did when singing those car songs.
The first song I wrote, which many loved, was called “Passing cars.” It was written in the fall of 2006. I wrote this in late 2006; this was to express
my observations when my mom and I drove on the highway, to say that all the people driving American cars were driving slowly, and whoever drove a foreign
car was speeding. My mom would say, “Come on, Ford Focus? Why only 50 in the fast lane!” Then she would mention stuff like "Wow! This Camry is flying!”
In March of 2008 I started writing nature songs, to express calm thoughts of arboretums, trees, mountain ridges, etc. It almost felt like I was in the countryside, when writing such songs like “The Highlands”, “Scenery,” “Cloverleaf”, “Near the Walnut Trees”, “Spruce Trees of Colorado”, and "Holly Garden.” My inspiration for nature songs came from a disappointment in May of 2008. My former high school algebra teacher told the class that we would be visiting an arboretum in Washington, Dc. Some people asked what an arboretum was; he explained the basics, mentioning that it was a place with trees, shrubs, and flower gardens. He kept postponing the date, and it eventually got canceled. Each song has its own unique meaning, and because I rarely enjoy the peacefulness and the scenic views of nature outside, the only bypass I could take, to get to my destination, is to write such nature songs, so that I have said something through my music.
In 2009, I was finished with one
course of Spanish in high school; therefore I started to get interested in Latin styles. I wrote my first Salsa song on June 6 2009, which was called “La
Cima” meaning “The Top”, I recorded a Cuban piano montuno on my digital piano while playing Santana melodies to the accompaniment on guitar.
In 2009 I became familiar with a genre of music called “Bachata” from the Dominican Republic. When I came home from school each day in the fall and winter
of 2009-2010, I would always imagine myself about to enter a party at a house of of Dominican or Hispanic people. I would take out my guitar, and play all
the Bachata songs I knew, plus I also improvised my own, and imagined a loud applause and cheers while playing their type of music. It was nothing like
actually attending a Dominican party and playing Bachata for real people, if that were true, my heart would be pounding with excitement. Though because it was often an isolated environment at home, I found this idea to be a good coping strategy.
In summer of 2011, I started improvising Cuban Cha Cha Cha on piano, not titling the songs, but experimenting with piano accompaniment. The first Cha Cha
song I created that had a title, was “Cha Cha Cha de Jessica.” I wrote this song to show how Jeh-see-ca can be sung to the same rhythm of Cha-Cha-Cha.
The song also has lyrics that talks about personality characteristics I envision when thinking of the name Jessica, though the song is not dedicated to
any one person with the name.
In 2013, I developed an interest in Guajira, another genre from Cuba. When I explain to people what Guajira sounds like, I tell them to picture the style
like a slow Salsa (A Salsa song that has a slower tempo and piano montuno), then you got Guajira. By listening to Guajira songs by groups like Carlos Alas
de Casino, Arsenio Rodriguez, Duo Los Compadres, and Evaristo Quintanales, I discovered that many songs of that style are nature related and reflect the
In the fall of 2013, I composed my own Guajiras on mainly piano, adding Spanish lyrics to the songs. A few examples are “Flor de Magnolia” (Magnolia Flower),
“Las Cordilleras” (The Mountain Ridges), “Arbolitos” (Little Trees), and Azucena (White Lily). I was greatly inspired by Carlos Alas de Casino’s style
of Guajira, because it’s very vintage, two guitars, piano, Cuban xylophone, cowbells, and shaker.
In summer of 2014, I had a sudden flashback when I began listening to guitar solos from the recent albums by the group “Journey,” and the recent albums
the guitarist from that band, Neal Schon released while the band Journey was struggling to perform. I usually rarely played the guitar while home for the
summers in less practicing for performances, but I began to improvise Rock and Rock Ballad tunes on both piano and guitar. The main song I wrote, that
many value is “First Inspiration,” a song I wrote to honor a volunteer who worked in my school back in 2002, when I was only in elementary school. As the
chorus of the song says, she’s my first inspiration, getting me past the traffic on the highway of life. She was one of the first from my school to get
me over struggling through academic subjects, because of creative tactics that made me felt more at ease.
Due to the fact the song was written about someone I knew during this day, and like mentioned earlier, 2002 was when I was improvising rock guitar solos,
the guitar solo of this tune features a solo inspired by Neal Schon, from two Journey tunes, “Of a Life Time” and “What I needed.”
As most songs I write are still related to nature and extreme emotions, I experimented by combining the styles of Latin, Rock, and show music, calling
the song “Latoya,” a dedication to my personal counselor back home, mainly about the cathartic feelings I felt while at the sessions. It combines an old
school Latin guitar montuno, with high notes on a guitar effect giving it the rock flavor, and adding clarinets and flutes to make it sound like the theme
of a cartoon or children’s movie. The lyrics have a lot of repetition in the melody like a children’s style song, particularly when “Latoya” is sung.”
In spring of 2015, I experienced another turning point in life. Struggling with feelings of shame and guilt from losing friends, I devlopped a technique where I transformed the emotions into thoughts of visiting or caring for older people, imagining things such as listening to elderly persons stories, checking on them to see how they are, helping them with moving or lifting heavy objects and especially performing for them. On February 18 2015, I was waiting for the ride (National Express Transit) heading from the college back to my apartment. This was after 4 blizzards almost back to back, therefore the ride was 90 plus minutes behind. When I got on the bus, an elderly person approached me, making small talk. The event might sound small, but the sound of the elderly lady, Shirley’s voice caused me to dedicate a song to her called “One Ride to Cherish.” Taking the ride is often stressful because of inexperienced drivers or scenes where drivers and customers sometimes have spats, but regardless how stressful the situation my mind turns back to the ride when I spoke to Shirley. As this song has not been heard by her yet, it combines slow rock with an Afro Cuban rhythm called “Beguine,” an instrumental with rhythm and lead guitar, strings, organ, bass, shaker, woodblock and drums. Unlike Cuban songs I wrote in 2012-2014, this song didn’t feature piano, trumpets, saxophones or conga drums.
In March of the same yar, 2015, I wrote a song titled “Open lane.” As it’s easy for some to be thrown off on the song because of the open lane analogy, it was basically another song dedicated to an older person, but one who enjoys nature and gardening for fun, tww of my main interests outside of music. A Rock Ballad song, featuring piano, two guitars, bass, vocals and drums, the lyrics talks about this older lady being lonely and in pain, and she thinks that gardening is impossible because of her condition. Discovering there were ways around the gardening struggles by adaptable tools and equipment, the message is, despite the condition, almost everything is still possible.
Listing my camps and accomplishments, from 2004 onwards, I participated in many guitar contests, and won most of them. I also attended many camps, one, was a jazz camp for blind musicians in
New Orleans in the summer of 2005. The days were extremely long, hardly any breaks from 6:30 in the morning, to 11 at night, including taking care of business.
I learned many jazz songs, which I weren’t familiar with back then. The members consisted of every possible jazz instrument, me on guitar, drums, trumpet,
clarinet, flute, and bass (There were few piano and drum players who took turns playing certain songs).
In 2007, I attended the guitar sessions at Berklee College of Music, and won a scholarship to the 5 week program at Berklee. This was a surprise to me,
I felt good to run up the stage while everyone clapped cheerfully after being called. In 2008 I attended the 5 week program, the first time I was away
from home for a long time. In 2009 and 2011, I attended guitar sessions at Berklee again, to win more scholarships for college. In 2011 I participated
in a performance at Chef Mac’s in Baltimore Maryland, it was a café that unfortunately went out of business. Invited by one of the judges from the King of the Blues guitar competition at guitar center, Rockville Maryland, I never heard so many cheers and whistles like that very night, when a drummer, harmonica player, the judge who played piano, and I
performed at least 7 blues songs in a row, including “Wave” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. I remember I was sad I lost that guitar competition in 2011, but before the tears could struggle entering my eyes, this guy, Daryl Davis, the judge invited me to this performance, I couldn’t complain about that.
Other performances I participated in were Strathmore in Rockville Maryland, where I was paid for performing existing jazz and rock tunes, Jazz Café in
Baltimore Md, where a guitar player and I played duos together, where we played many jazz standards that many weren’t familiar with, including Dexter Gordan’s
“Cheesecake.” I also performed at Village Square Café in Baltimore, where I played solo guitar, or soloed over some singer’s compositions after being invited
to do so. All these performances were in the summer of 2014.
Heading down the path to summer 2015, I was given the opportunity to perform at the House of Jazz and Blues, located in Bethesda Maryland. As getting paid $100 could be a highlight, I discovered at least 70 percent of the audience consisted of elderly people. Remembering the times in the past when I performed on piano for people at the John’s Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, I knew the audience would enjoy my performance very much. Running through a set of jazz and latin songs (Song For my Father, Corcovado, All the Things You Are in a Bossa style, Cheesecake, A Foggy Day and a few improvised blues songs, I was approached by quite a few people after the performance, which made me realize the appreciation and enjoyment in that performance center. I’m thankful to Daryl Davis who invited me to this event.
Here is thee story about starting out in college:
In addition to the songs I was writing about nature and gardens in 2011, during my free time, I was dreading college, since 2011. I would hear my parents
talking about what I needed to have for college, and how many things were unfamiliar to me, because of being blind, such as getting lunch from the cafeteria.
But because I got accepted to Berklee in January of 2012, Berklee, was the dream place I would attend for college. I tried to have confidence all along
that I would get in, and, it worked.
I received an email from one of the disabilities councilors, to attend the 5 week program to get me acclimated to the college world. The funding was free,
all we had to pay for was the round flight to and from Boston. Attending this 5 week program, was frustrating at first, because of difficulties navigating the campus,
and getting disoriented. But talking to a councilor helped, I was on my own for a while, and I learned a lot there, such as new chords, how to use garage
band, and to use voiceover, a talking program on computers for mainly blind people. I even got to talk to many students, but excitingly, Latin American
students about some of the Latin genres I liked.
When I attended my first semester at Berklee, it was the fall of 2012, it started out stressful. I dreaded over all the hardware/software that I would
be using for my classes, and needed to talk to someone at the college to ask for advice with those worries. My mom and I have just moved into an apartment, so the whole process of unpacking, cleaning and arranging added to the load. My disabilities councilor advised I drop Writing
and Communication that semester and take it the following semester, for a smoother transition into Berklee. I was shy and too nervous to participate in
extracurricular activities, but my mom talked me into participating in the Jazz and Blues competition that takes place every October at Berklee, about
60 people average participate in the competition every semester, and shortly after the deadline, winners are announced, and invited to perform on the first
Monday of November at the Berklee Performance Center. I participated in the competition three times, and didn’t make it either time, but I feel good that I actually
tried to do something else during the first, third and fifth semesters besides attending my classes. Once the first semester was over, grades came out, and I discovered I made
the Dean’s list my first semester, with a GPA of almost 3.7. I never thought I would score that high my first semester, even though I felt I was struggling
in a liberal art’s course.
During the spring semester, I felt less shy, and corresponded with few members from my Latin Jazz ensemble. In the ensemble I learned some new tunes, it
was basically Latin jazz combined with Mambos, and Son Cubano songs. I started attending more performances at Berklee, specifically the Dominican, Brazilian and Cuban
ones, and learned two new music programs, Pro Tools (More advanced program than Garage Band on Mac computers, with more features and instruments) and Sonar
(Only music program compatible on Windows computers). I found it to be a very good thing that there is a blind professor who works at Berklee, if he wasn’t
here, I would probably be kicking myself, frustrated because of not knowing how to use the technology. In addition, I met a guy who plays percussion, who
is extremely familiar with almost every Cuban music style. He has been my best friend in the college from spring semester onward, I only met him one day
when a class was canceled. It opened another opportunity to go to the cafeteria to eat and meet new people, and there I met this guy, introduced myself,
asked the usual Berklee questions like “What do you play”, and got to talking about almost every Cuban genre.
During the fall of 2013, it was a rough semester. My life was like a series of road blocks along a city highway. I lost a couple friends (except the percussionist),
for various reasons like because they had to leave the college, or they wanted to explore new avenues. Due to the disappointment, halfway through the semester,
I met with several students occasionally from an elective course I took, “Music and Culture of Africa, Latin America, and South America.” I started out
by playing recordings of Cuban songs I improvised, and making small talk. I felt less awkward during each session, feeling good about meeting the people
I met. In early December my mom and grandparents got sick, which led to a series of struggles with composing any new music. Though the semester turned out not
to be as rough as it seemed, because I was on the Dean’s list again, just like the previous two semesters.
The start of the 2014 Spring Semester was also a little rough, because of having high goals and expectations for me. I was hoping to join a club, like
the Mariachi club, join the Latin minor group, and especially start a Cuban band, but those things have yet a long way to go. I haven’t gave up because
of an analogy that constantly pops into my mine; my quandary is like a construction worker who hopes to get a freeway completed before a specific deadline,
but a series of conflicts delays plans. The good news was that in fall of 2014, I was connected to join the LAMBA (Latin American Music Business Association,)
one of the student clubs at Berklee. I felt good that even though I struggled last spring semester with joining clubs, it felt like a totally new experience. I’m honored for those who supported me during this time. By surprise, I received an email later that year saying I received the Emily Rembler scholarship. I was so surprised, I couldn’t wait to attend the event and hear my name called for another award.
Talking about performing for older people, another detour was under way. A friend who was in my Cuban Music History class invited me to perform at the Gables, a senior center in Winchester Massachusetts. Since the proposed plan, I never heard back from him, leaving a bit of pain inside me, so I decided to explore senior center options myself with a little assistance from one of my current friends I met in college during spring of 2015. Struggling to arrange plans at Hale House, a senior center in Boston, current plans are that I hope to perform there spring of this year 2016, which I can imagine will be a thrilling experience, and an accomplishment I can document in my list of accomplishments.
When I graduate, I picture myself having a Cuban band of 10 members including myself, a pianist, 3 trumpet players, 3 percussion players, and bass, my
own network of people to communicate with or hang out with, and being on the honors list. I will not pressure myself, but I’ll continue to retain a strong
level of confidence and will treasure any opportunity that heads my direction.
Experience & Education
in Performance and Songwriting at Berklee College of Music2012 to 2016 (4 years)