HARLINGEN — When it comes to Valley music, there’s more to it than the accordion and electric guitar.
Yet when we think of musical instruction in South Texas, it’s usually band-related.
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” insists 29-year-old Miguel Gutierrez. “The thing is, we’re in the South, and the main thing that’s going on here is football. So football and band are correlated — completely correlated.
“But there is an interest for strings, there really is,” he added.
Gutierrez owns and operates a new business in Harlingen called Cremona House, which caters to a love of all things stringed. He says interest in stringed instruments and classical music in the Valley began in the Edinburg-McAllen area in the 1970s but has been slow to spread.
“Brownsville has been trying to push for it for 30 years now but it hasn’t been happening,” he said. “The next place that’s come along is here, in Harlingen. So I came here.”
Because of a growing interest in learning to play strings, Gutierrez waves toward a glass counter which holds accessories for stringed instruments.
“There is a big demand for this kind of stuff here,” he said of Harlingen. “The programs in the schools have grown a lot and most of these kids need accessories, like shoulder rests and rosins.
“And most of the time they have to travel somewhere else because there’s nothing here that caters just to the string community,” Gutierrez added.
Cremona House is named as homage to the Italian city in the Lombardy region known for its tradition of violin-making. In Cremona, luthiers such as Giuseppe Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari and the Amati family set up making violins of such quality, such sound, that hundreds of years later single instruments can be worth multi-millions of dollars each.
As he speaks at the Cremona House studio, a Mozart symphony plays in the background in another kind of homage.
“Do you like classical music?” he asks.
Gutierrez has taught lessons in classical music for violin and viola for five years while studying at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley where he is majoring in performance. Instruction in cello, which Cremona House offers, is a different story.
“I consulted at a school here this past school year, and they would ask me a lot, ’Do you know anybody for cello, for cello, for cello’?
“So I asked my colleague, ’Hey, do you want to teach some lessons here?’ He said ’Fine!,’ so that’s why I decided to offer it,” Gutierrez said.
As an instrument, he describes the cello as “melancholic.”
“It’s a beautiful instrument, all of them are,” Gutierrez said. “All of them have their ups and down. Everybody likes the violin or the cello, that’s what everybody goes for.
“The viola’s a more uncommon, vague instrument,” he added. “It’s larger than a violin, and it has different strings. I always told kids if the violin and cello were to have a baby, it would be the viola.”
Gutierrez says he has no age restrictions for students, and has taught them aged 6 to 60.
With children, parents must accompany them during private lessons.
“Because it’s not just a thing between me and a student, it is between us three,” he says. “It’s a triangle, the way I see it.
“Because that way the parent goes home with the student and tells them, ’You need to do this. You need to do that,’” he says.
Gutierrez says music pedagogy also has changed over the years. And the changes have been for the better.
“Back in the old days — and it still happens sometimes now — teachers would yell at you,” he says. “I’m telling you from my experience.
“You know, it’s a difficult path to be a musician. A lot of self-doubt, a lot of fear,” he says. “Am I going to make it? Am I going to be good enough?
“But I think things have changed now,” he says. “Humanity’s taking a different course. It’s now about understanding what is going on emotionally as well. It’s very psychological. So when a student comes in, for the first three or four lessons I’m just trying to analyze — how does this kid work? What does he do? What does she do? How does she see this?
“Because we all see things in different ways, we all make connections in different ways,” he said.
Cremona House offers weekly sessions of 30, 45 and 60 minutes for violin, viola and cello. Tuition will vary on selected plan and there is no age limit.
Instructors: Miguel J. Gutierrez — Violin and viola
Abran Garcia — Cello
Address: 2017 Cremona House, LLC, 1219 E. Harrison Ave., Harlingen