by Katherine Anderson, violist
Pedro Díaz (MET Orchestra English Hornist since 2005), Javier Gandara (Hornist since 1999), Rafael Figueroa (Principal Cellist since 1995), and Narciso Figueroa (Violinist since 1989) share something in common:
Katherine Anderson: All of you attended the same school in Puerto Rico?
PD: Yes! It was called Escuela Libre de Musica, or Free School of Music. Between the four of us, we attended the school from 1969-1983.
Narciso Figueroa: My aunt, Carmelina Figueroa, was one of the founders. The school started in 1947 as just a music school; five years later, three more schools were opened, and in 1960, academics were added.
KA: What was special about this school?
PD: The academics were so strong. There were classes in music, dance, and drama and we learned solfege, a type of ear training which was incredibly helpful later on. Our private and classroom teachers were fantastic.
Rafael Figueroa: We spent the whole day there, from 7:30 until 5:00. Basically it kept us busy and out of trouble!
KA: Are there others graduates who made careers in music or in the arts?
Javier Gandara: José Bercero, our friend, was a dancer who joined the Met in 1991. He was in the same graduating class at Escuela Libre de Musica as Pedro and me. José retired from the Met when he was 40 and went right to medical school at Fordham College, with a dream of becoming a physiatrist. The year Jose was scheduled to graduate, 2010, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died several months later. He was given a diploma posthumously.
Other notable graduates of the Escuela Libre de Musica include Ricardo Morales (Principal Clarinet, Philadelphia Orchestra); Mario Ortiz (jazz musician); Gilberto Santa Rosa (salsa musician); Giselle Blondet (actress); and Sully Diaz (actor),