Spotlight on Alumni: Theresa Calpotura
I started playing guitar at age eight, after my mom moved into a small apartment that necessitated a quiet instrument. My uncle Jim, who lived with us for several months, also inspired me to want to play. He would spend a lot of time practicing his own songs and my (and everyone’s) favorite, Stairway To Heaven. That sealed the deal for me. I had always loved music (my first concert was a Tina Turner show at age three—my first serious idol, although now I realize some of my fascination involved Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing/songwriting), and this was the first time I connected with an instrument enough to want to take lessons.
I took a short round of group lessons with a wonderful teacher named Bill Sveglini and began private lessons with him soon after. I eventually ended up meeting Scott Cmiel through a current student of his (my stepdad), who introduced me to the classical guitar and changed my trajectory significantly. I was fortunate enough to attend the preparatory department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he taught. I now teach as part of that department, and the caliber of the students I work with constantly amazes me. A current student in the department was the young guitarist gold medalist in the 2015 Parkening International Guitar Competition. I realize how lucky I was to have Scott as a teacher and mentor, and it is a joy to now be a part of the amazing department at SFCM.
SFCM Prep Department enjoys a masterclass with the Beijing Guitar Duo
In 2000, I started studying at Oberlin Conservatory with Stephen Aron, whose open-minded approach to teaching and unparalleled work ethic had a huge impact on me as a person and musician. He encouraged me to play as many recitals as possible, and always pushed our studio to play with other instrumentalists. I’ve since found this to be rare in the academic classical guitar world, and I’m grateful for having had the experience of doing chamber music with numerous vocalists, brass, wind and string players at Oberlin. These opportunities really shaped me as a player and eventually, as a writer of music. I also took Professor Roderic Knight’s Indonesian music class (which opened my ears to gamelan tunings) and danced with a Filipino dance troupe/group called FASA, sometimes through the social justice lens of Dance Diaspora. The creative atmosphere at Oberlin and Steve’s unfailing mentorship were true, formative gifts, and continue to be as the years pass.
Senior Recital in Fairchild Chapel
Following Oberlin, I had the opportunity to study with Ben Verdery for my M.M. at Yale. Ben is a fun, creative force, who encouraged my studio to work hard, be creative and follow our own paths. He suggested that I play a guitar piece for delay and loops written for him by Ingram Marshall called Soe-pa. I also took Ingram Marshall’s minimalism class and was able to interview him about his unique compositional process. I continued to dance with the Yale Filipino group, Kasama, when I could. These experiences at Yale would lead me on a quest to learn more about my Filipino heritage on the guitar.
Following graduation, I visited the Philippines and then returned to New York. There, I finally found (through Vince Go of VGo Recordings) someone who could help me learn about Filipino guitar music. Bayani Mendoza de Leon was a walking encyclopedia of Philippine music, and sessions that started as music history lessons turned into my first solo CD project,
. I took the bus to Monroe, NY from Manhattan every Sunday for a year, and we worked through 13 pieces that he wrote and arranged for the project.
In 2013, Bayani passed away unexpectedly. I was in possession of his Filipino indigenous instruments and felt compelled to create something that used them in his memory. The result was my current project, The Blue Hours. When I first tried writing music, what came out were songs that I sang (much to my surprise!). My group recently recorded an EP and we are currently working on creating a full-length debut album.
In addition to teaching, writing music, and playing the guitar, I also enjoy being on the Board of the Omni Foundation. Richard Patterson has been the head of Omni for over 30 years now, and continues to bring the best guitarists from all over the world onto his series. It is a true delight to be part of such a great organization. Richard has also been a wonderful mentor to me and many other guitarists in the Bay Area.
With Scott Cmiel, Ben Verdery and Richard Patterson at an Omni Foundation concert.
The only person missing is Steve Aron!
I’m having fun using my voice and combining elements of east and west in my songs. My musical journey has been a varied one, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such fantastic teachers and mentors. I’ve come to realize that many important aspects of my musical growth began at Oberlin.