Tengku Irfan

For this edition of the Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Tengku Irfan (www.tengkuirfan.com/). A third year undergraduate piano and composition student, read on to learn how Irfan uses different types of art to inspire himself, stays relaxed in NYC, and what he misses most from Malaysia.

Performing with the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra in 2016

Irfan at piano performing with the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra in 2016

You began your piano lessons when you were seven years old. Can you tell us more about your first experiences with the piano?

It all began when my dad bought an electronic Yamaha keyboard, where I would try to follow the piano keys and play the short pieces that were offered on the keyboard. I remember that there were pieces in every genre, and I was attracted to the classical pieces and couldn’t stop listening to the demo and playing around with those pieces. It was then I realized that I was having fun playing piano and it soon became a serious hobby and a real passion. As my parents saw this, they thought that it would be a good idea for me to start piano lessons.

As someone who had participated in the Juilliard Pre-College program, how was your transition to becoming an undergraduate experience here? 

The transition to college was smooth yet it was also very different from the Pre-College program! During my Pre-College years, I was used to going to school every Saturday. However, when I started my first year in the College Division, I stayed in the dorms and came to school every day. In a way, it gave me more time to focus on my musical goals yet it gives more space for me to explore around the city and its great offerings. During Pre-College, it was more of a challenge juggling between academics and the music courses since I had to go to an academic high-school during the weekdays.

SOTA Alumni Concert in Singapore, July 2018

School of the Arts Alumni Concert in Singapore

What are some aspects of Malaysian culture that you wish were practiced in the United States? Are there any bits of US culture that you take home or with you on your travels? 

Chicken rice in Malaysia

Irfan’s favorite food, Chicken Rice

I wouldn’t say that this is a culture to be practiced, but rather a culture of food! I wish there’s much more Malaysian food in the US! I usually eat rice everyday back in Malaysia and even though Malaysia is known for its spicy food, I like to eat plain and simple. My favorite food is just plain chicken rice. However, I do like to eat junk food too, especially Twisties, which you can find only in Malaysia! It is a very crunchy and tasty corn snack… And in return, being used to the food in the United States, I realize that I got used to eating burgers and pizzas and I do the same when I go back to Malaysia (aside from eating Malaysian cuisine) or travelling anywhere around the world. In a way, this made my taste more diverse (hopefully!). Although I admit despite staying for years already in the US, I still do not have the US accent!


You’ve traveled quite a bit. Are there any experiences that have stood out to you? Or, are there any locations you suggest our readers visit?


Participating in Juilliard’s International Festival

All the places that I travelled are extremely memorable to me! Many years ago, I went to visit Moscow, Russia, to perform and have masterclasses. During a free day, I managed to visit the Red Square! I was very young at the time, and at that age I only felt overwhelmed by the grandeur and the size of the place even though I didn’t know much of the history at that time. However, looking back at this memory I continue to treasure it until today. Another one of the unforgettable places that I visited was the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. The church is very beautiful and it has a rich history with the greatest composers who worked there (Bach was strongly associated with the place, as he worked as an organist for a long time in the church). Again, these are only few of the many, many places that are memorable to me!


Do you have a favorite location in New York City that you suggest new students visit?

Central Park of course! It is such a great place to relax and to appreciate the beautiful nature there… It is contrasting to the busy, city-like atmosphere of the rest of New York City! I usually like to go here during my breaks and weekends. Sometimes I would bring a close friend with me to chat while walking around the park, and at times I would just stone by myself, fully immersing myself in the calmness and tranquility of the place.

Not only are you a composition major, but you’ve also been known for your ability to improvise. Can you tell us more about where you find inspiration? Can you share your secrets with us?

Improvisation with Neeme Järvi (2010)

Improvising with Neeme Järvi

I usually try to fiddle around with ideas whether it be on the piano, the computer, or scribbling down on a paper. When I improvise, the spontaneous impulse dominates more and I try not to worry too much whether it is musically good or not. I think about the latter much more when I am composing, when I take the initial ideas that I have and craft and develop it, hoping that it would turn into something more meaningful. For me, it is easier to get inspiration from elements [that are not musical] such as different cultures, activities, things, and people in everyday life. This would helpfully give me inspiration musically and it makes the composing process more interesting.

Are there any family members, friends, or teachers who have had a memorable impact on where you’re at now?

Ever since I started Juilliard Pre-College, my whole family moved with me to the United States, and it was a big adjustment for all of us! Finding jobs for my parents, education for my younger sisters… Therefore, my family had a big impact on me since my first years in the US, giving moral and emotional support in my earlier years. Also, my teachers at Juilliard help me grow not only as a musician, but as a person too. Not only I see them as teachers, but they are like family too since they are also concerned about my well-being and my growth as a person. The friends that I have in Juilliard are very welcoming and friendly. They all have a strong sense of collaboration in the school which is a great thing to have.

As a piano and composition double major, how do you balance your demanding schedule with the pressures of NYC?

I always have breaks, every hour or two after I practice I will do something outside music, whether it be playing video games, walking around Central Park, or hanging out with friends. I usually don’t practice or do work in a long stretch because then it is easy to lose concentration or be physically tired. It is easier and way more effective for me to do work in smaller chunks than focusing on it for a long period of time.

If you had to pursue a career that was not related to piano or composition, what would your dream job be?

Recently I have been focusing more on conducting. I know that conducting can be tied to piano playing and composing, but it has a different set of skills and challenges that one has to conquer. I just came back from conducting the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra for their 20th anniversary Gala Concert and it was a rewarding experience! Not only do I have to communicate my ideas well, but I also have to plan very well what to rehearse since time is always very limited in orchestra rehearsals! However, I really enjoy the challenge and I hope I can further pursue conducting in the future! If it is a career outside music… I know I have no experience in this field and that I am also a picky eater, but I would like to be a chef one day. I admire people who cook and I watch cooking shows on TV sometimes and I am impressed by the craft, the innovation and the detail that it takes to produce a balanced, tasty dish.

Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra 20th Anniversary Gala concert - conducting the MPO August 2018

Conducting the Malaysian Philharmonoic Orchestra’s 20th Anniversary Gala concert

Do you have any advice for incoming Juilliard students?

I would say that they should make full use of the opportunities that Juilliard has to offer. This can be through the activities surrounding your major, but also making full use of the events and the concerts during the year, including ones that are different from your own division! As a musician, I learn and get really inspired by watching the drama and dance performances in school! Also, when they have a break, they should explore around NYC! Lincoln Center is blessed with its historical concert halls and great orchestras. Also, one can’t miss Broadway and musical theater while being in New York (again tickets are usually expensive but one can always hope to be lucky!)! And last but not least, be sure to get rest too if you can!

Is there anyone you would like to thank, or anything else you would like to share?

First, I have to thank my family (for travelling all the way just to be with me and for sacrificing a lot). My teachers (including those in the Pre-College and College Divisions) especially my major teachers, Yoheved Kaplinsky, and Robert Beaser for constantly believing and supporting me and always motivating me to work hard and to try new things…… And my close friends, who continually help and inspire me in my everyday life. Even though summer is ending, I am looking forward to starting the next school year! It will be a busy year but I look forward to reuniting with my friends from school and to the new classes ahead!

Tengku peforming with Cheng Jin Koh at International Festival.

Tengku peforming with Cheng Jin Koh at International Festival.

Tal First

For the August Edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Tal First, a third year violinist from Israel. Read on to learn more about Tal’s passion for violin, his approach to adapting in NYC, and his experience with Musethica.

Tal First sitting with violin.

Tal First sitting with violin. Credit Ilan Spira.

You began your violin studies when you were six in Israel. What influences were there for you to pursue violin?

Tal playing violin as a child.

Young Tal playing violin.

I started playing the violin after attending a concert played by the school’s violin and cello teachers. I remember listening to the violin’s sound and being amazed by how beautiful it is. During lessons I loved when my teacher (Geri Ferber) demonstrated on his own violin (probably because he made the sound that I still couldn’t fully produce), and very early on he started giving me [Itzhak Perlman’s] tapes and CDs, so Itzhak Perlman quickly became a source of inspiration.

What are some of the differences you’ve noticed while studying violin in Tel Aviv compared to your time here at Juilliard?

My own mentality. These two different situations are more than just two different institutions. In Israel I studied in a music school that is part of the Tel Aviv University, so there was that. Also, I served in the army at the same time. I simply couldn’t really devote my entire life to my studies at that time. However, when I came to Juilliard everything has changed immediately: I wasn’t in the army, I wasn’t with my family, my life started being in English, I left my comfort zone. All these changes and sacrifices were made in order to achieve a new mentality: everything for the violin and music. This is the biggest difference between my time in Tel Aviv and my time here at Juilliard.

Can you explain more about the IDF for those who are unfamiliar with this commitment in Israel?

So, basically everyone in Israel has to serve in the army at the age of 18. There are many different programs and paths in the army; and, I got into what is called the “outstanding musican program”. The musicians in the program get the chance to keep practicing their instrument on a daily basis (otherwise they can’t practice regularly for 2-3 years, and that is… bad) while serving in the army.

Are there any cultural aspects in the U.S. that you weren’t fully prepared for when you first arrived for your studies?

Yes! I remember having to get used to public transportation’s existence on weekends!

What advice do you have for students who have difficulties overcoming culture differences? What have you found helpful?

Adjusting is part of us, and part of this world. Don’t be afraid from the cultural differences you notice. Remember that at the same time when you live within a new culture, your new environment is curious about you and your culture as well. So be yourself and share your own culture while you embrace others’ cultures- it goes both ways.

What do you miss most about Israel/your hometown?

Friday night dinners with my family.

Tal with his cat, Steak

Tal with his cat, Steak

Where do you suggest our readers visit in Israel?

Caesarea and Tel Aviv. Caesarea has this beautiful “old city” part that was built 2000 years ago, and in Tel Aviv you can just walk around, enjoy the unique vibes and eat some of the best food.

What do you think some of the best food is?

First of all, if you come to Israel you have to try some of the Mediterranean cuisine. We have wonderful dishes of fish, salads, hummus, falafel… Besides that, in Tel Aviv there is a large variety of restaurants of different cuisines that one should not miss.

Do you have any favorite places or things to do in NYC?

I came to NYC mainly for the cookies and banana pudding…

Can you share more about your involvement with “Musethica”?

Tal performing violin.

Tal performing violin.

Musethica is a foundation that organizes chamber concerts in places for people with special needs and circumstances. [Learn more about Musethica here: www.musethica.org/ ]They create a once-a-week-group from a few students and a teacher, and after a few days of rehearsals we go and perform in these different places for about 10 concerts in 3-4 days. I started my journey with them the year before I came to Juilliard; and, I participate in a “Musethica Week” almost every time I go back for a visit in Israel. This project is so important to me because of its unique combination of professionalism and humanity. On the one hand I receive the opportunity to play with some of the best teachers and students, dealing with stage fright, as well as pushing myself to the limits as a performer: when you have 10 concerts in such a short time, it is easier to achieve the feeling of “I have nothing to lose. Let’s try this and that”. As I got familiar with this feeling, I can now better feel it when I have a one concert opportunity as well. On the other hand, when playing for those people one can really understand the power of music. We play in many different places, such as: schools, hospitals, Alzheimer Centers, Mental Health Centers, prisons, and more. So many people in those concerts are being touched by the music in a way that we don’t see in “normal” concerts. One of my favorite memories is from when we played Mozart’s famous string quintet in G minor in an Alzheimer Center. A 90-year-old was sitting in the first row, and he was in a very late stage of the disease. The doctors told us that he used to be a professional violist. As soon as we started playing he became still, quiet. As soon as the viola came in with the famous theme he started doing the fingerings on his knee!!!!. The music gave him inner peace for a little while, and we were unbelievably moved with what we just saw.

If you were not a violinist, what do you think your life pursuits may be?

I used to play tennis quite a lot, so this might be one answer. This year I discovered my love for cooking. With some practice, this could have been another option.

Do you have any favorite tennis players?

Definitely Roger Federer. Besides the fact he is just a player from another galaxy, he seems to be charismatic, respectful, modest, and a nice person. I guess it is just very easy and natural to become his fan.

What is something that many may not know about you? Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am Israeli, but before the holocaust my entire family lived in Poland. So, I grew up with my grandparents’ polish cooking. A lot of Pierogi.

Tal with friends from Juilliard

Tal with friends!




Lúa Mayenco Cardenal

For the June Edition of Eye on Culture, the Juilliard Office of International Advisement interviewed third year BFA dancer, Lúa Mayenco Cardenal. Read on to learn more about Lúa’s experiences in Madrid, her workshop “Beyond Words”, and her involvement as an Orientation Leader and in Campus Activity Board.


Lúa poses in front of a red wall.

Do you remember your first time dancing, or experiencing dance?

I don’t have a very clear memory of my first time dancing. Growing up in a family of actors, I feel I’ve been playing around the stage since I was able to escape my crib. However, I do have a few memories of my first year at my first dance academy. I started taking dance classes when I was six years old and for some reason I took them very seriously from day one. Of course, I clearly remember my first dance performance. The academy rented a small theater for a day and we spent hours rehearsing and placing the dances on stage before the performance. What I remember the most is the wonderful chaos backstage. Our teachers kept putting our buns up, checking that we didn’t make an unrepairable mess with our make-up, while we started caring less and less about the actual dances and more about the funny costumes and running around trying to find the theater’s secrets. I also remember that my family came to see me and that I felt incredibly relieved when they told me they hated the only dance I wasn’t part of. It wasn’t so much because I wanted to be the star of the show or anything like that, it was simply because I really, really wanted to be in that piece and wear those dotted green dresses.

Can you compare your dance training in Madrid to your training here at Juilliard? Are there any highlights from these different experiences?

The last ten years of my dance training in Madrid took place at the Professional Conservatory of Dance Carmen Amaya (www.conservatoriodanza.com/). Once I entered the professional program I chose the classical dance division, where I studied to become a well-trained ballerina. If I had to choose one word to describe those years it would be HARD. I would dance from 9a.m. to 3p.m. and go to school from 4p.m. to 9:30 at night. I struggled a lot with my body because I didn’t have the ideal lines for a classic ballerina. My knees and feet weren’t curved enough and my turn out was almost non-existent. Even if my teachers sometimes doubted I could make a living as a ballet dancer, they didn’t have any other option than believing in me. My endless passion and hard work showed them I was willing to keep going despite all kinds of obstacles. That way, they gave me more and more opportunities to work and I spent my days getting what others were given naturally. By the time I got into Juilliard I knew that the greatest obstacle was already overcome: I already saw myself as a dancer and nothing would ever change that. The past two years at Juilliard have helped me find my voice as an artist. Juilliard has been opening my eyes to new ways of understanding dance since I crossed its doors. The training I receive here is not only about perfecting my technique and obtaining the tools to step into the dance world; it is about exploring the universe I’m already a part of and finding the way to navigate it. These two experiences are very different, but they couldn’t have happened without each other. I just see it as a progression, as part of my natural evolution.

When you first arrived at the Juilliard school, how was your transition to US culture? What differences between Spanish and US cultures have you noticed?

At the beginning, everything was so fast that I didn’t even have time to ask myself what I was feeling. Trying to understand what people were saying around me was already too big of a task, so I didn’t start analyzing the cultural differences until a few months after my arrival. It was a tricky and confusing process, especially because I was the only European in my class and the first Spanish dancer in the history of the dance division. We were only three international dancers in the class of 2020 and the other two were from Canada, so they had English as their first language. Finding the confidence to speak


A milkshake, a prime example of American cuisine.

up in a culture where people are encouraged to fully develop their personal opinions from a very young age was very difficult. For the first time in the dance studio they were asking to hear my thoughts. I felt behind for almost the entire first year, but I truly learnt how to listen, and what a wonderful skill. I really missed the warmth of Spanish culture. I still miss throwing kisses all over the place and being able to hug a stranger after talking for a few minutes. Oh, I almost forgot: I had a very hard time getting used to American food. The Mediterranean diet and the time dedicated to each meal is still essential to me, and all of a sudden, those long conversations at the dining table were all gone. I truly believe all these intricate changes were essential, not to study at Juilliard, but to question my own culture and the one I was stepping into. I found adaptability, openness and comfort in all the challenges and new adventures Juilliard and the US were offering me. I would recommend 100% to throw yourself into the unknown and see the wonders of uncertainty. It’s the only way to understand the beauty of vulnerability.

Where is a place you miss most from home?

Madrid is full of magical corners. A friend from Juilliard just left after spending a couple of days in my city and it was impossible for me to condense its beauty in just two days. More than a place, what I miss the most is being able to sit outside with a bunch of friends or with my family, late at night, while we are having something to drink, until everything has been discussed at least twice. I miss the peace offered by the summer darkness of Spain and the relief of seeing the sun go down. The craziness of New York makes me miss the peace of human stillness. This is something that also Spain only has during the summer, but the memory of this feeling keeps me sane when nothing else can.

Is there an activity that you suggest folks do while in Spain?

If someone comes to Spain, they need to embrace the Spanish schedule (including the siesta time during weekends and holidays) to fully understand the country and its people. Spain has a little bit of everything, [that’s the] reason why there aren’t a lot of activities, dishes, traditions etc. that apply to all regions. If I had to suggest something, it would be visiting at least two very different cities and celebrate their diversity. Food, no matter where you go, is always tasty, different and of very good quality; they should definitely take advantage of that. Aside from this, I find fascinating the history that radiates from every single city, small town and village. The intricate past of this country makes it surprising and unique. Finally, I would like to highlight the openness of its citizens. If you come to Spain, make friends.

Is there a performance that has had a profound effect on you, or your current work?

I would be unfair if I had to point to a single performance. Since I came to Juilliard I’ve been shocked by all the possibilities offered by the contemporary dance world. Yes, I’ve seen big companies like NDT(www.ndt.nl/en/home.html), Batsheva(batsheva.co.il/en/home), CND (www.cnd.fr/fr/), Alvin Alley (www.alvinailey.org/) and others that have fascinated me with their quality of dance, imagination, and power. Yes, I’ve seen the work of unbelievable choreographers like Hofesh Shcheter, Crystal Pite, Roy Assaf or Pina Bausch that made me feel like I still was a baby dancer. However, the way these performances influenced me was letting me know that I only had to keep moving forward with availability. I want to try all, collaborate, choreograph, get lost and “fail”; just because risk is the only way to keep art alive. All these shows are reminders of how, no matter what you do, you are evolving, growing and improving.

You have recent experience as a choreographer. Can you share what you enjoy most about this, or what you think is the most challenging?

I always knew that I wanted to choreograph. I’m addicted to challenges and there is no greater one than sharing your thoughts with a hungry audience. I love it because it

Lua Dance Choreographer

Lúa prepares choreography with fellow dancers.

allows you to see your desires, concerns and joys materialized in devoted bodies. With choreography, I’m able to create art from an empty space and people who I love and respect. I give life to an ephemeral and magical scene that will always be performed in an unrepeatable way. Also, it’s another way to participate in the dance world. Dancing frees your body and soul, but choreography liberates your mind. Both things are essential to me and Juilliard gave me the option to dedicate my time to both. About the most challenging side of choreography, I would say it’s staying confident. Setting your own movement in other people, designing a particular aesthetic, directing a rehearsal. All those things require self-trust, which is not always easy to find. You are opening yourself to those who work with you and to your audience, exposing your most vulnerable self. I think this is something choreographers will never learn how to handle completely. If they don’t doubt, then, they are not challenging themselves enough. They are sticking to what they know works.  As they used to say, “A house that doesn’t change is a dead house”.

As an orientation leader, can you give our incoming Juilliard students some words of wisdom? What should they do to prepare for their experience?’

During my first week at Juilliard, they asked me to write an “expectations letter”. What was I expecting from the school? I answered I had no expectations. I wanted to let the future surprise me. Therefore, dear incoming students, don’t prepare for this experience. No matter how hard you try to visualize it, it will be different than you thought, and disappointment is a very painful feeling. My “words of wisdom” would be: stay open, embrace the days you feel homesick and lost, give yourself time to find friends, you don’t have to know who you are and “what you do”, let yourself get bored and, when you are stressed, remind yourself that everything happens at its own time. Dedication, passion and hard work will always be compensated, probably in ways you could have never imagined. There is nothing to prove. At the end of the day, the hardest judge is oneself; treat yourself well. Please, don’t be afraid of asking for help. You would be surprised of how many people are waiting to help you. Prioritize. “Yes” and “no” are both valid options. Finally, have fun and enjoy Juilliard. You can spend many years in NY, but not that many at this school full of talent.

You are currently a member of CAB, or Campus Activities Board. How do you suggest new Juilliard students, or returning students get more involved on campus? What are some accomplishments in this role that you are particularly proud of?

There is not an accurate recipe to get involved. Every student finds their own way into the Juilliard Community, starting with what comes naturally to them. However, what I believe is always useful and fulfilling, is to open yourself to new connections. The best resource at Juilliard is its students. Talented artists from all around the world meet in the city of New York just for a few years of their lives; we better enjoy their company. Through that desire of expanding my knowledge through others, I found my way into CAB. The Campus Activity Board gives me an excuse to get closer to those who are sharing a time of growth and discovery with me. After one year in such an amazing team, I look back and I feel proud of all those events that gave our friends an opportunity to simply laugh in company of their loved ones or their future loved ones. Furthermore, feeling the support and trust of the community is a motivation to keep challenging my personal limits. I feel proud of the new ideas I introduced into the CAB team through unusual events like the “Juilliard Assassin Game” or the “Capture the Penguin” for the Juilliard Spirit Day. I feel grateful for all the amazing experiences this school has offered me; getting involved is only a way to give back part of that joy. If you want to actively be a part of this community, keep sharing what inspires you in whatever way you feel comfortable with.


Lúa with CAB members visiting Dyker Heights holiday lights.

You are founder and director of a movement workshop called, “Beyond Words”. Can you tell us a little more about this program, and what motivated you to create this workshop?

After my first year at Juilliard I realized I had been focusing on my personal growth for far too long. I felt the need to share my knowledge and the tools that had helped me change all aspects of my life. I wanted to bring the power of dance to those who had never been exposed to the liberation of physical movement, and that way, the idea of “Beyond Words” first came to my mind. After a year of brainstorming and careful planning, I decided to create a one-week summer workshop for Spanish kids between the ages of 10 and 12. I wanted them to start considering physicality as part of their personality, including movement in their daily vocabulary and expanding their possibilities to express themselves. It was the first time I tried to create a program from scratch and I can’t deny it took a lot of time and effort; nevertheless, we made it happen. In two weeks from now, me and my Andalusian partner Margarita López, are meeting a delightful group of twelve kids in one of the public schools of Madrid. For five days we’ll dive into the movement universe, playing with the basics of dance and helping them to find comfort and support on their bodies. I can’t wait to see the magic happen.

Now that you’ve been in NYC for a bit, and have been involved in the community, can you share what you like most about NYC or the Juilliard community?

As I mentioned before, what I love the most about the Juilliard community is its students. I’ve been able to discover a whole new universe through the ideas and experiences of those around me. All of a sudden, I discovered the power of combining inspirations, projects, talent and resources. I feel supported and encouraged by all my friends and teachers. They taught me how to fly, accepting the fall as part of the adventure; I don’t know, I simply love collaborating and being part of a greater piece of art.

Lua FlowerAbout NYC, it could be described as a continuous exchange of information. There is always something going on, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse if you are the kind of person who hates missing out. As Frank Sinatra used to say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”. Well, that’s exactly how I feel. I love how the city pushes you to always keep moving and improving, even if sometimes it takes you to exhaustion. New York is one of the few cities able to gather the best minds in a few blocks. I would have never, EVER, guessed that at the age of 18 I would be living in the city that never sleeps and discovering myself in its unique mess.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to thank the Office of International Advisement for this opportunity to share my experience at Juilliard. Because of my financial situation, I would have never believed I was going to complete two entire school years at this school. Feeling the support of this institution gives me the strength to keep fighting for my dreams. Thank you for everything.


Lúa enjoying the sites of New York City.

Alessandro Pittorino

For the June edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Alessandro Pittorino (www.agpo.org/). A Juilliard alumnus from Australia, Alessandro came to the US to pursue his love for the organ. Read on to learn about how his love for the organ first began, how his Juilliard experience has impacted his current career, and how he wishes to change the world.


Alessandro Pittorino (Headshot)

Could you tell our readers more about your background in the organ? Can you remember when you first began pursuing the organ? Was this love at first sight?

My fascination with the organ began on a Sunday afternoon when I was 5 years old. My mother would often like to take time out on Sunday afternoon after a day out on the town, and just sit in a quiet, empty church. It’s quite a humbling and peaceful experience. One time, someone happened to be practicing the organ, and the organ console was in full view – and I was fixated on this instrument. The man would play from the floor, but the sound was coming from the back and way above. It went from soft to loud in a heart beat and I literally thought it was controlled by magic (it probably didn’t help that Harry Potter was just released and I was also obsessed with that). That’s when this whole love affair with the instrument started and it has never stopped. Not long after I began taking piano lessons as I was too short to reach the pedals on the organ. Despite that, I would go as often as I could after school and spend time on the organ, mixing and matching sounds, going into the instrument and seeing how it works. Basically doing everything you’re probably not supposed to do. After a couple of years I managed to secure myself a little job as a church organist, and that’s when I formally started taking lessons.


Can you tell us more about your role as Organist and Director of Music Minisitry at Arts of the Blessed Sacrament? What inspired you for this undertaking? What are some highlights so far of this organization?

I was very fortunate to be offered the job of Organist and Director of Music at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on West 71st Street, not long after I graduated. Although I had a few job offers at the time, this position really appealed to me because of the location, the potential of the venues, but mainly because of the attitude of the people at this church – they want to see culture alive and thriving. For me, that was the greatest selling point – I knew this position would be challenging in many ways, but knowing that the love for music and the arts was there, it was an encouragement for me to take a risk and go for it.

Not long after commencing the position in mid-September, I launched, along with my colleague Eric Huckins (Horn, MM 18’), a new arts organization called Arts at Blessed Sacrament (www.blessedsacramentnyc.org/abs). Eric and I had been in a couple of classes together at Juilliard, but the one that we really got to know each other in was Dr. Barli Nugent’s career seminar class. After finishing school in May of 2017, Eric and I chatted about our aspirations and one of the biggest hurdles we discussed is as up and coming artists, there are very few high quality venues in Manhattan available to young artists where they truly get to perform and program as they wish. Now, Blessed Sacrament Church has proved itself to be an amazing venue for music performance, the acoustics of the sanctuary are more akin to those of a concert hall, rather than a church. The parish also has an off-off broadway theatre, which they had just renovated; as well as vaulted-ceiling hall which could be configured in almost any way. Utilizing these venues, we have put on over 50 performances, involving over 200 musicians, actors, and dancers. In reality, we thought we would just put on a few performances, but people have really caught on to and shared our vision for music and arts and it has just blown out of size in a very short time frame.

For me, every concert has been a highlight. I’ve been blown away by the sheer high quality of these artists, many of whom have been from Juilliard and have given their time freely. The performances have been world-class in every sense of the word and I am so glad that artists have wanted to perform here, and want to return for more! Most recently, the church has invested in everything we are doing and has purchased a Steinway and Sons Model D piano (9’ concert grand). This is a stellar instrument, and it is the first milestone for this place. There are so many more to come as there is just so much potential here.


Alessandro with Arts at Blessed Sacrament performers

You’ve performed in various venues throughout Australia and New York. Are there any that have special memories for you?

Being an organist can be a blessing and a curse – [organs] are generally located in the


Instagram post about Lincoln Center fashion gala.

most cool venues, whether it be a huge cathedral, an awesome concert hall, a beautiful ballroom, or even an outdoor pavilion! On the downside, you can’t take it with you so you can be sometimes limited in terms of where you can perform. But the fact that you can travel and be in these great venues and express your art in them is a great feeling. For me, my greatest memories come from the people I meet. Venues are great, but it’s the people that will make or break your experience. I love to chat with my audiences (or potential audiences) and hear about their lives, why they come to hear music, maybe why they didn’t expect to come. Connecting with them on a personal level makes the performance all the more special.


I’ve met some pretty cool people as well. When I performed at Lincoln Center for their fashion gala last October, I got to meet Nicolas Ghesquière creative director of Louis Vuitton, Nicole Kidman, as well as a host of other movie stars.

During your Bachelor of Music studies at University of Western Australia, what do you think prepared you the most for your Masters work at Juilliard?

UWA is very much a research based institution, rather than performance based, so they very much prepared me academic wise for my time at Juilliard, in particular the fine line of balancing academics and performance. They also instilled in me a great sense of taking charge of my learning experience. I was the only organ student during my time there, and the first in quite a while. So they really had no performance opportunities they could offer me. Instead of being deterred from this reality, this is when my entrepreneurial side really got a kick start, as I began to create ways to make performance opportunities happen for myself, and others as well. I learned a great deal from doing this, and that is very much influencing my approach to my career right now.

I of course would be remiss if I do not mention my organ teacher at UWA, Ms. Annette Goerke. Her training prepared me for my time at Juilliard and much of my approach to the instrument on a practical level has very much come from her. I was also greatly inspired by her career, and how she believed in the power of music of the organ, and was instrumental in promoting this music in Australia, both in live performance and in radio broadcasts.


Alessandro performing on organ at Sydney Town Hall

Reflecting on your time at Juilliard, what are some experiences that have shaped your current career?


Alessandro sitting with Paul Jacobs.

My reason for coming to Juilliard was to study with Paul Jacobs. His artistry is so genuine and pure, and he lives his artistic life by example. I knew that if I wanted to get to level I needed to be at, Paul was the one who could make it come to pass. It may seem cliché to say but my time at Juilliard was life changing. Just the act of coming from the farthest city from New York, not knowing anyone, and essentially starting again here majorly shaped my career. My whole approach to music on a was very closely refined. I am so incredibly grateful to Paul, and all my colleagues in the organ department for such and eye opening experience. From a career sense, I always had these big dreams, but no knowledge of the pathway there. President Polisi’s vision of an artist as citizen really resonated with me, as I never consciously considered how my life and work as an artist can have impact on the world. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Barli Nugent who has been a huge supporter, and a great mentor. She has not been afraid to keep me in check and tame my crazy mind. If you have the chance to have a class with her, or even just to say hello to her – do it. You’ll have a best friend for life.

Are there any myths or misconceptions about Australia that you have heard while being here that surprise you?

I didn’t realize how Americans believe rumors so easily. People tell me that the spiders are going to eat you and the kangaroos are going to punch your lights out. Australia is a beautiful country with beautiful people and I highly recommend everyone to check it out. Australians know how to live and enjoy life, which I love. I do miss Australia greatly, however New York City feels like home for me at this point in my life and I love being here.

What is something that many people may not know about you?

Perhaps something most people wouldn’t realize about me is outside of my public life at home is quite simple. I’m usually quite quiet and enjoy sleep ins as much as possible, as well as going to both Met museum and opera, and [the] NY Phil. Outside of my love for music and fashion, I do love cars. I have always been interested in cars since I was very young, and I have an extensive collection of diecast model cars back home in Australia.

As part of the Juilliard Alumni community, do you have any advice for our newly enrolled students who will be coming in the Fall?


Alessandro standing with his mother at Juilliard Graduation

Your time at Juilliard isn’t very long, so try to make the most of your time at the school. Put yourself out there, go to as many concerts and events as you can, and meet as many people as you can. You may not realize it at the time, but these people who you see in the hallway may have great impact on career. Don’t forget to smile and be nice. Everyone is going through the same thing you are; so, when the going gets tough, remember you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to talk to people as well. Your art is a power tool that you are at the school to refine, but your voice is just as powerful. You are in a community of like minded artists– like minded in the sense that they are putting themselves out there to pursue a career in the arts. It is a bold endeavor. My hope is that you are coming to Juilliard hungry to change the world, and that can just be your little world. If you can be confident talking to your colleagues, then talking to strangers who are potential audience members and supporters shouldn’t be a problem. Know how to talk about your vision for your career because you are going to find others that have similar thoughts, and can help you make it all the more interesting. Make mistakes!! This is the time to try everything out– and you should. Take all the risks. Better you mess up in the Juilliard bubble than in the real world. Finally, leave the school. Juilliard is located in an amazing part of the city– but it’s one of so many amazing parts. NYC is a huge city, but it can also be incredibly intimate. Explore the city, and experience all the makes people want to come to this great city. You are apart of it; and by living here, you are contributing to the life of this city. So have fun with it!

I had heard that you are currently going through/completed the O1 visa application process. Can share what that process was like for you?

The visa process is quite complicated, so I have been extremely grateful for the help of my lawyer, who has made the process so smooth. It is a daunting task, and not the most glamorous. My advice to anyone wanting to stay in the city, be prepared and organized. Have records of everything you have done, and make sure you are getting plenty of gigs. In this regard, there is no such thing as too much. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; you’re doing yourself the greatest service by doing so.

I’ve heard from Cory and Meg that you’re extremely stylish and have great hair. Can you tell our readers more about your fashion influences and your style inspiration?

My style is very much a reflection of who I am, and it all began with my mum. She is an incredibly stylish person, and lived the best years of her life in London. So as a young kid, I would often raid her wardrobe and try on the vintage Versace jackets, and fur coats. She taught me that your appearance says a lot about who you are, so it’s important to me to look good (at least 80% of the time). I very much believe in a timeless look in general, but have been known to go all out for occasions. People often ask me where do you get your clothes from and the answer is everywhere! I see something, I like it, and I buy it. Usually [they’re] always on sale (I’m not afraid to do a little bit of bartering). I do love designers such as Versace, Dolce Gabbana, Gucci, etc, but I’m attracted to what suits my style, not a label. I have been known to customize my clothes – I have a full Swarovski crystal jacket that I made myself, and even an orientation shirt which I bedazzled. My take on fashion is that life is worth living, so you may as well look good for it!


Alessandro flying while playing the organ.

Arash Noori

For the Office of International Advisement’s May edition of Eye-on-Culture, Arash Noori (www.arashnoorimusic.com/) was interviewed. A graduate student in the historical performance program, Arash is a lutist/guitarist born in Tehran, Iran, who is now a Canadian citizen. Read on to learn more about Arash’s love of Monteverdi, his experience with Juilliard415, and the steps he is taking to be more health-conscious.


Arash Noori with guitar

You are an accomplished guitarist/lutist. What are some of your first memories of these instruments?

My older brother of 5 years had begun taking piano lessons, when I was about two and a half/three years old, and it was at his teacher’s house that I had my first conscious encounter with the guitar. We had gone by to drop off (or pick up…I don’t remember) my brother for a lesson and there was guitar just laying around this teacher’s studio…and I just couldn’t help but to go over for a closer look. It was like a magnet; I went on over picked it and started strumming away. Luckily no one yelled at me to stop…I wonder if I would have become a musician if they had!

You have won many international competitions, and have been described as “the compelling guitarist” by the New York Times. What do you believe makes your music compelling? Can you tell us your secrets?

Hah. Well, the New York Times quote (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/14/arts/music/review-cantanta-profana-revives-a-henze-cycle-inspired-by-german-poems.html) comes from a review of a performance of Hans Werner Henze’s Kammermusik, a work that I had been wanting to perform for years. It’s a difficult piece to put together; difficult for all instruments of the chamber orchestra, nearly an hour long, with a devilishly difficult tenor part…it’s almost impossible to manage to put together within the confines of the “chamber music program” of even the finest music schools. I finally had a chance to perform the work with some of my closest friends and favorite musicians, the Cantata Profana Ensemble (www.cantataprofana.com/) and the remarked tenor Tom Cooley (www.thomascooley.com). So how is this for a recipe for a successful performance: find a work that you feel strongly about (kind of work that makes your creative and performance impulses fire on all cylinders), add years of anticipation and ruminating until you finally get a chance to perform it, and surround yourself with dear friends and amazing musicians to do so…and I think the odds are that the resulting performance will be pretty darn “compelling.”

You have completed degrees at Yale, and the University of Toronto. Can you tell about your shift from these institutions to Juilliard? Have you noticed any differences? My training at Juilliard has been by far the most focused—accumulating a ton of professional-level performance experience with world-class directors. By the time we’re through with hours of rehearsals, coachings and performances, gosh, there isn’t much time for anything else. My undergraduate experience at University of Toronto was a reasonably well-rounded liberal arts education with a concentration on music; I was a classical guitarist at Yale which meant a lot of independent practice time and a chance to take in as much as one can on the very special and lively campus. The Historical Performance program at Juilliard has definitely been the most intense training I’ve received.

Can you tell us more about why you decided to pursue a graduate degree in historical performance? I simply fell in love with lutes and early guitars…I mean obsessive. As well as the music that goes along with the instruments; particularly the music of Claudio Monteverdi is very close to my heart. He’s my desert-island composer for sure. I just had to pursue further my training in the field given my love for the music and the instruments and the HP program at Juilliard is the gold standard.

Arash Noori 1

Arash Noori performing on lute.


I’ve seen photos of Juilliard415 online, and it seems like everyone has a lot of fun traveling! What are some of your best experiences being part of this group?

Gosh, at the risk of sounding corny, I will say that every project we do is special; this is a special ensemble and an incredibly special program. But I must say that the “Genius of Monteverdi” program that we did under the direction of William Christie in October of 2017 will be the one that I’ll carry with me with vivid memories for a long time. Everything about the project was seemingly tailor-made for me to have an experience of lifetime: I’ve already mentioned my love for the music of Claudio Monteverdi, the repertoire selection—mainly from the 8th book of madrigals “Madrigals of War and Love”—and working with one of my favorite musicians on the planet, William Christie…this was just a dream come true. And to top it all off, Maestro Christie didn’t conduct the project but rather led from harpsichord, playing basso continuo. And as a basso continuo player on lute-family instruments , I got to play along with him. Without getting too technical about the process, it’s analogous to being in a “band”; it’s that kind of improvisatory music making where you have to be very aware of each other—being reactive and supportive to one another as well as whomever you’re accompanying (in this case, our wonderful singers from the vocal arts program)…when you get it right and are playing with expressive and communicative musicians, there is nothing quite like it. It’s fun, spontaneous, creative and exciting and I still really can’t believe that I got to do it with one of the best, ever, William Christie…you know, we were in a “continuo band” together 🙂

What are some things that many people may not know about you?

That I was raised in Iran until the age of 12. My Iranian/Canadian background is no secret but even some of my close friends forget that I was raised in in Iran until I was almost a teenager. I’m not quite sure why; I suspect it’s because of the absence of an accent, or rather the presence of a strong Canadian accent which people detect more readily than a Persian accent…I sound like I was born and raised in Saskatoon and only left yesterday, so people forget that I went through all of elementary school in Iran. I used to think that the Canadian accent is myth; I didn’t hear much of a difference in the way that I and my American friends talked, but having discovered the field of Historical Performance entirely in the United States as a graduate student, and having encountered certain words for the first time with an American accent, when I go home and I hear a Canadian HP colleague say “viola da gamba,” I say to myself “oh boy…there is a Canadian accent… and it’s strong!”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Performing and teaching primarily the music of the 17th and 18th century; sharing the joy of everything that I think is so incredibly special about this repertoire.

I have heard that you have some strong opinions in regards to probiotics, can you share more with us?

Well, let me start by saying that I love being an instrumentalist—and that I love practicing as much as I do—but one realizes sooner or later that it’s not necessarily the healthiest lifestyle. And I was getting to a point where I was beginning feel the negative the health effects of being an instrumentalist at a high level and I made a choice to start being more health-conscious. And the only way that I could do this was to actually treat the matter as a hobby, rather than some thing that I “should do.” Chores are not sustainable with me, so I tried to have fun with it. And it’s an easy thing to do with all the good material that is now available online, from accomplished, accredited experts who choose to share a wealth of information on blogs and podcasts etc.; it’s really incredible. So it’s not that I’m following health “fads”; the people that I that I read and listen to are noted, published experts. It’s become very much so fun; I like keeping an eye out for information, “super foods” and recipes. Recently I’ve become interested in probiotics—simply put, beneficial bacteria that you carry in your gut that can help regulate and strengthen the immune system along with many other health benefits— and realizing that fermented foods are the best source of getting more of these probiotics inside you, I bought a fermentation kit and started making my own sauerkraut! I haven’t been brave enough to attempt kimchi yet but I’ll get there. It’s taken me a while to get any good at making sauerkraut itself; the first couple of batches were, well, not good! In any case, sauerkraut the side I’ve become so fond of this new passion/hobby and I genuinely enjoy doing it; it’s a nice break away from the profession of playing and practicing and it’s an enjoyable way of remedying some of the negative health effects of being a professional musician.


Sylvia Jiang

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sylvia Jiang, a fourth year pianist from Auckland, New Zealand. Read on to learn about how Sylvia first began to learn the piano, New Zealand, and her project, NOVA: Movement and Sound (http://www.facebook.com/NOVAMovementandSound).

You began your piano studies at age four. What is your earliest memory of the piano?

When I was growing up, my family would go for dinner at a nearby hotel on special occasions. At that time I wasn’t so interested in the food, but rather found myself always intrigued by the pianist in the lobby and so I asked my Mother for lessons. You must understand that I was a rambunctious three year old whose attention was ever-wandering and so my Mum’s answer was a resounding “absolutely not.” But I was extremely persistent so at age four she finally agreed to a trial run and has been totally supportive ever since.

Sylvia, aged 5

When and how did you decide that piano would be more than a hobby and instead be your major in college and career?

I’ve always taken Piano as a ‘one step at a time’ thing because of how unpredictable the career can be- particularly coming from New Zealand where international success in music is present but rare. I also attended a competitive, academically based private school and so academic achievement had always co-existed with my musical journey. However, around age 16 I realized that I needed to trend in one direction or the other because my time was limited. In the end, I decided that I could always go back to a career in some other field but that Music and the Piano couldn’t wait so I decided to commit more thoroughly to Music.

You have given solo recitals in a number of countries including New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States. Of these many performances, which one stands out the most in your memory and why?

Honestly for me, the duration of any performance is mostly the same because I try my best to be completely immersed in the music- but interesting things certainly happen before and after! An incident that I will always remember occurred at a community recital that I gave when I was 16 or 17. In my concluding speech, I thanked my Mum and gestured to her in the audience. A lady sitting close to her (who had maybe had a little too much to drink) yelled out “that’s not your Mum! That’s your sister!”

We know that Juilliard students do not have a lot of free time, but when you do, what do you like to do for fun?

I guess I could say that I spend most of my free time at the piano- partly out of necessity but also because I feel a bit empty without it. Aside from that, I like to search out fun fitness classes around the city, go rowing in central park (when the season allows), play video games, and spend time with my friends. I also really love watching basketball (Go Warriors!) so as a recent birthday present my Mum and I took a trip to Oracle Arena in Oakland California to watch a Warriors home game.At an escape game in New York

If you could have one super power what would it be and why?

When I was younger I used to think that I would like to be able to read people’s minds but the older I become the more I realise that it would be too much information. A practical superpower would be the ability to teleport while magically also maintaining lawful status wherever I go, but the idealist in me would like to have the ability to heal.

If you had to pick one food/dish to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?Sylvia 6

My favourite food ingredient in the world are potatoes and it has been this way since I was three years old. My grandma always told me that I would grow out of it but I haven’t yet…

Where in New Zealand were you raised? If our readers were to visit it, what are three things you recommend they do?

I grew up in Auckland which is the largest city in New Zealand- although large is relative since there are only roughly 4 million people living in New Zealand as a whole. I am very passionate about the idea that everyone should visit New Zealand- it really is the most beautiful place. I would recommend going White Water Rafting, taking a forestry zip-lining tour, and eating the wonderfully fresh produce.

When you are in the US, what do you most miss about New Zealand and when you go home to New Zealand during breaks, what do you most miss about the US?

Sylvia 3I miss New Zealand food the most- the produce is just more fresh, less processed, and it tastes infinitely better (particularly dairy, meat and apples). When I’m in New Zealand, I miss my friends and the convenience that New York City has to offer. Oh- and the Pizza, of course.

You were born in China, but moved to New Zealand at a young age. Where in China were you born? How old were you when you moved to New Zealand? If you were old enough to remember, did you experience a lot of culture shock when you arrived in New Zealand?

I was four when we immigrated to New Zealand so I remember the move but I wasn’t shocked by much. The biggest barrier for me was learning the language but I was so young that it all happened fairly quickly.

Did you experience culture shock (again) when you moved to New York City to begin your studies at Juilliard? What was the most “shocking” for you?

Absolutely. My first two years at Juilliard were extremely difficult- not really because of the city but rather because the intensity was something that I had never experienced. Suddenly I felt like I needed to remake everything about the way that I approached my instrument and I lost almost all my confidence as a performer.

However, I now reflect upon those two years with pride because I feel like I really overcame some of my insecurities and as a result I become a better person and artist.Nova: Movement and Sound group photo

In 2014, you founded Nova: Movement and Sound. Can you tell our readers a little bit about this project?

When I first got to Juilliard, I was so inspired by not only my fellow musicians, but also the productions of the other departments. As a result, I invited student musicians, choreographers, and dancers to come together to create shows together. To this day, I’m incredibly proud of the three shows that we created during my time here.

You are graduating this May. What are your plans for the summer and next academic year?

I have no idea as of yet! Hopefully I will continue studying somewhere…

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Don’t be afraid to fall – you just might learn to fly in the process.


Cesar Parreno

For this March edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement spoke to César Parreño.  César is a first year vocalist from Guayaquil, Ecuador. Read on to learn about César’s quick stint in business school, his experience coming to the US, and his true love, Sasha, his dog.

Cesar and his dog, Sasha

Can you share with us the first time you were involved in the vocal arts?

I’ve always enjoyed singing, ever since I was a kid; [I] didn’t know that singing would end up being my profession. My mom tells a story that [she] once saw a 1-year-old toddler (me) singing and dancing to a music video on TV. My mom interpreted those mumblings, and probably not so pretty sounds, as singing and since then she knew I liked [music]. At around 10 she signed me up [for] a music school back home, and there I had my first lessons. I stopped around 2 years later.

Why did you stop?

I quit for a while after a horrible performance. I always kept singing in my high school’s band. We performed in events throughout the year, but it was always pop, rock, or Latin music, not classical at all. Then high school ended and I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with my life, so by default I started business school back home. Because it was really close by, I started taking lessons with my teacher back home, Beatriz Parra. There, I started taking lessons and almost immediately joined their choir (http://www.facebook.com/corocallas). Eventually, music started [to steal] me away. In Ecuador classical arts [don’t] have the space they deserve. It is very difficult to have a career as an opera singer when the classical environment is so [limited]. Saying that it is challenging and against the norm is an understatement. Years passed and I realized I didn’t enjoy business. I was only taking the liberal arts courses and avoiding the business core. I allowed myself to accept the fact that I could indeed have a chance in studying classical singing and [make] it my profession. I have to admit, the choir and the environment of artists I spent time with was one of the most determining factors in my decision.

I  always wanted to study abroad. I have to confess I didn’t know about conservatories and music schools in the U.S., I heard of Juilliard before, so I went online and googled: “Best music schools/conservatories in the US” browsed around 3 lists, picked and researched my 4 favorites, [then] applied. Just like that. I didn’t know about any specific teacher I wanted to study with; I didn’t know anyone from there; I just did it. Talk about crazy things, right?

Can you tell us your relationship with music and the arts as you were growing up?

While growing up and during high school I thought of music as a hobby. I never really thought about it as a career until I actually dropped business school. I didn’t really have a person to look up to. I am the first professional musician in my family, too. My parents don’t really listen to classical music at all. I was never exposed to a real artistic community. This is why the choir was so important to me. It gave me a little taste of the musician community. Culturally, being a musician is not a “regular” career choice, thankfully my parents saw my potential, and have been supporting me every step of the way.

Do you mind sharing any information about your family and pets?


Cesar and his family

Of course, I don’t! I am the elder of two brothers. My younger brother’s name is Sergio. He is currently in high school and not worried with the “What will I do with my life?!” dilemma yet. My dad’s name is Patricio (actually César Patricio, but lets not talk about that) he works in an insurance company. Funny thing, he loves soccer and almost all sports, while I don’t. We both enjoy action TV shows though! And last but not least, my mom, Katia. She is a dentist. She has her own office and we talk A LOT. It’s our favorite hobby. She is also a really musical person! She enjoys music and always wanted to learn how to play piano. Her dad, Pablo, is also a singer at heart. You can always hear him sing around his house, and even recorded a CD with two guitar accompaniment! I guess I got the love of music from my mom’s side!

I have a cat named Juana; she is not that friendly. She will sometimes just run to you and bite you. But we love her anyway. However, the real star of the show is my Pekingese dog, Sasha. She is the best dog ever, period. She is super calm and really enjoys human company. She would follow me around everywhere and would let anyone pick her up for a long time (as long as you pet her). She is also a terrific hunter. Just wanted to let you know. Don’t be jealous.

You’ve had many performances already in your career, do you have any favorites? Or any that have been particularly meaningful to you?

Of course, 3 come to mind.

The first one is a really big performance celebrating the city’s (Guayaquil) anniversary in which I was hired to sing one of the main roles. It was also the inauguration of a giant statue in the middle of the city. This giant even had a full orchestra and was live-streamed on TV and social media! It was a huge thing! I’m so happy I was a part of it!

The second one is when the choir I was in (in spirit I still am) went to Peru to an international choir festival. We had so much fun traveling and going to Machu Pichu and gasping for breath at 11,152 feet over ocean level! It was an unforgettable experienced singing with my friends and traveling to do music outside Ecuador!

And the last one is the one I hold dearest to my heart. It was during the final performance of the classical singing international festival (http://www.facebook.com/festivalsantiagodeguayaquil) organized by my teacher, Beatriz Parra. This was the last performance I had before moving to the states to start my studies [at] Juilliard. As you can imagine, emotions were high. My final song was “No puede ser”, [a heavily emotional piece] by Pablo Sorozábal.  At the end I hit that long, final A. I see my friends and family’s faces, smiling, clapping, cheering. And I lost it. I tried bowing with a smile, but my face started trembling. I started crying. I resumed full crying backstage. It was not as much happiness that I was leaving, it was more of a sense of accomplishment, closure if you may. That will be one of my most treasured memories. Because it had all that was important to me; music, friends and family, all in one place, all in one moment.

Cesar on stage

You currently are an active participant on campus and in the residence hall. Which events have been your favorite so far this school year?

Oh so many to pick from. I have to admit I enjoy all diversity dialogues. I’m always surfing through science videos in youtube, and diversity dialogues are like those but interactive and with people! In the residence hall I loved geek movie night with people from the Geek Coalition! We watched Galaxy Quest and I loved every minute of it! Another one of my favorites was Breakfast and Cartoons. Had two of my favorite things: cereal and cartoons. What else could I ask for?

Your hometown is Portoviejo, even though your family lives in Guayaquil. Can you explain your relationships with both places? Are there any cultural differences?

It’s funny because I always say I’m from Manabi, Portoviejo. Even though I used to live in Guayaquil since I was 2/3 years old. I wouldn’t say there is much of a cultural difference though. A good thing that comes from being from two different places its that you get to travel during Holidays!Cesar and friends in Ecuador

Ecuador has experienced many challenges recently politically, and environmentally. Can you explain what this is like?

Sadly, 2 years ago my hometown was devastated by an earthquake. A lot of people around the upper west coast lost their lives. This made the economy more challenging than it was for me and my family, given that we had to help family that lost their homes back in Portoviejo. Things are looking much better now. One day, Portoviejo will be back better than ever.

Can you compare life in NYC to Guayaquil?

I’ve always lived in a big city, so its not that different. Funny thing, for me the transition from Guayaquil to NYC was not that harsh (if at all) it just felt like: “Welp, I’m here. Let’s get to business.” I also never felt quite like home in Guayaquil, I was always lacking something, and I think I’m still looking for it.

2017-06-04 21.26.34

As you’ve shared before, Ecuador does not have as developed of an opera culture as other countries. How was the transition (musically) from Ecuador to Juilliard?

It was overwhelming. I came from a place where we did a couple of opera scene shows, but nothing too big. I am not that familiar with the classical music world yet. Coming to Juilliard showed me how much more music there was to listen to and how many stories were told through music. It was a humbling, exciting, and overwhelming sensation. I also didn’t have any music theory or ear training back home.

Although opera is not a tradition in Ecuador, what are the other musical or art-related traditions?

Being from the city I’m afraid I am not that familiar with more rural traditions of Ecuador. However in Ecuador the Pasillo is a very popular song genre. I’m also very fond of it because It was in a Pasillo competition when I first won a singing competition! I remember making the artistic decision of ending the song knelling in the stage for dramatic effect. My young self knew that I was supposed to be a singer, I don’t know why I didn’t listen to 12 hear old me!

Cesar's choir in performanceWhere do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 25?!

I really have no idea. I don’t even know how the classical music world works yet. I do know I want to make my family and my country proud. Although, I do know I want to travel and sing all around the world. Hopefully one day *crosses fingers*.

Is there anything else you would like to use this space to share?

I just want to let everybody who loves music [know] that they should never discard music as an option for a career. It is never too late to start singing. You never know what might happen and people who know about music might see something inside you that you don’t know is there yet. Always give yourself a chance.

Cesar on a hike




Thapelo Masita

For the Office of International Advisement’s February Eye-on-Culture, Thapelo Masita was interviewed. Thapelo is a first year graduate student studying cello from Blomfontein, South Africa. Read on to learn about his experiences touring with KZN Philharmonic (http://www.kznphil.org.za), studying in the United States,  and his brief stint as a violinist.

Thapelo Masita

According to my sources, you started playing cello when you were 12. What were your musical experiences previous to the cello?

Before cello, I played violin for about a year. I switched to cello because I still sounded horrible on violin after a year. My friends were getting better than me on violin so, I went to the director of our program and asked to start cello. He agreed and when I got home, I told my parents that I had graduated from the small one to the big one. Being non-musicians they were proud and surprised.

How do your parents feel about your pursuit of music?

Both my mother and father were very supportive from the beginning, they both love music. In fact my mother used to be the choir conductor for many years.

You’ve studied music at various institutions, such as, Interlochen (http://www.interlochen.org), and Eastman (http://esm.rochester.edu) before coming to Juilliard. How have these experiences shaped your current studies?

I don’t think I would have been able to survive Juilliard’s intensity had I not had these two prior experiences. Interlochen was a safe place in the middle of the woods where I had independence but still a lot of guidance. Eastman is really where I did most of my growing and made friends for life. Having been at these schools, I have developed personally and I just know more people. As a result, living in a big city like New York doesn’t feel so alienating because I have had 5 years to make friends, many of whom have ended up in New York.

You’ve played with a multitude of orchestras in the United States, and in South Africa. Can you tell us more about these different experiences and how they have influenced your current work?

I was fortunate enough to get my first real professional orchestra gig right after Interlochen. I went on tour with the KZN Philharmonic one of the top orchestras on the African continent. We toured France for two weeks to celebrate Nelson Mandela. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had and also eye opening. This tour taught me what it really means to be prepared in the professional world. I take that lesson with me everywhere I go. I was also principal cellist of the Bochabela String Orchestra (http://bochabela.com) which was the main training ground for me in terms of playing in a section and leading. BSO is the flagship ensemble of the Mangaung String Project (http://www.musicinafrica.net/directory/mangaung-string-programme), an outreach project in Bloemfontein, South Africa which teaches classical music to children from previously disadvantaged communities.

Thapelo with string quartet colleagues

Can you tell me more about the Mangaung String Project? How did you first get involved?

The Mangaung String Project started in the 90’s in Bloemfontein after the American bassist Peter Guy, who had recently moved there realized that children in South African townships had no access to classical music. So he decided to start teaching a group of 5 students at Bochabela Primary School in Bloemfontein. Today the program has over 500 students in several cities near Bloemfontein.

I was first introduced to the program when I was 11. They came to my primary school to give an outreach concert and offer lessons to students who were interested. Many children applied to study.  It was fun. We all had to start on violin but after a few months I switched to cello because it was big and I had become tired of the violin sound.

You speak SIX languages! Have you have ever experienced a linguistic mix-up?

The differences between Sesotho and Setswana can sometimes be tricky to navigate but other than that, no. Although the six languages is a little unusual, most people in South Africa speak at least three languages proficiently by the end of high school.

Can you tell us what your favorite place is in your hometown? Why is it your favorite?

I have too many to speak of in this instance, but I can tell you that a place I go to most often,  is the music school where our program is based. It has been my home since I was 11 when I started violin. I spent all my afternoons and Saturdays there until I moved to America. Some of the most vivid memories in my life were made there. I also love the chaos at the school there children playing everywhere, teachers trying to get them to practice and just a general joy about the place. I really love it.

Thapelo by a river in South Africa

What are some cultural differences you’ve noticed from South Africa, the United States, and other places you have traveled to? How has the adjustment to these cultural differences been? Do you have a story of a funny cultural misunderstanding?

So many.  But perhaps the most surprising [difference] when I first arrived in the US and [actually] in my travels to Europe, is how people relate to one another in the western countries. In South Africa, people are so much more open and speak to and empathise with one another so much more easily I find. We call this the principal of Ubuntu. It is difficult to translate this but it essentially means humanity; an understanding that we are because our neighbour is. Adjusting has been fine for me thus far.

What is the biggest misconception about South Africa that you’ve experienced?

In America, people think all South Africans speak either Afrikaans or Zulu. This could be for a multitude of reasons but South Africa has 11 official languages all which are distinct and independent. These languages have their own rich  histories and literature that is specific to each tribe which the language originates from.

For those of us who know less about South Africa, can you give us a little more information about the people and cultures of South Africa? Or, do you know where we should start our own research?

Well, where to start with this… South Africa has 11 official languages. Nine of these languages are these tribal languages, Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, I s’Xhosa, I siZulu, Venda, Ndebele, Swati and Tsonga. The other two are English and Afrikaans which came to our people through colonization, English from the Brits and Afrikaans because of the Dutch.

There is a saying in Sesotho which says, “Motho ke motho ka batho.” This roughly translate[s] to, “a person is a person because of other people.” I believe this saying exists in all the languages of the South African tribes. This idea is central to our beliefs and South Africans are more compassionate and open as a result. We are by no means perfect, but every foreigner I have met seemst to feel the same way about South African people of all races and cultures.

Thapelo's family

You’ve traveled pretty extensively, where is one place that you not had the opportunity to visit yet, and would like to go to, and why?

This changes throughout the year for me but recently I have made a few  wonderful friends from Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Colombia. They have told me fascinating stories about their cultures, food and abundant nature in their countries. I would love to go and experience it myself.

Thapelo with Eastman faculty Steven Doane and Rosemary ElliottNow that you’ve studied in the United States for over 5 years, what advice would you give to a student who wants to study away from home for the first time?

Try your best to have an open mind at all times. Living overseas, one meets people who have had lives so different from one’s own that it can be difficult to relate to people. Don’t be deterred by that, it should make you want to learn more about the many different ways people have found to deal with this thing we call life.

According to Instagram, you’ve spent time with some very interesting peoThapelo6ple. Do you have any favorites?  

I might sound like a bore but, that will always be my beloved mother. She was the queen and I miss her always.

If you could have any professional job at Juilliard (President, admissions, working in the international student office), which would it be?

I love the idea of leading a school and helping to create the best possible environment for students to learn. So I would say President but I also really want to play in the Juilliard quartet so I guess I’ll have to say those two jobs.

Do you have any hidden talents that you would like to share?

I sang a lot when I was with the Bochabela String Orchestra. It was fun, I still enjoy singing.



Hannah Thomas

For the first Eye On Culture of 2018, OIA student worker and Juilliard international student, Jonathan (Jonty) Slade, interviewed Hannah Thomas.  With his signature wit, Jonty’s interview gives readers some insight into the newest member of the Office of International Advisement (https://www.juilliard.edu/campus-life/international-advisement). In addition to working with Meg and Cory as the International Advisement and Diversity Initiatives Assistant, Hannah Thomas is a first year graduate student at NYU in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program (http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/alt/highered/ma). Read on to learn more about her undergraduate experience in Ohio, her time teaching and living in China, unique role at Juilliard, and how she assists Meg and Cory in supporting international students at Juilliard.

Hannah with friends in China

What made you want to come and work for the International Office? Were you more motivated by the fame or the glamour?


MU ISO Formal with Zelda

I know this may shock you Jonty, but I’m in it for both! During my undergrad, I studied East Asian Languages and Cultures, International Studies, and French. I was able to partake in many activities that involved international students, such as, NationaliTEA, Global Buddies (http://www.miamioh.edu/global-initiatives/isss/get-involved/connections/index.html), and Chinese and French language tables. As a Resident Assistant, I worked in the French language and culture, Chinese language and culture, and eventually the Global connections living learning communities; this means that I was working with students who had an interest in the subject, and that I planned programming and activities that included those topics. I soon found that my main major, International Studies, focused on creating foreign policy that revolved on United States interests.  Although, I believe I am patriotic, I also felt that I was not able to learn more about other cultures and perspectives.  Working in International Student Services satisfies my need to interact and promote amazing international students (such as yourself) and still assist Cory and Meg in making sure Juilliard remains in compliance with US immigration law.

H Thomas and Association for Latin and American Students USHLI Trip

At the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (USHLI) with Miami University’s Association for American and Latin Students (ALAS).

What exactly is it that you do?   

I’m the International Advisement and Diversity Initiatives Assistant. Basically, that’s a super fancy title that just means I’m here to learn how to best advise international students on immigration and school policies, as well as make sure the Diversity Initiatives of our office are carried out. I’m learning to answer questions that students have in order to make their studies in the US go as smoothly as possible.

I also work with the Diversity Advocates (http://www.juilliard.edu/campus-life/student-affairs/diversity-initiatives) to create programming that spreads awareness, educates others, and builds spaces where members of the Juilliard community can best learn. I really enjoy my job because I’m constantly learning. I feel that the Diversity Advocates teach me so much, and that I just make sure they have the support they need to put on great programming, and programming for Foundations credit (http://www.juilliard.edu/campus-life/student-affairs). If you’re interested in becoming a Diversity Advocate, student leadership selection is coming up, so you can even apply to join our team. You could work with me!!!

How do you balance being a student at NYU with the high-octane thrills of the Office of International Advisement at Juilliard?

Hannah and colleagues at a Chinese Teacher Training Program

Hannah and colleagues at a Chinese Teacher Training Program

An excess of caffeine. I am a graduate student in the  Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program at NYU in the Steinhardt School of Education (http://www.steinhardt.nyu.edu/alt/highered/ma). This major is different from teaching, but I feel like I’m still somewhat of an educator. Most student affairs professionals study this for their MA to learn more about student development, diversity theory, and the administrative structure of college campuses. Check out the professional staff in the Office of Residence Life, Office of Student Affairs, and the Office of International Advisement, and you’ll find most of us have studied, are studying, or are applying to Higher Education and Student Affairs programs.

Something that is always disorienting is the culture shift from Juilliard to NYU. Although I always transition with a cup of coffee, the change from the Upper West Side to the Village is extreme. I also must change from work mode to study mode. But, most of what I learn can apply to my responsibilities here, and my work at Juilliard can be useful for informing class discussion. Therefore, it isn’t too much of a change.

H Thomas Ash Cave

Ash Cave in Hocking Hills

How does living and working in New York compare with where you grew up?

I miss trees and being able to be by myself outside. I’ve lived in other big cities before, Beijing, and Guangzhou, and I missed the outdoors then as well. Canton, Ohio isn’t really an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, but I get homesick for the sound of the breeze in the trees. BUT, NYC has so much to offer. I was always searching for events and free things in my hometown, such as our First Fridays in Downtown Canton or Olde Canal Days, but there was not as much available as there is here. (Here’s a list of museums with free admission: https://www.timeout.com/newyork/museums/free-museum-days-in-nyc). Additionally, Beijing, Guangzhou, and NYC are exciting and diverse places to eat. (I was told to only mention my obsession with food once.) But, there are so many people from different places here, I know I’ll always be able to go to Xi’An Famous Food when I miss a taste of Northern China, and that there are plenty of great Dim Sum places. There’s still many places in NYC I would like to explore, so stop by the OIA for some suggestions, or let me know of any adventures you’ve had!

H Thomas Candied Hawthorne

Candied Hawthorne in Beijing

If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?

Ohio has many wonderful places to adventure. Cleveland has a world-class art museum (it’s free too!). The Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Orchestra are exciting. It’s more of a drive, but I would highly recommend Hocking Hills. My grandmother was from southeast Ohio, so I was able to visit the area frequently. It’s different from the “cornfields” that often represent the Midwest. If you’re ever heading to Ohio, please let me know! I’d love to show you around or suggest some places to go. I also love making itineraries, so would definitely enjoy telling you where to explore based on your interests!

H Thomas Hocking Hills

Cedar Falls in Hocking Hills

Four cats seems rather a lot. How did you end up with so many? Any plans to expand the collection?

H Thomas and Grita

Hannah with Grita (Cat 1 of 4)

My brother was fixing the plumbing in our bathroom. He left the plumbing access open, and a pregnant cat snuck into our garage, then into the access. It took my parents a while to believe my brother when he proclaimed, “There’s a cat in the wall!” But, the constant meowing underneath the bathtub helped convince them. We tried to give the kittens away, but they were all so cute and well-behaved! Although they have destroyed the furniture, and think they own the house, Piper, Chukma, Grita, and Chatcrie are extremely loving. I would love to take care of them, but they keep my retired father company at home. I also don’t know if I’d be able to find another cat as sweet as them! When you come to visit Ohio, you can stop by for coffee and meet the kittens as well.

You spent a year working in China. How did that come about and what did you take away from the experience?  

H Thomas Teaching at Sun Yat Sen University

Teaching at SYSU

This experience only made me want to work in an international student office more. Some of my students were preparing for the TOEFL and IELTS to study abroad. I was able to cater class to help them prepare to transition to their respective universities.

When I graduated from Miami University (https://www.miamioh.edu), I had already studied abroad in China twice. At that point, I had studied Mandarin for 5 years, and really appreciated Chinese culture(s). My Chinese teachers told me at a language table that there was an opportunity to teach classes at Sun Yat-Sen University. A friend of mine, who now teaches Mandarin and Chinese culture, insisted I apply with her. In addition to teaching English to some fantastic students, I was also able to take more advanced Mandarin classes, study Cantonese, and have private Mandarin and Cantonese tutoring.

Is working with Meg and Cory great, or is it in fact awesome?

I would say neither. To work with Meg and Cory is inspiring. They are really good at what they do. I’m always impressed at how efficient and knowledgeable Meg is, and at Cory’s commitment and ingenuity in integrating diversity initiatives on our campus. They make sure the office runs so smoothly, and that we have such great programs and events! It’s thanks to Cory and Meg that we have Diversity Dialogues, the Diversity Symposium, Safe Zone, International Education Week, and other great programs. We have a large international population for such a small school, yet 2 people do most of the work to make sure our international students are successful! 

What do you enjoy most about working with international students?

H Thomas Study Abroad in Costa Rica

Study Away trip to Costa Rica and Panama

In general, I love watching students grow. This was one of my favorite things as a teacher. But having studied, lived, and traveled abroad, I can understand how difficult it is to experience a culture different from one’s own. At first it’s exciting, and then it becomes exhausting. When you become homesick, it’s extremely difficult to manage; you can feel extremely isolated and lonely. Many domestic students also feel culture shock when they start college, but I believe it is more extreme for international students, and there is more at stake. Therefore, I find it very rewarding to work with this specific student population.

What interests you artistically?

Clarinet used to be a huge part of my life. I was in marching band, symphonic band, and participated in the Canton Youth Orchestra (http://www.cantonsymphony.org/youth-symphony). So, whenever I hear a good clarinet solo, I get chills! But, I’m not even sure if I can play a note anymore. I miss the excitement I would get from performances. The thing I find exciting about the performing arts, and art in general, is that it comes from somewhere. Sometimes we may question artistic decisions, but at other times, we can so deeply feel what is being portrayed. Granted this does not always happen, but when it does? Wow!

Where do you see this experience taking you professionally?

H Thomas in Henan

Henan, China

I hope to continue to work with international students in the future. When I graduate next year, I’ll look for jobs working in international student services. The best part about this field, is there are so many opportunities, things to learn, and career paths. I’d love to be the director of an international student office, or even direct a program abroad one day. I don’t ever want whatever I’m doing to be “enough;” I wish to continue to push myself to reflect, and do whatever work I’m doing better. 


What advice would you give a new international student feeling overwhelmed by student life in New York?

Come to the Office of International Advisement, talk to your Resident Assistant, or stop by the Office of Student Affairs! When you’re overwhelmed, there isn’t always an easy solution, but stopping by our office, or another student affairs related office, can help us make sure you’re connected to resources. Juilliard has free health and counseling services for its students (http://www.juilliard.edu/campus-life/health-and-counseling-services). I also know that sometimes students are too busy to change things that matter to them, or feel that they don’t have a voice- but you do! The OIA, ORL, and OSA are places to start to make sure students have the support they need.  And, GET INVOLVED, attend events! You can download the Juilliard Student Life App (https://guidebook.com/app/JuilliardCL/guide/juilliardcampuslife/) to find out activities that are happening, look at the events calendar, or just read the fliers you see. It’s not easy being an international student, but there are people here at Juilliard to help!

H Thomas Completing Research with Miao Village Host Family

Completing field research on Chinese minority cultures with the Miao People in Guizhou, China.



Regina De Vera

This December the Office of International Advisement interviewed Regina De Vera (http://www.reginadevera.com) for the Eye on Culture blog. Regina is a third year graduate student in the Drama Division from the Philippines. Continue on to read Regina’s career in the Philippines, her experiences as an actress at Juilliard, and her reflections as an international student and a woman of color in the United States.

Regina De Vera

Can you tell us about your first experience with acting and musicals? 

I initially wanted to become a film actress because [of] watching Hollywood actresses in their beautiful gowns during awarding ceremonies. However, my entry point into the world of acting were mainly musicals, because that was what my high school drama club did a lot of. My earliest phases in my artistic journey consisted of an obsession with American Broadway musicals until I got bored trying to copy artistic choices from another culture and realized I wanted a process wherein I can actually create a character using my Self. That is why I transitioned into straight plays and Filipino translations/adaptations of Western work (mostly by playwrights like Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Brecht, etc.).

Photo 13 Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino's San Andres B The Opera_Photo by Kamole Orense

Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino’s San Andres B The Opera, Photo by Kamole Orense

According to our sources, you were originally participated in a summer musical theater program in the Philippines, what prompted you to apply to this program?  

You might be referring to the workshops I’ve attended from this theater company in Manila called “Repertory Philippines” (http://www.repertoryphilippines.ph). This company specializes in bringing American Broadway Musicals to the Manila Theater industry. Around 2004-2006, which was when I was in high school and stepped in[to] my “musical phase,” I decided to apply to this company’s summer workshops, because it was around that time that I dreamed to be on Broadway like Lea Salonga (the first Filipino to win a Best Actress Tony Award for Miss Saigon).

Earlier you mentioned how you moved away from American musicals because you wanted to develop more of yourself, how do you feel about the integration of American theatre culture in the Philippines?

Photo 8 Regina De Vera as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines' Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Musical (Photo by Reg Aquitana)_1

Regina as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines’ Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Muscial, Photo by Reg Aquitana

American Theatre Culture has been a part of our history even before American Broadway Musicals became popular in the Philippines. We had sarsuwelas (our local version of the Spanish opera zarzuelas) that depicted our rebellion from American colonizers. We also had straight plays that were subversive against American colonizers but it was concealed in images so that the American forces will not put our theater practitioners in jail or censure the performances. All of these even before American Broadway Musicals became popular. American Broadway Musicals are still popular in the Philippines to this day. I am not against integration and I do not inhibit it. There is a plurality of choices in local Philippine theater for our audiences. As an individual artist, however, it was important to me to learn to eventually make something my own. I was not content to watch a dvd of a musical and copy all the artistic choices that the original cast made. I was not interested in that kind of training or process. I want to understand where something comes from so I can decide how I can process something or upend something.

Before attending Juilliard for your MFA, you had already established a career in the Philippines, why did you decide to continue your education? 

Face and host of Cinemalaya

Face and host of Cinemalaya

Somewhere in the fourth year of my stint as a member of an acting company based at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I felt I had hit a wall, a plateau or a desert not only in my career and artistic growth but also in my personal life. I realized that I needed a stronger foundation to build the next years of my adult life upon. I knew that I’ve always wanted to pursue graduate degree education in acting as soon as I first met Ana Valdes-Lim – the first Filipino to get into Juilliard Drama. After speaking to a trustworthy counselor, I realized that this period of plateau, of “nothingness” would give me time to get my life together and apply for graduate training in the United States.

Regina's family

Regina’s family

Can you tell us what the theatre culture is like in the Philippines and in your hometown?

Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino's Der Kaufman (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia)

Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino’s Der Kaufman (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia), Photo by Reg Aquitana

There are specific theatre cultures in different parts of Metro Manila depending on where each theater is situated. The theater company I was based on for five years (Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines – http://www.tanghalangpilipino.com), was very far from where I lived so I got to lead double lives. As a whole, it’s a very “choose your own adventure” kind of audience. There are Philippine theater companies who specialize in doing American Broadway Musicals, some in specifically English straight plays, some in devised work, some in more social-relevant theater, and the company I worked for did mostly Western work in translation and some socially-relevant and original Filipino work as well. We have a small number of consistent patrons who review shows in their blogs and we have our own industry award-giving body as well.

If you were to take a reader to your hometown with you, what is something that you think they must experience?

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and I wouldn’t necessarily want to take someone to my hometown since it’s a city and can get chaotic. Instead, I would love to take a reader to one of our provinces on a road trip with me because that’s where I can find what I love most about my country: the seas, the underground springs, the view of the mountains, etc.

Regina and friends on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines

Regina and friends on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines

The Philippines is a diverse place. Can you give our readers who do not know very much about this part of Southeast Asia more information about the culture and the atmosphere of the Philippines? And, could you tell us how this has affected your identity?

Photo 3 Regina on a road trip in Pangasinan, Philippines

Regina on a road trip, Pangasinan, Philippines

I cannot speak for the entire Philippines as it is very diverse (each region has its own dialect and culture, natural resources, etc.) but I have lived and navigated my way through predominantly Catholic communities. Religion was a big influence in my upbringing – my family went to church every Sunday and I went to an all-girls Catholic high school and a Jesuit University. It influenced how I thought about love, marriage, and morality, among other things about the human experience. It was theater that allowed me to step back from this way of thinking and expand my perception of humanity. Leaving home to pursue studies in another country and meeting people from different cultures and religions reinforced my perception of the largeness of humanity. I discovered that I did not have to subscribe to the beliefs that might have remained unquestioned had I not liberated myself from just one context or way of living.

Can you suggest a place where curious readers can learn more?

Check out: http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/philippines-best-beaches-and-islands/index.html 

In your blog (http://www.reginadevera.com/blog), you reflect on what it is to be a person of color in Juilliard’s drama division, could you tell us more about the impact you hope to make in the Juilliard Community? And what diversity looks like to you? 

I feel as if the Drama Division of the Juilliard School is ahead in terms of how it commits to find opportunities for the least heard voices and stories to be heard. The way in which the Drama faculty treats me teaches me how I can treat myself in a more empowering way. I do get frustrated when outside of the Drama Division, people mistake me for a Music Student because there are far more Asian students in the Music Division while there are currently only 4 people of Asian descent in the Drama Division. I do hope that the way I conduct myself outside of the classroom, and in my work after graduating, would expand people’s notions of what a person who looks like me behaves, thinks and stands up for herself and what she wants.

You have used your skills as an actor to do work with UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Can you tell us how you became involved in this work? What this work means to you? And, what impact this work has on your community?

Photo 11 Regina De Vera as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs_World Health Organization project with Tanghalang Pilipino

Regina as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs for World Health Organization’s Project with Tanghalang Philipino

I became involved with this work primarily because the theater company I worked for teamed up with these organizations in order for us to be able to teach and share our work with communities in the provinces that were heavily affected by typhoon Haiyan, as well as those communities in cities with high rates of HIV cases. This was part of the mission of our theater company to do work that made an impact on Philippine communities. I embraced this work at the beginning but after a while I was doing this work at the expense of the work and the training that I truly wanted for myself. This was one of the reasons why I decided to leave this company after five years and pursue graduate training outside my home country.

What is some advice you would give to future international actors who hope to further their training at Juilliard?

I would steal a quote from actor Aziz Ansari (Master of None, Netflix), “You can do anything white people can do.” If you want to get further training then go ahead and apply to all the drama schools that you want to apply to. We do need more people of color to get into these programs to help reshape the film, TV and theater industry in the years to come.

The Juilliard School's Drama Division Group 48 Year 3

The Juilliard School’s Drama Division: Group 48 Year 3

From the pieces you have performed during your career so far, is there a favorite? Or, is there a piece you felt really attached to while performing and developing your character?

I don’t have favorites. I try to let go of the work once the duration it has in my life is over so I can allow space to grow and move forward. There were some key marker roles that shaped my career and artistic life. The first one was playing Portia in our adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” which got me my first industry Best Actress Award. The second was playing the female lead superhero in a musical called “Manhid: The Pinoy Superhero Musical” that was based on Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” that gave me my first lead in a musical in one of the biggest theaters in Manila. The rehearsal process for that musical coincided with my auditions for Juilliard so that was quite memorable being that it coincided with another major moment in my journey. It was also the last major production I had in the Philippines before moving to New York City.

If you were to pursue a field other than acting, what would it be? Why?

There is no other field I would like to pursue to be honest. Acting encompasses a significant amount of things that I love about being alive: movement, language, song, breath, the divine, as well as a process that requires curiosity, empathy, the need to expand, and the willingness to not know. No other field combines all of this all at the same time.

Regina's first time at The Juilliard School

Regina’s first time at The Juilliard School