September has been an amazing month for Lanier High School as it celebrated its 100th anniversary on September 13th and followed up by hosting the San Antonio Philharmonic for a Diez y Seis Celebration [September 16]. Both events had historical significance for the Westside school.
The Philharmonic opened with the Mexican National Anthem, followed by The Star-Spangled Banner, Star
Wars Suite: Main Title, and “Remember Me” from Coco.” The program continued with Intermezzo Zarzuela from “La Boda de Luis Alonso” by a 19th-century Spanish songwriter. The orchestra also played Danzon No.2 which featured dancers Jesse Borrego and Teresa Champion and concluded with Huapango performed by dancers Elsa Champion and her daughter Annette Champion Flores.
Lanier High School is located west of downtown in an urban area known for high unemployment rates and persistent poverty. This week the U.S. Census reported the large community surrounding Lanier High School, zip code area 78207, as having the highest poverty rate in the city. Many of the Lanier High School students live across the street in the city’s largest public housing project. Still, Lanier students are known to defy the odds with many graduating and attending colleges in Texas and beyond. Lanier students and alumni long ago christened the school “The Pride of the Westside.”
That pride was evident all last week and culminated with the first-ever presence of the San Antonio Philharmonic at the Lanier school gym. The dignitaries who presided over the introduction of the Philharmonic included former Mayor and HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, actor and dance maestro Jesse Borrego, and Lanier High School principal Dr. Ricky Flores. Cisneros has lived near Lanier High School since returning to San Antonio twenty years ago after serving as HUD Secretary and CEO of Univision. I know Lanier and the community well having grown up four blocks from the school.
The San Antonio Philharmonic, under the direction of their new Executive Director Roberto C.Treviño, recently moved to 1314 Guadalupe Street, across from the Guadalupe Theatre and Jesse Treviño’s Veladora mural. Treviño negotiated a lease for the Philharmonic with the Avenida Guadalupe that included using the renovated Progreso Theatre adjacent to the Philharmonic main offices when needed.
Jesse Borrego, actor-producer-director, known for his film performances in “Blood In Blood Out,” “Fame,” and “Mi Vida Loca” served as the Master of Ceremonies. Borrego also performed the danzon with the famed flamenco dancer Teresa Champion, a Lanier alum who learned flamenco dance at a class when she was 10, 75 years ago. Borrego was a natural for the Lanier extravaganza. He loves music and understands that good music is capable of inspiring others. He learned about music from his dad, Jesse Borrego, leader of a conjunto band, Los Aces de Tejas.
The musicians with the San Antonio Philharmonic are committed to their classical music and to the idea that music makes the world a better place. Two of the Latino members of the orchestra, Dr. Ivan Valbuena, a clarinetist, and Rainel Joubert, first stand violinist, are based in Austin and Houston respectively, and are fully committed to working with community-based programs.
Dr. Valbuena, with a Doctorate in Music from the University of Texas in Austin, devotes several months in the summer to introducing music to the least musically equipped and most isolated young people of his native Colombia. I reached him this summer as he prepared to travel to a remote jungle area of Colombia by small plane. There are no roads to these villages. One trip took him to the remote southern region of Colombia near the Brazilian border where little-known indigenous Uitotos, Tucanos, Ticunas, and Nukaks live in grass huts.
At these remote Indigenous villages, Ivan Valbuena introduces the young people to basic music concepts.
There are no musical instruments in the villages, so Valbuena instructs the students in rhythm and percussion. The students quickly learn that clapping and tapping their hands on their knees and striking wood objects produce patterns of sound akin to music. In some villages, young students construct wind instruments using bamboo. Valbuena, who teaches in the clarinet studio at UT Austin, serves as a music ambassador to his native country as well as to the barrios of San Antonio.
Rainel Joubert, SA Philharmonic concertmaster and first-stand violinist of the San Antonio Philharmonic, lives in Houston and will be commuting to San Antonio for the 2023-2024 season. Joubert grew up in Cuba and began studying music at age eight. He loved listening to the radio
and counts Ruben Blades of Panama and Tejana Queen Selena among his favorite music stars. He credits the music and songs of these singers and musicians for his early interest in music. Joubert’s early talents earned him a spot in Conservatorio de Musica Amadeo Roldan, one of Havana’s best music schools, where he studied until age eighteen. He completed his bachelor’s degree in three years at the prestigious Instituto Superior de Artes in Havana.
Joubert’s virtuosity took him to Venezuela one summer where he participated in the famed Youth Orchestra program under the brilliant director Gustavo Dudamel. When Joubert returned to Havana, he requested permission to continue his music studies abroad where he thought he could grow professionally. He explained to me, “I wanted to test myself with the best.” However, the Cuban authorities rejected his request to study outside of Cuba.
New opportunities arose in 2011 when Joubert and three other Cuban musicians received an invitation to perform at The University of Southern Mississippi. The Mississippi Music Dean was so impressed with the four Cuban musicians that he offered them full scholarships. Although Joubert and his three associates had only a ten-day visa, the four talented Cubanos decided to remain in the United States. The University assisted Joubert in applying for more permanent immigration status and Joubert earned a Master’s degree in music from The University of Southern Mississippi.
The Houston-based media magazine Broadway World commented “Joubert has extensive experience touring as a member of Sphinx Virtuosi and as a recital soloist.” He is a proud 2012 Laureate of the Sphinx Competition. When I spoke to Joubert, he had just returned from a morning visit to a dementia health center as part of his music activities associated with the Community Embedded Musician Program which allows Joubert to perform for children and groups that have few opportunities to experience classical music.
The San Antonio Philharmonic and these two Latino musicians demonstrated clearly the impact that music can have to inspire talented children and, in fact, whole communities. The Lanier concert brought together Westside community members across all age groups, prominent Latino community leaders and funders, and talented musicians dedicated to involving themselves in our community.
Walking out of the Lanier High School Diez y Seis Celebration, I congratulated several of the orchestra members that I knew and shook hands with a beaming Roberto C. Treviño, new CEO and Executive Director of the San Antonio Philharmonic. Many thanked Henry Cisneros and Commissioner Calvert for their generous donations.
We witnessed a Lanier musical experience that was uplifting and joyful. Moreover, the Philharmonic’s move to the Westside is a win-win for the community. Its presence may inspire young people from the Westside to study music and perhaps one day perform in a major orchestra much like Valbuena and Joubert.