by Laura Jamieson
Ricardo Jaramillo, a senior at Germantown Friends School, paid tribute to two of his favorite authors, Junot Díaz and Sandra Cisneros, in an original music composition that the GFS choir performed this year. To his amazement, both renowned authors reached out to express their appreciation of his music.
It all started with Jaramillo struggling through an Advanced Music Theory class.
“Throughout the first half of the year, I was by far the worst student in the class!” he shared, and even considered quitting, but found encouragement from music teacher Duane Large. “Duane pushed me to keep at it and, slowly, I got better and better.”
For the final project, each student had to write an original piece. Jaramillo decided to compose a choral arrangement set to Sandra Cisneros’s “One Last Poem for Richard,” a poem excerpted in Junot Díaz’s book, This is How You Lose Her.
“I think Junot writes to realize the truth about human nature, which in my mind is the purest intention of real art,” Jaramillo said, who is “consumed” by Díaz’s work. “He inspired me to try and do the same.”
As Jaramillo wrote the composition, he recalled, “I was constantly nervous about not doing Cisneros’s amazing piece of writing justice.” With Large’s help, and many hours of work, he finished the piece and hoped to have it performed.
Jaramillo, a member of the GFS choir, approached choir director Steve Kushner, who quickly agreed to have the choir perform the piece on the 2014 choir tour, which included a trip to Costa Rica.
“Steve worked with me on the piece, taught it to the choir, and before we knew it we were on a plane to Costa Rica ready to perform my song to a foreign audience,” Jaramillo explained.
As a student at GFS, Jaramillo grew into becoming a musician: He recalls learning the drums (which he plays) during the third-grade study of Africa and falling in love with singing while performing a fourth-grade musical about Greece.
“GFS has been an essential part of my growth as a musician. It introduced me to all of what music can offer,” he said. “My piece would never have been written without the encouragement and dedication of many people at GFS.”
GFS English teacher Meg Goldner Rabinowitz motivated Jaramillo to share the recording of his work.
“I decided, what the heck, I’d put it up on YouTube and email it to Junot Díaz,” he said. “I sent it to him at 11:30 p.m. and received an email back from him at 9 a.m. the next morning!”
The two began an email exchange, and Díaz shared a link to a video of the GFS choir performing the song on his Facebook page to “honor” Jaramillo for his accomplishment.
“Extraordinary,” Diaz commented.
“Hitting it off with Junot was amazing,” Jaramillo said. “His praise of my song, and his encouragement to continue with my art, was really validating for me. The fact that I was able to move a man who has moved me so many times with his work made me realize that there is real value in what I’ve created.”
Then Sandra Cisneros wrote, thanking him and saying that she was honored to hear her poem “set ablaze with voices.”
“Cisneros turns ordinary moments into an extraordinary pieces of art,” Jaramillo said. “Even her email to me was a poem!”
He adds that he learned the power of simplicity from her writing. He said, “she helped me to understand that sometimes what needs to be said is less complex than you may think.”
Jaramillo will attend Northwestern University in the fall, where he plans to study sociology, creative writing and music composition. While his interests are wide-ranging, he said, “I know that music will always be a central part of my life.”
This passionate high school senior is motivated by the praise and encouragement from two of his “heroes” as well as from his teachers and mentors at GFS.
“After this experience,” Jaramillo said, “I feel that stopping here with my art would only be letting myself down. I am eager to see how far I can go.”