Arts for Youth Spotlight: Jose Rodrigo Avila
Musician, student & athlete: Avila is the quintessential well-rounded individual
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | April 30, 2014Jose Rodrigo Avila is a busy senior at King University. He's getting ready for his senior piano recital, has a double major in physics and math with a minor in business and is a star on King's tennis team. A tennis scholarship is what bought "Ro" (as he's called) to Bristol, Tenn.
"Every teenager in Mexico who plays tennis at a national level knows that there are possibilities of coming to the U.S. for a college career with a tennis scholarship. My brother went through that process eight years ago, and I also got interested in that possibility. The coach back then offered me a scholarship I couldn't refuse, and that's why I decided to come to Bristol." Ro's brother, Juan, is working on a master's at East Tennessee State University, and his sister studies music there.
Ro is from Cuernavaca, Mexico, known as the city of eternal spring. His father, who is a professional pianist and teacher, introduced him to the piano at the age of 7.
"We had a piano at the house which my dad used to play almost every day. He was our first teacher, and we took classes with him for about two years, until we hired a Cuban teacher, who brought more consistency to our studies for another two years. Then, by the time I was 12 years old, I stopped taking piano lessons and kept the studies on my own, always with the guidance of my father. I kept it that way until I got to King, where I started taking lessons again."
His teacher at King is Jane Morison, whom Ro says, "has been a great influence not only in piano aspects, but in life in general. She has always the perfect analogies related to the different activities I do, such as tennis and physics. Jane has taught me not only about music theory, but also about how to understand each piece by its personality, how to embrace it, and what feelings one must transmit when playing a certain piece.
"To transmit a feeling when playing any piano piece is one of the most important things to me. I am very methodical when learning a piece, and after learning it well, I emphasize playing it with feeling. I enjoy faster and stronger pieces rather than slow ones, but I also think it is necessary to have all sorts of pieces in your repertoire."
Two of his favorite composers are Chopin and Liszt whose music he listened to as he grew up. "Music is part of my every day; it gives each day the perfect touch. It makes each activity much more enjoyable; it makes you vulnerable in a way – vulnerable to the feelings you are experiencing at each moment; it increases that feeling, and makes you live the present moment. Music is mainly relaxing for me, it helps me focus, and at some times, it is inspiring.
"Classical music keeps surprising me, especially those beautiful harmonious pieces written for piano and orchestra, which have different voices and when you put all of them together it sounds just marvelous. It is also very interesting how in a piano piece you can have 10 notes pressed down, and the melody can be carried by only one finger, and later it changes to another finger of the other hand. ... It is just magical how much a piece changes when you emphasize the melody by giving different weight to the fingers playing the notes."
Ro has been involved with music since he arrived at King. He performs once or twice per semester. "Every class that gets cancelled or free time I wasn't counting on would make me go to the piano rooms and practice for as long as I can. I think you can always make time for something you love doing, and it's just a matter of being efficient with those 24 hours gifted to you every day."
He says even with all his activities and his studies, he still gets his seven hours of sleep, and that his majors and music are related. "I think my studies in math and physics are related to my studies in music. There have been a lot of studies emphasizing the connection between math and music, and I think some of the approaches I take to study math, I also apply them when studying music."
If you'd like to hear Ro's recital, it's May 1 at 7 p.m., in Memorial Chapel on King's campus. He'll be playing Mozart's "Fantasie in d minor;" Beethoven's Sonata Op. 27, No. 2; Ponce's "Intermezzo;" Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in g minor;" Chopin's Nocturne Op. 9, No. 1; Chopin's Scherzo, Op. 31, No. 2; Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost Rag" and Joplin's "The Entertainer."
When he graduates, Ro plans on working in civil engineering and getting a master's in civil engineering. He hopes to go to Germany for his master's. His parents are Patricia Neira and Jose Roberto Avila.