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Eliodoro Vallecillo's Journey, in His Own Words

I've been becoming a musician ever since I was born. I come from a Mexican background and by the time I was 5, I had quite a repertoire of traditional Mexican songs memorized. On Saturdays and Sundays, my uncles and their friends sat drinking while listening to little concerts I put on for them in the backyard of our house. My mother, at the time, didn't have enough money to survive on her own, and was limited to a single room in a house jam-packed with brothers, sisters, and her mother. My father died before I was born.

As I got older, eventually I stopped singing, and the only live music around our house were my brother's toots on his recorder and later, on his clarinet. One day, my mother came home, and other than the permeating scent of fish (she worked in a fish packing plant at the time), she brought a cassette player she had found at a yard sale along with some blank tapes. My brother and I had a blast that day recording renditions of famous symphonies from his music book and church music we knew.

In fourth grade, my brother's teacher, Ms. Echenique, handed the kids of his class their instruments, and I will never forget how one of the kids who got a trumpet stood on the front steps, proudly showing off the instrument, and then, as he slowly raised the trumpet to his inexperienced lips, the eyes of the children surrounding him following every move fixedly. But as soon as he blew into the shiny instrument, the children drifted off because they realized he couldn't play. I was in that group of kids. This was what made me aspire to joining that class. And I did.

Like my brother's class, ours started on recorders in order to learn to read music, and two months later, we picked the instrument we wanted to play. At first, I was going to play clarinet like my brother, but when I saw the horn, I knew that was my choice. I don't think I'd ever heard the horn being played, but I just knew I wanted to play it.

As a child, living in a Mexican barrio isn't intimidating. In fact, those are some of the best memories, growing up there. But when one grows up, then one starts noticing the gangs running around. My brother later dropped the clarinet, and picked up some bad friends. At the age of 17, a fellow "friend" shot him to death. The French horn is what has helped me cope with such a loss. He wasn't just a brother; he was my father figure, and my best friend.

That, along with the fact that there are no music programs in Salinas to speak of, led me to Santa Cruz where I stay with my former teacher, Ms. Echenique, her husband and their six dogs. I go to school here and have a lot of opportunities with not just classical music, but also with Mexican music. It's ironic that I felt I was leaving my Mexican roots when I moved to Santa Cruz. Instead, even more opportunities are here. I met an accordionist who invited me to his Mariachi rehearsals.

Talking about opportunities, I auditioned recently for the San Francisco Youth Symphony, thinking I wasn't going to make it. I thought the musicians were all going to be older, more experienced players. My audition went really well because two days later I got the results; I made it in. I start in September.

Music isn't just a part of my life, it is my life. I'm shooting for a conservatory, and then a job in a symphony somewhere in the country. I might even try to become a soloist, following in the footsteps of Gail Williams. I am looking forward to a lesson with her this summer when I go to Northwestern. The horn is my passion and I'm looking forward to a future of being part of beautiful and exciting music.

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Eliodoro Vallecillo