St. Paul School dances and sings with Villalobos musicians
By EmmaLee Italia | Trenton Monitor Correspondent
For just a short time the afternoon of April 8, the entire student body, teachers and staff of St. Paul School, Princeton, were instantly transported to Mexico, courtesy of the musical stylings of the Villalobos Brothers.
The violin virtuosos were invited by theschool’s Parent Teacher Association to share their unique blend of jazz, classical and native Mexican folk music from the region of Veracruz, Mexico, to SPS for an interactive presentation. Villalobos Brothers appeared courtesy of Young Audiences — a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and making available the arts in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania schools.
Born and raised in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, Villalobos brothers Ernesto, Alberto, Luis and Humberto grew up listening to their grandmother Cristina play music for guests and local friends. Inspired early on, they began studying the violin as children, becoming child prodigies, and eventually learning to play piano, guitar and other instruments — and since then they have been entertaining audiences that have grown to include venues around the world.
“Music is all about family for us,” said Ernesto, after the group’s first rousing number, “Attack,” during which the brothers donned animal masks and mimicked jungle creatures as they jumped and crouched while playing the upbeat tune. “It’s a collaboration; we all take turns playing the lead, playing and singing the different parts.”
In addition to their vocals and violin, the Villalobos brothers have combined their music with that of Rosa Avila, drums; and Leo Sherman, bass, to form the Villalobos Brothers ensemble. Together the artists have been acclaimed as one of today’s leading Contemporary Mexican ensembles, known for their original compositions and arrangements that blend Mexican folk music with jazz and classical. They have even developed a unique style of “fast-chatting violin,” a technique that sounds almost like the instrument is speaking with a human voice.
During the SPS performance, students were invited to participate on several musical numbers by singing and clapping along, and dancing to a Mexican style number the brothers taught them called “Son Huasteco.” As the children happily stomped, the performers fiddled behind their backs and danced with them.
“Raise your hand if you like to build stuff,” Ernesto said to the children, who waved their hands wildly in response. He explained that he had made the masks the brothers wore, and that his brother Alberto had made his violin. “I invite you to build something when you get home; it’s a great way to connect to your creativity, just like playing an instrument.”
The Villalobos brothers invited students to ask them questions about their music. One student wanted to know when they began learning the violin.
“We started playing at three years old!” said Ernesto. “And Humberto started learning the guitar at eight. But it’s never too late to start. What matters is keeping constant, keep practicing. It’s more about being persistent than anything else.”
Another student wanted to know what was the largest crowd Villalobos had ever played for.
“I think it was when we were in India, at the India Institute of Technology, for the university students,” Ernesto replied. That venue was for an audience of 3,000, according to the group’s website.
In fact the Villalobos Brothers were the first Mexican band ever to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, N.Y., as featured guest artists. They have also performed for the Latin Grammy Awards, at Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to name just a few. They have collaborated and recorded with legendary musicians, including Grammy winners, Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains, Dan Zanes, Jay Rodriguez, Pierre Boulez, Dolly Parton and Eddie Palmieri.
Villalobos Brothers were new last year to the roster of artists presented by Young Audiences, which seeks to put students in touch with musicians in an assembly and workshop format. The organization gets its funding from the New Jersey State Council on Arts, as well as from private donors, and has partnered with all the Trenton schools, as well as working with some Camden and Newark schools. In addition to music, Young Audiences also helps schools with enrichment programs in dance, theater and visual arts.
For more information about the Villalobos Brothers and to listen to a sample of their music, visit www.villalobosbrothers.com. To learn more about Young Audiences, visit www.yanjep.org.