Inspiring Expats: The Willpower's Key Played By A Mexican Pianist
- 25 May 2023 3:14 PM
His Hungarian piano teacher in Mexico ended up being his biggest influence on his coming to the Magyars' land, even though she had other plans in mind for him to internationalize his career.
After almost a decade of studies between his native country and Hungary, he has begun to perform internationally, in the midst of the continuous endeavor to instruct tens of children in his home seeking to learn this art.
'At your age, I was already playing a lot of things and winning contests'. Without detours, Sebastián received this reflection from his new Hungarian piano teacher at the age of 17 in his first year of studies at UNAM University (Mexico). Sebastian was a late start learning the instrument. That is at least according to the well-known institutionalized thinking on the matter.
Sebastián's temperate nature led him to assume this reality for what it was: something that could not be changed but instead amended with a lot of work. But also conscious of having something as significant as his determination: a genuine enticement to this particular form of classical music.
Having a moment of hesitation when he was considering enrolling for a psychology degree while would attend music as a secondary study, a simple piece of advice ended up freeing him from his dilemma.
“I was dubious because there is this assumption that you don't do well with music. So, I talked to a friend and told me 'Look, I recommend that you make music if that's what you want to. Because if you don't, you won't be able to perform either of the two tasks effectively”.
“Without music, life would be a mistake”
Nothing strange seems the alternative option that Sebastián was considering as a profession. His contemplative personality seems to favor him when he sinks his fingers into the piano or vice versa; perhaps much of what he is today in this atmosphere of sensitivities has also shaped his calm character.
Precisely in psychology, it is possible to find one of the most striking quotes about the art of music. If life without music is a mistake, as Friedrich Nietzsche once said, then Sebastián could have lived far from what was right for a long time according to this view. Although it is hard to believe, Sebastián describes the following situation without exaggerations: at home, until his adolescence, it was not customary to listen to music.
“It's funny because my dad is one of the few people that music doesn't do much for. He is an engineer and he would say: 'I listen to one or two songs and then it annoys me'. For this reason, music was probably not played at home. It is strange, considering that in Latin America there is this image that even the cleaning is done with music. Therefore, as a teenager when I began my own musical exploration, everything I came across was a discovery”.
Other musical interactions, however, came his way in his growing avidity for the various genres. His older brother, for example, in the punk era brought several music records to home. Without going any further, Sebastián's own hobby was that of a drummer in a rock band with his friends. But the biggest influence on him was when he watched the movie "The Pianist" (Roman Polanski, 2022).
“When I heard Chopin´s music I couldn't believe that an instrument could do something like that. I said: 'I want to do that' and I was very convinced. Those were a couple of years where I actually watched a lot of movies and consumed a lot of discographies."
From an encyclopedias’ seller to the house plumber
It is difficult to analyze chance when in reality, in the end, we ourselves are the ones who choose to take or exclude those events that make it up. But the truth is that it could be said that two independent incidents were the ones that defined Sebastián's current life in Budapest and before that, his decision to be a pianist.
One day a door-to-door vendor who used to sell encyclopedias offered some classical music records to Sebastián's mother. Accumulated in the junk at home, one day he took them to see what they were about and he got captivated. Thus, at the age of 15, he entered an artistic initiation school, where a year later chose the piano as his main instrument of study.
Later, at the age of 17, he enrolled at UNAM to pursue the pianist bachelor, where it turned out that after a few months, the piano teacher with whom he began left the position. Shortly before that, one day, the bathroom of the house was spoiled, and the story follows like this:
“My dad told me: 'Hey, the plumber, Nacho El Borracho (Nacho The Drunk) told me that his daughter was studying at UNAM and that recommends that you study with teacher Krisztina Deli. That name stuck with me so when I was left without a teacher, I went to my university to ask for her contact. I was fortunate that she accepted me because it is very difficult to enter her class and just that year, she was receiving new people”.
It is on this journey that his career as a musician began to be shaped. It was also when he received his first piano thanks to his mother.
“She told me: ‘So do you really want to be a pianist? Then I'll buy you the piano. When she bought it I thought, ¡Híjole! (Wow!) This is it. I can't back down anymore. It was very difficult for her to pay it off in installments, but it was a great motivation for me.”
Photo: Courtesy of Sebastián Ramírez. Sebastián imparting lessons to Hungarian children at his home.
Direct and indirect influences of a mentor
Despite the fact that, according to music experts, there are no decisive studies that prove that not starting as a child is necessarily disadvantageous for the apprentice, at least that is the prevailing conception on which it's preferred to work in classical music. The first thing that Sebastián understood from his Hungarian teacher is that they needed to make up for the elapsed time.
“When I started with Krisztina I practically disappeared from the world. I stopped partying, to dedicate myself to the study. It was very intense. She has a strong personality and I respect her so much. I always trusted her a lot. She taught me so many things".
Teacher Anikó Krisztina Deli is a pianist who graduated from the Kodály Conservatory, an institution that awarded her as the best instrumentalist of her generation (1984), which is the cornerstone of her vast curriculum. With her, Sebastián learned about 20th-century Hungarian music for piano with the works of Bartók, Kurtág, and Liszt himself.
“She has understood very well what the reality is in Mexico and especially at UNAM. At the age when we start to study there, here in Hungary the children have already been playing for ten years. They start at four, five years old. Imagine starting at sixteen years old. In the first classes, she told me: 'Uf colleague, at your age I was already playing a lot of things and winning contests. We have a lot of work to do”.
It was she who suggested that at the end of his degree, he continue in Vienna or the United States, where one of his students had managed to be accepted at the Manhattan School of Music, never putting Budapest on the list. Only at the end, after Ramirez’s insistence, she told him 'Ok, go to Hungary with my teacher'.
“Over time I understood her position. For her, it was like, 'Well if it takes so many years of preparation, then you go to New York´, for example. But after spending so much time listening that she always talked about Ferenc Liszt's Academy of Music and all these characters, well, it seduced me. Many things determine our life and we don't realize it”.
Photo: Courtesy of Sebastián Ramírez. “Musical dialogues Concert México – Europa. National University of Music Bucharest.
Classical musician, but not traditional
Sebastián teaches children at his house together with his girlfriend, an Italian pianist. He alone has 25 students. With back pain and a busy week, he currently manages to display his own version of melodies from Mexico's golden years, (accompanied by a compatriot opera singer) a cultural identity that is essential for him to spread.
“Classical music is like you have to be a certain way. As it happens in the ballet. In the end, everyone aspires to be the same and to play the same things. That has killed a lot of creativity in the second half of the 20th century. I am Mexican and I want to be true to myself. I like to make my own versions of what I have consumed”.
Since January Ramirez has been working on his first double album, which will be a solo piano album and another with his compatriot baritone of Mexican songs. Internationally, this year has got off to a good start for him performing in Milan and Bucharest. As to Hungary, he expresses how he feels that people perceive him when immerses himself in this spirit of playing things outside the traditional.
“As a pianist in Mexico, they see me as a ‘serious guy'. However, at the academy in Budapest, they see me as a ‘weird’ wuey (guy). Like, ‘Let's see what ranchera (classic Mexican musical genre) is he playing now?!´ As if what I play isn't something serious and I do it very seriously”.
In the same way he learned, for Sebastián it is essential to study music for pleasure.
“I want the children to have fun and learn as much as they can as if they were playing. Some parents force them and I understand it because they want to give them a good education. But if the child doesn't want it, it's fine. The piano is very difficult and you have to have a keen desire”.
They say: “Obsession is gonna beat talent every time”…
"And I am pure will and that is all I have".
Interview by Daniel Sepúlveda O, contributing journalist for Xpatloop.com
Photos by Daniel Sepúlveda