On a warm fall evening, Dinorah Marquez has just finished rehearsing a group of two dozen high school students at the United Community Center in Walker’s Point. But her day doesn’t end as the guitars and strings play the last notes of her gorgeous arrangement of “Besame Mucho.” The kids linger in the auditorium, one group excitedly surrounds a girl who has just been asked to the homecoming dance. Another approaches Marquez and quietly speaks to her. Eventually, there are tears and a long hug.
The music is beautiful, but it’s still high school, Marquez says with a smile. “There’s always a lot of drama.”
But nothing is more dramatic than what she has been able to achieve at the UCC and Bruce-Guadalupe Community School since she started the Latino Arts strings program 11 years ago. This year, 174 students (ages 4-17) will participate, receiving weekly private lessons, giving solo recitals, and playing in one of several ensembles, from a traditional chamber orchestra to a mariachi-style group. “We turn them into musical athletes, early,” she says. Marquez rattles off the names of top-tier conservatories that boast her alumni – Berklee, Northwestern. But she’s equally proud of those who aren’t headed for a music career. By using both classical music and arrangements of songs that are part of Latino heritage, the program strengthens families and the community.
“Many of my students are recent immigrants, with split families,” Marquez says. “One of their first assignments is to learn the birthday song ‘Las Mañanitas.’ Then I tell them to call their abuelita, their grandma, and play it for them on the phone. And make them cry.”
She pauses with a proud smile, and adds, “And they always do.”