Finding his rhythm through music

Apr 01, 2019
Many parents fear that a career in the arts will lead to a life as a starving artist. In an economically challenging location like Guatemala, Tomasa, was especially worried her son, Gustavo, wouldn’t be able to support himself as a musician.

Gustavo’s parents dreamed that he and his three siblings would have a better life and hopefully become doctors or lawyers. Tomasa shares, “We always prayed to God that they (her children) would have a good future and they could have a good professional job and they would be good people and be good adults.”

As Tomasa and her husband struggled to provide for their kids, a career in music was the furthest thought from their minds.

The right start

Gustavo grew up in a home where resources were scarce. He is the eldest of four children. His mom makes tortillas to sell at the market, and his dad is a door-to-door salesman.

As a young boy, Gustavo and his family were supported through child sponsorship. “I felt happy because I knew there was someone far from me who cared and worried about me,” Gustavo says. These early investments in the soft-spoken child bore fruit once Gustavo found music.

It was Gustavo’s cousin and the promise of a free fried chicken lunch that brought him to the music school for the first time.  Once there, he never looked back.

“I’m not sure if it was the music found me or I found the music, but I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come so I could go to the music classes. It was a place where we could be free and at peace,” Gustavo remembers.  

After starting on the recorder, Gustavo was selected to play the viola. “I had never heard of a viola,” he says. “I only knew what a cello and violin was. I was just happy they were giving me an instrument.” 

Gustavo, standing in his home, has his viola nestled into his neck in the playing position.
Gustavo plays with a passion and skill that only years of dedicated practice can deliver. Photo: Heidi Isaza

Feeding his soul

He began taking classes, but he also practiced at home. “Instead of going out and playing in the street, I would stay in the house, and I would practice and practice and practice into the night,” Gustavo shares.

“It drove me a little crazy listening to him for so many hours a day,” remembers Tomasa, smiling.

For many years, Gustavo’s family worried that music would never provide a living for their son. Then, he was invited to travel to Costa Rica to perform. He has since participated in youth orchestras across Central America, Mexico and Peru and even studied for three months in the music conservatory in Paris, France.

Tomasa and Gustavo hold his viola together outside their home in Guatemala.
Gustavo with his mother, Tomasa, who played a key role in his success. While apprehensive about his career prospects, Gustavo’s parents did not openly oppose his involvement in the music school, like other parents in the community. Photo: Heidi Isaza

Playing it forward

Today, the 21-year-old former sponsored child teaches at World Vision’s music school. Just as he was mentored, Gustavo teaches music and encourages his students in their life pursuits. “I tell them that there’s a lot more than what they can see in front of them,” he says. “They should look and learn from their experiences and from their mistakes.”

It’s a message that flies in the face of tradition in San Juan and he says World Vision has been instrumental in helping him and the community. “World Vision helps a lot of people not just in this community but in other communities,” Gustavo says. “They (sponsors) always told me to continue forward and to continue studying and that they were going to support me,” Gustavo says.

Despite their worries, Gustavo’s music career is already well on its way. In addition to volunteering his time at World Vision’s music school, he travels to the capital most days to teach private viola lessons, earning $20 per hour.

“I would like World Vision to continue supporting and helping other children. It makes a big difference. It changes the dreams of a lot of young people,” Gustavo says.

Gustavo teaches a younger male student how to properly hit the right notes on the violin.
Gustavo spends his Saturdays teaching the next generation how to play the violin and the viola at World Vision’s music school. Photo: Heidi Isaza