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Maestro in the Making 

Teen musician hitting high notes despite challenges

Photo by Caitlin von Gertner
  • Photo by Caitlin von Gertner

Dyslexia never quite figured out how to slow down Mateo Garza. Not only does this Redmond Proficiency Academy junior maintain an eye-popping 4.2 GPA—which includes AP classes—he's also an impressive 17-year-old violinist with both High Desert Chamber Music and the Central Oregon Symphony. Tutoring helped his academic progress, but when it came to music, his learning disorder never even had an effect. "I personally haven't noticed any problems with that," Mateo says, rather nonchalantly. Perhaps that's because his training started so early. Mateo grew up in a house filled with music. "There was music all around," says his mom Erin Garza. "But he had an affinity for classical music from a very young age. He would sit and listen to entire symphonies when he was like, 3, and talk about the different movements and how they would make him feel." Violin lessons began at age 7. "I just really enjoyed playing music and experiencing all the things that come along with learning new pieces and stuff like that," he says. After that, things progressed rather quickly. "I really started to say 'This is what I have to do. This is what I have to learn.' And then in that mindset I would learn different pieces and practice harder. That's when I started taking things like scales—which beforehand I thought were kind of trivial—more seriously." "There was a point where he clicked and went through five music books in a year and a half," adds Erin. "So, at that point I felt this kid needs to be fed this. He needs to be allowed to take this where he can." Mateo's skills didn't stop at the violin. He also began learning the piano and the viola. At the same time, he was also rapidly gaining elite status in gymnastics. Due to school and other commitments, Mateo recently stopped competing, but beforehand, he was spending up to 20 hours a week in the gym. Now he's fully focused on schoolwork and the violin.

"I take private lessons weekly," he says. "I'm in two chamber groups. One is put on by my private teacher and one is thrown together by a just few friends. And then I play in the Central Oregon Symphony, and the past two summers I've gone to Greensboro [North Carolina] to play with the Eastern Music Festival."

"Mateo has risen to the challenge," says High Desert Chamber Music Executive Director, Isabelle Senger, who's also his private teacher. "He is a bright and driven young adult, and has been a leading member of the HDCM Spotlight Chamber Players for the past seven years. I look forward to seeing where his future will lead."

Musically, at least, Mateo has begun to outgrow his local roots. "It's hard coming from Central Oregon," says Erin. "There aren't the opportunities that the kids coming from bigger cities have. There's one teacher in town who can teach at his level. There's no orchestra in town that is really at the level he plays with during the summer. As a mom, sometimes it's frustrating knowing that you can't give your kid what you could if you were somewhere else. But at the same time, I figure he's making his own road, and if he really wants it, he'll make it happen." For now, Mateo's just enjoying the moment. "I love to play chamber music...in quartets, trios, quintets—you name it," he says. "It's where I have the most fun. You're interacting with a small group of people, especially if you're playing with friends or people you know really well. "It's the situation that I really thrive in."


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated where Mateo Garza attended high school. He attends the Redmond Proficiency Academy. We regret the error.


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