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Representation and determination: An interview with Jay Julio Laureta

Viola alum Jay Julio Laureta chats about the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship, poetry, and equality in the arts.

Violist Jay Julio Laureta. Photo by Hannah Criswell (IAC 11, IAA 12-14).

Violist Jay Julio Laureta. Photo by Hannah Criswell (IAC 11, IAA 12-14).

Laureta rehearses with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra as a student at Interlochen Arts Camp.

Laureta rehearses with the World Youth Symphony Orchestra as a student at Interlochen Arts Camp.

Violist Jay Julio Laureta (IAC 12, IAA 12-14) has composed works heard at Cannes Film Festival and New York Fashion Week. They attended The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music on full-tuition scholarships. Their accolades include prizes from the National Federation of Music Clubs and the Music Teachers National Association. But when asked about their most recent success, being selected as one of the four Los Angeles Orchestra Fellows, Laureta is bashful.

“I won’t say the word ‘success’ just yet, because I don’t know if I have found it, and it’s very subjective,” Laureta said in a recent interview. “But I do think this fellowship means a lot. It’s a huge responsibility because I have to make something of it.”

Laureta’s determination to make the most of the fellowship—and their modesty—are a reflection of their humble roots. The child of Filipino immigrants, Laureta picked up the violin at age 11 and taught themself to play using YouTube videos. Immediately, they knew this was their calling.

In the years since, passion, persistence, luck, and a knack for internet searches have brought Laureta ever closer to achieving their dream. Through the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship, Laureta will earn a graduate certificate from the University of Southern California while receiving mentorship from Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra musicians and coaching young musicians from the Inner City Youth Orchestra Los Angeles.

We caught up with Laureta to learn more about their unconventional musical journey, their time at Interlochen, and the importance of representation.

How did you start playing viola?
I started playing violin at 11. I learned by watching videos on YouTube—I didn’t have private lessons until I was 14. When I was in ninth grade, a local symphony did an outreach program at my high school. One of the violists took a shine to me and said, “if you switch to viola, I can get you a scholarship to Mannes Preparatory Division.” I auditioned on two violin pieces on a large viola— I think the faculty laughed at me—but I got in and got enough money to go. I realized that I was really very behind in terms of people who become musicians. I had wanted to be a musician since I started playing violin, but it didn’t click for me what was necessary to be a professional musician until I got to Mannes.

How did you find out about Interlochen?
I had actually seen ads on the internet. When I was at another festival, there was another student who talked about going to Interlochen and loving it. There were also two counselors who had gone to the Academy, and they suggested that I apply. I got scholarships to both Camp and Academy and I said to myself, “I’ll do it all!”

Tell us a little bit about your experience at Interlochen. What particular moments or memories stand out?
There’s just so much! I do remember having such a great time exploring other majors while I was there. I was friends with a lot of the creative writing people. I would spend hours and hours in The Writing House. I contributed poetry for things that were happening on campus and took part in a devised theatre program.

That passion for writing stayed with me all through my career—I actually took classes at Columbia while I was at Juilliard. The cross-pollination that happens at Interlochen is so special—it challenged me to be a complete artist in everything I do. Today, arts organizations are moving towards more varied arts presentations and more inclusive views of the forms that art can take. Interlochen was a great environment for me to explore a lot of these things.

You’ve mentioned in other articles that there are very few Filipinos playing in America’s top orchestras. What are some of the barriers to getting more Filipinos involved in classical music? What can the industry do to help break down these barriers?
I actually can’t think of a single Filipino-American musician in a full-time orchestral position in the U.S.; there are a few in chamber music that I'm aware of. It’s not that music is not valued in these populations—there was music always in my house when I was going up, or when I went to other people’s houses.

But there are financial and social barriers that lead to a lot of people from these backgrounds not having access, in one way or another, to the high-level training you need to be in an orchestra. For starters, there isn’t a widespread knowledge that this is a thing you can do for a living. When you’re an immigrant, or the child of immigrants, participating in the arts takes you away from helping your family on the farm or helping care for your younger siblings. The study of music—or any other art—in this country is also so financially stratified by the barrier of paying for instruments and lessons.

Many musicians of color who become successful come from families that had access to social and financial support for music training from day one. I had the opportunity to work under New York Philharmonic Principal Clarinet Anthony McGill through my fellowship at The Juilliard School's Music Advancement Program, which was such a highlight of my life. Anthony and his brother, Demarre, grew up in a musical family and had so much support from their families and communities. What would happen if we supported all musicians from early childhood and showed them that there are pathways to success? I think just knowing that there is a pathway—that if you want to, you can be an artist, no matter where you’re from—is important.

We need to emphasize and fund high-level music education in early childhood if we want to make things more equitable, if we truly desire to see more musicians of color on our concert stages.

Even though your career is relatively young, you’ve already had extensive experience in teaching young artists. Why is teaching important to you?
Teachers have given me everything that I have. Even before I had private lessons, I got so much inspiration from my orchestra teachers. My first orchestra teacher really pushed me—she wouldn’t let me quit. She put me on the first violin part and wouldn’t let me move to second even though I was really struggling—and I grew. The teachers I’ve had since, including David Holland and Renee Skerik at Interlochen, have been influential in my playing. I would like to be that for other people, if they’ll let me. Teaching is one of the most noble things you can do.

What does it mean to you to be selected to receive the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship?
It feels like the most incredible honor. Both of my parents grew up as farmers in the Philippines. On basically every phone call, they say “We’re proud of you.” I see kids that have grown up in similar circumstances to my parents becoming successful artists, and I know that I’m already so lucky just because I grew up in the U.S.

The experiences that you have coming from other situations are so useful. I see the role of the artist as being a go-between between people, and the more experiences you have the more you can share with other people. It feels like a huge blessing to be able to go, in one generation, from being farmers to being a musician. I won’t say the word “successful” yet because I don’t know if I have found it yet, and it’s very subjective. But I do think this fellowship means a lot. It’s a huge responsibility because I have to make something of it.