“What I gained and what I felt at Special Music School—that wonder, that desire, that curiosity, and that sense of abandon and childlike passion—has acted as the catalyst for everything that I’ve become today.”
Luis Diaz first picked up the recorder in fourth grade at his elementary school in Upper Manhattan and soon earned a scholarship to study the flute with Valerie Holmes at Kaufman Music Center’s Lucy Moses School. When he was accepted to Kaufman’s Special Music School in sixth grade, Luis was ecstatic to find himself in a place where music was part of the regular school day. “I didn’t know that music middle schools existed,” he says. “The whole concept of music being integrated into my education was just really mind-boggling and exciting for me because I was so eager to learn. I was constantly being inspired every day.”
At a young age, Luis realized that studying music gave him an advantage over his peers who did not study music. “At SMS we were constantly performing, and that really gave me a leg up in comparison to those around me. I didn’t get stage fright. I was able to communicate my ideas. It’s because of music and performing that I was able to stay very calm, cool and collected during high-pressure situations. And being as busy as I was, I was able to learn at a very young age how to delegate my time and prioritize things.”
Joining Kaufman Music Center’s Face the Music youth new music ensemble dramatically expanded Luis’s musical horizons, awakening his love for contemporary classical music. “It blew me away,” he recalls. “There was a sense of abandonment and freedom. I could really relate to it. The composers were coming in, and we were meeting them. That connection, being able to meet a composer and being able to ask them what they want, and being able to use my instrument in new ways, was so exciting.”
Luis’s flute teacher offered him support and encouragement that spurred him to persevere when things got tough. “Valerie Holmes really understood my cultural background,” he recalls, explaining that classical music is not a commonly sought-after career in the Latin community. “She would encourage me to seek excellence, become better, and never be comfortable.”
After attending high school at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts and graduating from Nyack College as a flute major, Luis is currently working towards his Masters in flute performance at New England Conservatory. He’s minoring in music and education, inspired by his desire to help others through music, and is considering a career in music therapy.
Without financial assistance from Kaufman Music Center, Luis may never have had the opportunity to discover and develop his talent. “I’ve been a scholarship student all my life,” Luis explains. “There’s no way my parents would have been able to allow me to do what it is that I love had it not been for the generosity of Kaufman Music Center. There’s absolutely no way.”
Photo above: Luis during a masterclass with Sir James Galway at Kaufman Music Center
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