Puerto Vallarta’s new non-profit Institute of Musical Arts has something wonderful to offer just about everyone, from part-time foreign residents and retired professional musicians to local children.
(This article was written for Vallarta Tribune, edition # 1166.)
When it comes to following the precept, ‘birds of a feather flock together,’ musicians are predictably notorious. ‘What (instrument) do you play’ and ‘let’s jam’ are common utterances among them when they find one another out and about. This is probably what happened some 12 years ago when the Puerto Vallarta Chamber Orchestra (PVCO) began as an informal project made up of seasonal retired musicians looking for practice and subsequently performance opportunities.
As time went by, the project began increasing in size and scope, incorporating local professional musicians, teachers and students. As the PVCO grew, so did their need for robust organizational infrastructure and increased funding. At the same time, a segment of the local musician population began looking for jazz-oriented ensembles and performance opportunities. Last but certainly not least came the essential need to inspire young students to embark in musical careers, offering quality music education for Puerto Vallarta’s children and young adults.
This is the story of the Instituto de Artes Musicales Puerto Vallarta, or I AM PV, a fairly new local non-profit that is in the process of successfully addressing and championing all aforementioned concerns with the invaluable support of the Guadalajara University and an increasing number of patrons.
“We are, first and foremost, an instituto, an educational institution where anyone, regardless of their age, nationality or musicianship level can further their musical education,” affirms Terence Reilly, a local anglophone who rediscovered his love of playing classical music and joined the PVCO after a 35-year hiatus. As stated on their website, iampv.org, I AM PV is a non-profit, music education institute dedicated to enriching the lives of all of those in the Banderas Bay Area and Mexico. The benefits of music education have been well studied and documented, in giving young people the tools to succeed in not only musical endeavors but scholastic and societal achievements as well.
Also involved with the project is Daniel Oliveros, a conductor, woodwind player and teacher from Monterrey. He serves as founding director of I AM PV and also as principal conductor of the PVCO. “I came to Puerto Vallarta in 2011 and immediately became involved with the PVCO as a player,” he recalls. “Eventually I volunteered myself to help improve the quality of our performances, and also with the orchestra’s outreach programs. When PVCO conductor, Don Bieghler asked for a leave of absence, I was thrilled to be invited to become the orchestra’s principal conductor.” Daniel can play several instruments and has performed a broad variety of genres, from classical to Broadway. But most importantly, he has been a music teacher for over a decade.
“Our students have high graduation rates and it has been shown that students that study music excel in life in whatever field they choose later on.”
Another important element is Victor Kris, Founding Director of The Salty Paw Youth Jazz Orchestra. “We chose the name because vallartenses, that is, those that were born here, call themselves pata salada, or ‘salty paw,’” he explains. After moving to Puerto Vallarta, he began playing saxophone in local rock & roll and jazz bands throughout the city. His is the only student-based, jazz ensemble specializing in big band repertoire in the city.
“Salty Paw began as a one-time request from the city back in 2016 to organize a big band performance at the Malecon during Mayo Fest, Puerto Vallarta’s annual celebration of its foundation as a city and a municipality. A group that consisted mostly of local professional musicians was put together, but after the performance, many musicians, particularly young students, kept yearning for more jazz performance opportunities, so I founded the group to serve that need.” Today, Victor combines his time as an active musician while teaching and directing the Salty Paws. But just as the chamber orchestra, Salty Paw needed increasing organization and funding.
“When we began putting all these wants and needs on the table back in early 2017, we envisioned an entity that could serve as an umbrella organization, sheltering these two important Puerto Vallarta orchestra, and also providing the necessary educational foundation for future generations of local musicians,” adds Terence. “We took the time to set ourselves as a non-profit organization that can accept tax-deductible donations here and abroad, to be able to meet our needs, continue to expand, and develop a more solid outreach program with our communities.”
Speaking of outreach, I AM PV has a successful story in Paso Ancho, a traditional neighborhood located upstream along the Rio Cuale. “We identified the need for music education at a school there,” Terence recalls. “One day we put up a notice in the schoolyard looking for kids that would be interested in taking music lessons. The following day, 27 kids showed up! Thanks to our donors, I AM PV is able to offer music scholarships to all 27 students in Paso Ancho thanks to a sizeable contribution from the International Friendship Club.” The Institute wants to launch a traditional Mexican instrument class this fall, but money must be raised to pay for jaranas, a guitar-like string instrument from Mexico. “Jaranas are expensive,” he adds.
Where is all this magic taking place? For years the teachers and both orchestras had struggled to find suitable rehearsal space, not to mention classrooms for music lessons. Before the projects were consolidated they intinerated throughout the city, from the Isla Rio Cuale Cultural Center to a private home in Aralias. “We were always amazed at the students’ resilience,” recalls Daniel. In order to continue their music education, they were willing to go anywhere.” The missing piece of the puzzle was found and locked in place when I AM PV formed an invaluable alliance with the Centro Universitario de la Costa (or CUC), Guadalajara University’s Puerto Vallarta campus.
Two years ago, CUC decided to begin offering a college degree in culinary arts and sciences but found themselves in dire need for a specialized campus. An ideal space was found at the location of the former Ignacio Jacobo high school, as you turn right from the Libramiento onto Francisco Villa Ave. The existing buildings underwent a major renovation and the new campus was officially inaugurated on February 2018. Referred to as Estación Gourmet, the campus now offers hundreds of young students the ability to study a career that is increasingly in demand in Puerto Vallarta and surrounding communities. Thanks to the vision of Estación Gourmet, director, Luis del Sordo, the new campus has the capacity for up to 500 students, and will also feature an extension school for locals to be able to enroll in basic cooking classes.
“We had been looking to form alliances with CUC,” recalls Daniel. We got in touch with Paola Cortes, an outreach coordinator at the university. “This resulted in the opportunity for the jazz ensemble to perform at an anniversary celebration at the CUC campus. It was then that I had the chance to meet Estacion Gourmet director Luis del Sordo, and we found that we shared some community-based outreach goals.” Eventually, a formal proposal was submitted to the university that included classroom and rehearsal space for students and ensembles, along with an extension school component for Puerto Vallarta’s population at large.
Today, I AM PV is no longer a homeless entity and shares space with Estación Gourmet, where culinary students use the premises during the morning and the music institute uses classroom and rehearsal space in the afternoons. “Construction is still in progress and nearing completion soon, but thanks to the Guadalajara University and the combined efforts of many concerned individuals, we now have access to comfortable, air-conditioned classrooms where our students can improve their craft,” comments Terence. “Students can enroll and take classes in practically every instrument, and the same time, they can participate in a variety of small ensembles according to their level, so they can also learn how to play together.”
The Puerto Vallarta Chamber Orchestra Is No Longer
All things considered, the Puerto Vallarta Chamber Orchestra is no longer comprised of primarily retired musicians. The number of local professional musicians and advanced I AM PV students that have joined the ensemble is on the rise, such that during their final concert last season, it was formally announced that the orchestra would be rebranded as the Puerto Vallarta Symphony Orchestra. “We have around 50 musicians in the orchestra,” comments Principal Conductor Daniel Oliveros, “and virtually every instrument of the orchestra is represented in the ensemble. As such, we were due for a name change.”
The orchestra still relies on outside musicians from other orchestras in Mexico when a specific piece requires it—another essential use for much-needed funding. But is self-sufficient for the most part. While no specific dates or venues have been specified, the newly-branded Puerto Vallarta Symphony Orchestra will offer three performances in the coming season.
Whether you are a musician looking for performance opportunities, have access to musical instruments not being used, or would like to join the Instituto de Artes Musicales Puerto Vallarta as a volunteer or donor, there are many opportunities to get involved. “We want to prove our worth,” says Terence. “That what it comes down to. People understand the importance of music education at an early age. Our students have high graduation rates and it has been shown that students that study music excel in life in whatever field they choose later on.”
For more information, visit iampv.org.
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