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Other articles: Earth 2


At least that's what students call Germán Gutiérrez--not because he demands it, because he's earned it. Teacher, conductor and director of TCU's fledgling Center for the Performance of Latin American Music, he's brought to campus his own brand of Latin salsa, spicing up TCU's already tasty music department.

By Nancy Bartosek

Maybe it's the passion for music that flowed through his childhood town of Ibagué, known in Colombia as Ciudad Musical--the musical city. Or the spontaneous singing and performing that burst from his family when they gathered for noon meals.

Whatever it is that drives Germán Gutiérrez, director of orchestras and TCU's Center for the Performance of Latin American Music, it's catching. The students embrace it, the surrounding community has lauded it, musicians from around the world are reveling in it.

"It" must be Gutiérrez' enthusiasm and love of beautiful music and his desire to share it with a vast audience. "It" might be the passion that led to the formation of the center and the spring Latin American Music Festival, a two-day celebration of music that established firm friendships across the equatorial divide.

"Music is an integral part of our culture," he said of the Latin American traditions he treasures. "We do not conceive of a party without live music."

It was quite a party he planned on campus, this Latin American Music Festival. One that featured workshops, lectures and live performances by composers and artists from Mexico, Peru, Spain, Argentina, Panama, Brazil and Colombia. And though it exposed the locals to music scarcely known in the United States, the extensive international relationships they developed are even more valuable, said Music Chair Kenneth Raessler.

"Networking between cultures is irreplaceable in an educational setting," Raessler said. "The tremendous networking accomplished by the festival will provide us with the very finest musicians in those countries who will come here as students." Gutiérrez made it clear when he took the job as conductor of orchestras two years ago that he would organize such an effort, Raessler said. "One of the joys of Dr. Gutiérrez is that if you say yes, he makes it happen."

But for a serendipitous moment when he was teaching and studying at the Tolima Conservatory of Music, Gutiérrez would have been a performer today, not in great demand for his conductorial skills. He recalls that he was "totally dedicated to his violin and composition" at the conservatory, where his mother was a leading soprano. (Gutiérrez jokes that his father, a pharmaceutical salesman, is a drug dealer in Colombia.) The young musician's fortune changed during a conducting workshop and competition he was sitting in on as an observer. The conductor was trying to get the future conductors to lead the choir through some harmonies. None could. In frustration, the conductor asked the observers if anyone wanted to try. Gutiérrez did, was successful and quickly moved to the other side of the group.

"Then at the end I won first prize," he said, laughing about the incongruous beginning to a career that would take him around the globe and back to TCU where he has settled with wife Sylvia, a guitarist and singer, and sons Nicolas, 5, and Gabriel, 3.

Being part of a leading-edge Latin American music effort is a wonderful opportunity, Gutierrez admits, but working with the students is the chord that rings true in his ears.

"I adore them," he said of the young musicians that keep him from accepting prestigious conducting positions. "I am always pleased to take music to a higher level, but it is more satisfying to get applause when you are conducting students because you had the opportunity to teach them to play.

"I will tell them, ŒYou are playing the notes, but aren't convincing me that you feel the music.' Then we do it again and it's totally different. I think the audience can capture that."

So can the students who say the youthful man with the rich Latin accent treats them as musicians, not students, leading them by example and positive reinforcement. "I respect him immensely," said senior Roderick Branch. "I was eavesdropping at a party and heard him say he had turned down positions with professional symphonies because his first love was education, the students.

"He's a teacher and a professor, but before that he's a real artist and a real musician."