Through music and education, a local teacher builds community
In high school, a friend of Serafin Paredes was in a Mexican band, and after a few months of Paredes hanging out during rehearsals, a spot opened up. The bass player quit, and although Paredes didn’t know how to play an instrument, the band asked if he wanted to learn electric bass.
“I really enjoyed just sitting and listening to them. I felt the urge to learn how to play something in order to be like them and join their band,” he says of the time leading up to the offer to join them. “This was the perfect opportunity I was waiting for, and, of course, I accepted. This became my first and foremost influence as a musician.”
His road to musician and educator began later in life. He’d always loved music, but didn’t have the chance to learn the art form while growing up in Mexico. When his family later moved to the United States, he had to take English as a Second Language classes, leaving no time for electives like music.
When the time came for junior college, he finally got his chance, taking a music appreciation class with a classical guitarist who inspired Paredes to major in music.
For more than 20 years now, he’s been teaching music to students in the San Diego Unified School District, later adding program director of the La Jolla Music Society’s Community Music Center, founder and director of Mariachi Juvenil de San Diego, and mariachi ensemble director at the University of San Diego to his list of responsibilities.
For his commitment to music education over the years, he was named one of two of San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory’s Profiles in Music Education Award (along with Crystal Pridmore).
Paredes, 46, lives in Chula Vista with his wife, Wendy Charines, and son, Uriel. He’s currently a music teacher at Memorial Preparatory for Scholars and Athletes, and took some time to talk about his love of teaching music and the adjustments he’s had to make to teaching during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Q: What was your initial response when you learned that you were selected as a recipient of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory’s Profiles in Music Education Awards? And what does it mean to you to be recognized in this way?
A: I, honestly, was very surprised when I heard the news. I feel very humbled and honored to receive such an important award from the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory. I have no words to express how much it means to me and my family. It shows me that people are paying attention to the things that I am trying to do in the community for the benefit of our youth. I am more than grateful and humbled by this.
Q: How would you describe your approach/philosophy toward music education?
A: My philosophy is to be able to provide music education in areas where students sometimes don’t have the opportunity to learn music because of financial disadvantages or language barriers. I want every student to learn the music of their choice, and learn the music of their heritage in order to share it with the world, and to have pride.
Q: What kind of music do you find yourself drawn to during this time of social distancing?
A: I listen to many different styles of music depending of my mood. I love listening and analyzing music in the quiet. I love classical, mariachi, jazz and Latin jazz, to name a few. I’ve also been listening to tons of CDs I’ve had for years and now I have the time to listen and enjoy.
What I love about Chula Vista …
I love that we can go out for a bike ride, a hike, barbecue in the park, or in my own quiet backyard.
Q: With schools closed and group gatherings off limits to slow the spread of COVID-19, what kinds of adjustments have you made in teaching music?
A: With all schools closed and social distancing in effect, I find it more difficult for students to be able to continue practicing their instruments. Right now, I’m trying to find as many resources possible for my students to keep up their interest in music. The school district is helping students by providing the technology needed for online instruction. Unfortunately, with such short notice, students weren’t able to take instruments home in order to be fully prepared for distance learning. Therefore, I am finding new ways and tools to keep the interest going. I am in the process of finding materials that will keep them interested in learning music theory, history, or inspirational videos through (electronic applications) and YouTube. Other challenges that we, as educators, are facing are that many students might not have the space at home to practice, especially if they share their homes with other families. This has been overwhelming to put together, but it is teaching me new ways of delivering my lessons. Despite the challenges, this situation has given me the opportunity to continue growing as a professional and to find more tools to improve my teaching, even when we go back to the classroom.
Q: Tell us about Mariachi Juvenil de San Diego.
A: Mariachi Juvenil de San Diego is a mariachi youth group that I established in 2004. The purpose of the organization is to teach students the traditional music of Mexico and to motivate them to pursue a higher level of education. In 2001, I attended a mariachi conference in Arizona, where I was impressed to see elementary school children playing mariachi music. At the time, I was teaching at Cesar Chavez Elementary and the principal asked me if could start a mariachi group. I started teaching my most advanced students some mariachi songs, like “Cielito Lindo,” and when those students moved on to junior high school, they were so inspired to continue in the mariachi program that I agreed to teach them on Saturday mornings for a few hours. By 2004, I turned the program into a nonprofit organization, and we continue to practice and perform for many different events around town.
Some of the students who started in the group in elementary school are still involved today as young adults. Our organization has been able to give scholarships to many of them to continue their college educations. We’ve grown tremendously, and for the past 12 years, we’ve organized one of the largest mariachi conferences in the nation, where we bring in some of the best professional mariachi musicians and historians to teach and motivate our young mariachi students. This group continues to inspire younger generations of musicians in the community to continue learning music as part of their culture and traditions.
Q: Why was this something you wanted to create?
A: When I graduated as a music educator, my plan was to teach band and orchestra. It never crossed my mind to teach mariachi since that was never an option during my preparation. It was not until I began working as an elementary school teacher and I had the opportunity to attend an international mariachi conference in Arizona, that I was able to broaden my view and knowledge of the importance of teaching mariachi music in my community.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: In order to succeed, you always need to put forth your best effort.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: That I hope, some day, I’ll have the time to continue practicing and performing classical guitar.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal weekend is to be able to relax and enjoy my family.
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