For Gabriel Lofvall, teaching music is more than just reading notes or transposing melodies. Rather, music is a language that can cross cultural barriers to teach tolerance, diversity, and positive human interaction to and from the Latino community.
Lofvall, the Director of Music Ministry at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford and the conductor of the community children’s chorus at Chorus Angelicus in Torrington, finds ways to inject Latin culture into all aspects of his work. He also co-founded and co-directs Vallis Musicæ, which is devoted to spreading choral music, and is the assistant conductor of New Britain’s Main Street Singers.
His involvement in his many projects allows him to spread his Latin influences across Connecticut.
“I found in my Latino identity a wonderful way to get others involved in what I have to offer, either because they are Latinos themselves, or because they want to open their minds and personalities to understanding the Latino idiosyncrasy,” he said.
He brings Latin American music to his choirs, singers and ensembles, and consciously interacts with other Latino musicians and networks through them to bring even more Latino influence to Connecticut’s music scene.
“My legacy, if any, will not bloom from the Latino community outward; rather, I am planting the seeds of the Latino community into less diverse groups.”
It doesn’t hurt that the music he works to spread is so infectious. The affect his music has on others even manifests itself physically in anyone who hears it, he said. “Latin rhythms and melodies. . . are catchy and the muscular beat makes you tap you foot or move your hips.”
An Argentinean in the United States
A native of Mendoza, Argentina, Lofvall’s hometown is a bacchian, sun-soaked city worthy of being any aspiring musician’s muse. The city, who’s motto “Mendoza: tierra del sol y del buen vino” (Mendoza: land of sun and of good wine), is home to two symphony orchestras, traditional music festivals and a lively arts scene.
“It was a fantastic place to grow up,” he said.
Sixteen years ago, Lofvall left Mendoza behind when he came to the U.S. with his university’s performing troop. The group, from the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (UNC), were performing piano recitals to promote South American music from the likes of composers Alberto Ginastera, Juan José Castro, Carlos Guastavino, and Astor Piazzolla.
Lofvall was hoping to carve out a career as a solo pianist and planned to later move to Germany, audition for Musikhochschule, and continue his graduate studies. However, like with most best-laid plans, life took an unexpected turn.
He was was offered a tour of the University of Hartford during a stay in Connecticut for a performance. A brochure of famous Brazilian pianist Luiz de Moura Castro, who was a faculty member at the time, caught his eye.
“I immediately wanted to study with him there,” Lofvall said. “He was instrumental in offering me hospitality and welcoming me into this country.”
Trading a Dream
The trip to the University of Hartford changed Lofvall’s course entirely. Germany and Musikhochschule were forgotten; he replaced them with visions of the Nutmeg State.
With only $200 to his name, Lofvall abandoned the concert tour, crashed with a friend and auditioned for the University of Hartford. He was offered a scholarship and, as he says, “The rest was history.”
He is now in his final stages of his musical education, studying for a Doctorate in Musical Arts with an emphasis in Choral Conducting.
Overall, Lofvall said his experience as an immigrant in the U.S. has been a positive one, albeit “a lot of hard work, many times disheartening and taxing, but it has paid off in the end.”
“The beauty of the United States resides in its diversity and the unrelenting dynamism of the American dream. We have to strive to never let go of that. That’s what makes this country unique.”
Celebrating Diversity Through Music
Because Lofvall speaks English with an accent, people immediately recognize that he is not a native to the U.S. Like most things, he sees his differences as a positive opportunity.
“It’s an excellent ice-breaker!” he said. “It is a great way to get the conversation rolling about diversity, other countries, other cultures, how people live outside the U.S., and how the fact that here in the U.S., we embrace all that amazing ethnic mixture that makes us stronger and culturally richer.”
It also makes his Latino students feel more connected to him. By reaching out to Latino musicians and singers in their common Spanish language, he has been able to get more people involved through his music, which has “naturally enhanced both the sound and social fabric of the groups.”
For Lofvall, musical success isn’t tangible. It is the point where he has captivated an audience and feels the pulse of his choirs’ words, or a transcendent moment during a worship service, or an seeing someone making an emotion connection to the lyrics he is conducting.
“I am happy knowing that I disseminate Latino classical music. Since I visit Latin America every year and I can bring a lot of Latin American music to my choirs, they get to know it, maybe for the first time in their lives,” he said.
“If that’s my legacy, so be it!”