By Sahara Lyon
Mexican-American singer-songwriter Selena Quintanilla stated, “With a positive attitude, you can be anything you want to be.” That positive attitude was beautifully embodied by fellow singer-songwriter, Sonia De Los Santos, originally born in Monterrey, Mexico. Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month is September 15 -October 15, and to celebrate, Opening Nights at Florida State University hosted Sonia as an artist-in-residency at Leon County Schools. Her residency with Opening Nights includes performances at several elementary schools across Leon County, including DeSoto Trail, Hartsfield Elementary, and Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts.
COCA had the pleasure of attending one of Sonia’s performances at Apalachee Elementary, where she performed for a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. During the hour-long performance, she played songs from her family music albums about friendship, growth, and even chocolate, encouraging the students to dance, clap, and sing along. Sonia was joined by two other musicians; Elena Lacayo, who played the guitarrón—a Mariachi bass—and Berta Moreno, who played the saxophone. Sonia sang and played along on acoustic guitar, and a traditional Mexican guitar called a jarana. The three musicians will play together during their residency with Opening Nights, thoughout the Fall of 2023. Sonia stated, “We were so excited to share our songs and instruments with the students of Leon County.” When asked why playing in schools is so vital for students versus playing in a concert hall, Lacayo said, “I think it’s like a kind of education for the kids, right? Education can sometimes feel stuffy when you’re at that age, so this is a cool way to make learning more dynamic. Everybody learns differently, and some kids will really connect with messages through songs, opening different ways for kids to connect.”
Sonia and her group have traveled across the country doing artist residencies at schools, but this is their first residency in Florida. Calla MacNamara, Education and Engagement Manager with Opening Nights, arranged for Sonia and her ensemble to perform their uplifting song for our community’s students in Tallahassee. Jennifer Wright, Director of Opening Nights, stated, “As part of our mission to bring in world-class performing artists, we also look for artists that can connect with the young citizens in our community.” The principal of Apalachee Elementary, Dr. Pam Hightower, shared how inspiring the performance was for her students, teaching them that anything is possible if they practice and work towards a goal.
As part of the Leon County Schools’ artist residency program with Opening Nights, the visual art teacher at Apalachee Elementary, Ashley Chandler, created an exciting multidisciplinary curriculum that addresses English language arts, music, and visual arts benchmarks. The curriculum is meant to be taught in conjunction with Sonia’s performance, using storytelling, drawing and music to explore different cultural motifs. Chandler stated, “It’s a lot more fun and creative for students to be able to have those cross-curricular connections.” Dr. Hightower agreed, saying that the integrated teaching of academics and the arts helps students be the best they can be.
As Opening Nights’ artists in residency for Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month, Sonia, Elena, and Berta reflected on the importance of representation for students during COCA’s conversation with them. Sonia stated, “Kids have many different kinds of dreams… [representation] opens the door to imagination and a sense of possibility.” She added that bringing music to schools is “the great equalizer,” ensuring that all students participate in arts education, regardless of background or level of access.
When asked about the importance of arts education, Berta stated, “You can work on so many things through music: inclusion, solidarity, empathy, teamwork, everything. Arts are needed in the world for people to express their personalities and to connect with each other, no matter where you’re from or what language you speak.” Thanks to their partnership with Opening Nights, Sonia, Elena, and Berta headed from Apalachee to several other local schools, sharing their message of positivity, empathy, and dreaming big!
Check the Tallahassee Democrat at a later date for the full article!