The Center for Musical Arts has a variety of talented teachers. In this interview we sat down with voice and piano instructor Alex Sierra, who also leads the Center’s Spanish-language Coro Santuario.
Center for Musical Arts: Good morning! I’m Erica Reid, I’m the Marketing Manager for the Center for Musical Arts, and I have the fantastic job of talking to each of our faculty members to get to know them a little bit better. And today I am with Alex Sierra. How are you doing, Alex?
Alex Sierra: I’m doing just fine, Erica. I’m happy to be here and glad to be talking to you and thank you for having me online.
Center: Yeah, absolutely. I always start the same way. Can you just tell us how you came to the Center for Musical Arts? What is your musical background and how did you come here?
Alex: It’s kind of an interesting little story. I actually was subbing for one of my friends that used to be a teacher here about 20, 21 years ago. And she asked me to sub for one day and then [Center co-founders] Peggy and Kathy were here and they needed more instructors. So they asked me if I could teach one day, then two days, then three, then four, then five. And at some point I was teaching Monday through Saturday and yeah, I had about 40 students during the week. So it was a lot of work, but it was fun, but I had some other things also on the side and I decided to take Saturdays off.
Center: And how long has that been? How long have you been with the Center?
Alex: About 21 years.
Center: Okay! Almost the whole 25 years we’ve been here.
Center: And it started with “one day.” That’s a good trick. I’m going to have to use that. So can you tell me a little bit about your teaching philosophy? You have a lot of experience. How do you approach teaching?
Alex: I love teaching here. I could probably teach academia at a college level. But here, it’s all about the community, and it’s about having all that range, between six years old, seven years old. And my oldest [student] is 78, everything in between.
You don’t get that when you teach at a college level. It’s completely different. But I like this approach here from the Center for Musical Arts. I believe that every student has a lot of capacity, a lot of potential. Every student is unique and every student is different. So I do kind of an assessment, if they haven’t taken any lessons before, or even if they have, where are they at, and just kind of take it from there, so we don’t slow down the process. I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, welcome, and also try to make it fun.
Center: Oh, fantastic. So I skipped right over the fact that you teach voice and piano. Can you tell me what brought you to those instruments? Why are those your tools?
Alex: I started taking piano when I was eight years old. And I just kept going forever. The singing was kind of an accident. I was not planning on becoming an opera singer, but when I was about 18, I joined this big church choir and they were practicing the Mozart’s Requiem, I remember that was the first thing.
And of course I knew how to read music. I didn’t have the voice, but I would just go there and sing my heart out. And rehearsals were pretty much every night. So after a little while, things started happening and my voice was changing and getting strong and getting bigger, but I didn’t know what to do with it, until I met this Italian nun. And she’s the one that told me, “It’s in there, you need to take voice lessons.” So she’s the one that started it.
Center: An Italian nun!
Alex: Yes. Yes. So, then everything was private for the longest time until I decided to actually go and get a degree in voice, and it happened. So it’s been very rewarding, I have to say.
Center: Well, we’re so grateful for that Italian nun and for Mozart’s Requiem for putting you on your path. You talked about the importance of community and you also lead Coro Santuario, which is our inclusive chorus that sings primarily in Spanish. Can you tell me a little bit about that chorus and why it’s important to you and to the Center for Musical Arts?
Alex: Absolutely. I love that project and I’ve got to thank Liz McGuire, our Executive Director, for it. It’s a space for, I would say, for the Latino community to come in and sing in their native language. Not everybody is, I would say, a Spanish speaker, or I would say their first language is Spanish. I have some members, they don’t speak Spanish at all, but they can read it, but they love the music–
Center: Well that’s interesting. So I could join as an English speaker and learn the Spanish songs as well?
Alex: Absolutely. Yes. But, again, the main focus is to be open to the Latino community so they can come and sing and feel welcome.
Center: And that is all ages. Is that correct?
Alex: All ages. All ages. So everybody’s welcome. We need more!
Center: Can you give me an example of a song or two that you might be singing?
Alex: There’s “Cielito Lindo,” which is one of the traditional ones. “La Bamba,” there’s another one.
Center: Okay! Well, I think it’s wonderful to be including more and more people in the Center’s mission and in that sense of community, you’re not a community music school if you’re not actively trying to invite all kinds of people in. So I think that sounds like a really wonderful project, and I’m glad that it has landed at the Center. What are you doing when you’re not teaching music or leading Coro?
Alex: Well, I’m also a performer, so I have to learn a lot of music all the time. It’s just never ending. And also you have to maintain, not because you have a certain level, that’s it. You get rusty. If you don’t keep on moving those fingers, if you don’t keep on singing, you’re going to get rusty. You’re going to lose that voice. You’re going to lose that agility.
Center: So surely you have something though, outside of practicing, performing, teaching… you’ve got to have something outside of music.
Alex: Oh, I love working out and I love hiking.
Center: Oh, really!
Center: Do you have a favorite spot in Boulder or in Lafayette to hike?
Alex: Well, there is Mount Sanitas, which is a pretty good hike, and there’s Settler’s Park, which is next to Sanitas.
Center: Okay. Wonderful. I’m glad you’re getting away from the piano here and there for some air. [laughs]
Alex: Absolutely. Living in Boulder is kind of like, it’s an advantage too. They have the trails three minutes away.
Center: Absolutely. Is there anything else that I haven’t covered here that you would like potential students to know, either about Coro, about the piano, or voice, or about the Center for Musical Arts in general?
Alex: I would say about Coro, because a lot of people are probably afraid of joining because they can’t read music.
Center: I see.
Alex: So it is not a requirement. You don’t have to audition for it. You don’t have to be able to read music. It will be great if you can, but if you cannot, that’s not a problem. The lyrics are right there and we run through the music. Some of the members just learn the music by ear, the songs by ear.
Center: All right. That’s really great to know and another way to be inclusive, because it’s really intimidating, if you’re not a music reader. It’s good to know that there’s a place that you can join in and figure it out along the way.
Alex: Yeah. And that’s the whole idea of the Coro too. It’s just to keep that opportunity open for people who are not professional musicians or even halfway there, but they love singing. They can join in.
Center: Well, thank you so much. It has been so good to hear about your 20 years of experience with the Center and all of the great different pieces of music you have your hands in. It sounds like you’re a really versatile musician and instructor, and I just think we’re really lucky to have you.
Alex: Well, thank you. And mostly what I love about the Center is just the families keep returning. I get the younger generations throughout the years, when they have three or four kids, and I taught the older one, then the next one down, then the next one down, the parents…
Center: It speaks to what you were saying about the difference between a community music school and maybe a university environment or something like that.
Center: All right. All right. Well, fantastic. I look forward to talking to you again very soon.
Alex: Well, thank you Erica.
Center: Thank you Alex!