PRIZM Spotlight: Juan Valdez

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PRIZM Spotlight: Juan Valdez

Meet one of our dedicated PRIZM mentors, Juan Valdez. His dedication to music and music education has touched his students and peers all around. If you see him around Memphis, say hi!


Why is music important to you?

Music saved my life. When I was 13, my parents had to return to Mexico. They left me the choice to either stay in the U.S or go with them. I decided to stay and pursue music and my education. I owe all of my teachers and the family who raised me in Oregon everything because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them and music.

I started playing cello in the fourth grade. However, two years later, I was at an event in my hometown, and I heard all of the bands playing Mexican music. The trumpet sound captivated my eyes and ears, so I picked that up next. Then, during middle school, my band director needed a tuba for his advanced group, and he asked if I would like to try it out. With its big sound and effervescent color, I rose to the challenge and never looked back.

How long have you worked with PRIZM and in what capacity?

I’ve been with PRIZM for 3 years. While I was in graduate school, I wanted to get involved with the community to help with music and diversity. I’ve served in several roles over my three years with the organization. First, I was an intern, then an Assistant Project Coordinator, and finally a Faculty Artist. Through this process, I was able to learn how the organization runs and help facilitate students’ education. With the chamber series programming, I was also able to join the La Banda Group, which was formed to advocate for Latin music and help with demographic development in the Memphis area.

How has PRIZM impacted your career or your personal development? 

PRIZM has given me the opportunity to grow as a musician and to learn how to work within a nonprofit. Through this process, I’ve been able to work as a musician and behind the scenes. It’s been amazing to have the opportunity to teach students the importance of chamber music and to be a part of developing their musical minds. PRIZM has taught me everything from programming recitals to asking questions like “How do we reach audiences of all backgrounds?”. I’m truly grateful for PRIZM.


Can you tell me about your student Dontavius’s growth under your mentorship?

I met Dontavius when he reached out for online lessons during the pandemic. When someone his age tells you that they want to be a professional musician, you know they mean business. I expect nothing less than hardwork in my studio, and Dontavius has not disappointed. One major factor we needed to work on was turning the notes on the page into music. A lot of the time, we as musicians get into the habit of playing fast, playing a lot of notes, playing high or low, and we forget to MAKE MUSIC. Since we started working together, he has made such an improvement in his awareness of making music and singing through his instrument. I’m so proud because he just placed in Blue Band at WTSBOA Honor Band and was accepted into the University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music!