By Jesus Saenz ’19
I look back on my upbringing in Lima, Peru and I am met with wonderful memories of my vibrant life. My taste buds can still taste the rich dishes served to me as a child by my grandmother and my feet still beat to the Peruvian folk dances I learned long ago. I am who I am today because I am a proud Peruvian, but I am also who I am because of my decision to venture elsewhere.
My dream was to be a concert violinist. I envisioned myself in the enormously hard-to-fill-shoes of Maxim Vengerov, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, and Ivry Gitlis. Five times a week, I would walk myself over to the conservatory library, grab their cassette player, pop in a recording, and transcend into my world of dreaming, yet I felt frozen in time and limited in my resources. It did not take long for me to realize that this dream of mine was not possible to achieve in my current environment.
Once the opportunity presented itself for me to study abroad, I dove directly in with reckless abandon. Now, picture this; me: 17 years old, $1,000 in my bank account, not a single word of English spoken, next stop: Fort Worth, Texas. I struggled, but I also developed, advanced, and musically prospered. It didn’t take long before I felt limitless—this musical world I always dreamed of was right in front of me. Suddenly, a successful career in music felt like fair game.
Boston Conservatory at Berklee provided an enriching setting where I did not feel that I was only dealing with high-quality teachers seeking for perfection, but I also felt that I was dealing with human beings creating an inclusive community of artists.
After 13 years in and out of school (yes, I obviously fell in love with education!) I jumped right into a wonderfully fulfilling career with my life partner and fellow violinist, Kelley, whom I met during my studies at Boston Conservatory (BoCo) at Berklee. Boston was my next stop after spending 10 years in Texas, and the world of opportunities suddenly felt more open than ever before. BoCo at Berklee provided an enriching setting where I did not feel that I was only dealing with high-quality teachers seeking for perfection, but I also felt that I was dealing with human beings creating an inclusive community of artists. The both of us always say how grateful we are to BoCo at Berklee for allowing this amazing life we have to flourish.
Our first career outside school was invigorating—we cruised around the world performing chamber music for different audiences every night. Unfortunately, after our first contract ended, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Suddenly, this familiar feeling began making its way back into my bones—I was once again stuck. Luckily, I had become an expert in becoming unstuck and quickly found solutions.
Today, [my organization] Musicians for the World offers free, virtual music education to over 300 students and teachers from 14 different countries, all living in vulnerable communities.
Kelley and I began to volunteer teaching students in music programs in Haiti and Peru. We enjoyed our time with the students and quickly concluded that online education was a perfectly valid tool and offered great accessibility where it was lacking. Accessibility—a blessing I fought for and finally received at age 17 that I suddenly got to offer children at 8 years old, all thanks to the power of the internet. This realization led to the birth of our nonprofit organization, Musicians for the World (MFW).
Today, MFW offers free, virtual music education to over 300 students and teachers from 14 different countries, all living in vulnerable communities. This summer we will be hosting our first-ever international festival in my beautiful home country, Peru. To return to my roots full circle offering aspects of what my education lacked is a true honor.
Between July 22–August 14, twenty MFW professors will be immersed in the beautiful Peruvian regions of Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, all while offering world-class, free performances, open master classes for aspiring musicians, and group classes with various music programs with their communities. Boston Conservatory at Berklee/Berklee alumni Eliza Puchianu (’18), Alejandra Santillanes (’18), Guido Arcella (’15), Kelley McGarry (’19) and myself (’19) will be taking part in this festival.
I’ve heard the saying many times, “I’m just giving back what I was so blessed to have myself,” but I do not feel that this is especially accurate in my case. What I wish to give back to the world is not something I had as some sort of a birthright, but rather something I had to sacrifice my entire young life to achieve—accessibility. I wish to expand the range of opportunity across the globe and provide an environment in which a person does not have to leave their home, family, and community for quality music education. When I close my eyes and allow myself to dream, I still hear those cassette tapes playing through my old library headphones; this core memory guides me in my new dream: to advocate, provide for, and act as a resource to young musicians who hold their cassette tapes close, dreaming of a life that seems out of reach. I will be their stepping stool.
Jesus Saenz was born in Lima, Peru, and has performed with several Peruvian orchestras, including the National Symphony of Peru. As an orchestral musician, Jesus has served as guest concertmaster for the Irving Symphony Orchestra, the San Angelo Symphony Orchestra, and the Orchestra of Indian Hill. He has also been part of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, and the Global Leaders Program, in which he was able to teach and perform in Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti.
Jesus studied at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee under professor Lynn Chang, He is also one of the founders of Musicians for the World, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering vulnerable communities around the world through free virtual music education, and performs with the New Jersey Symphony as their new Colton Fellow.
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