The Rebecca Webb Wilson Fellowship

ESTEFAN PEREZ, cello - The Rebecca Webb Wilson Fellowship

Estefan Perez, cello

The Rebecca Webb Wilson Fellow


Q: Tell us about your background – family, early childhood, hometown life.

A: I was born in my hometown of Bay Shore, NY, where I currently live. I have lived on Long Island my whole life – albeit expensive, it is a great place to live! Living super close to the water has been amazing. Bay Shore in particular is gorgeous: right next to the water, always something to do, and a great community. I grew up and completed school in the Bay Shore School District, to whom I owe a lot of my success to. The music program during my middle school years and high school years gave me an amazing environment where I could be motivated, driven, and encouraged, with wonderful teachers and mentors – all of whom I am still in contact with. It is likely that without their wonderful support, I might not be doing what I am today! Surprisingly, it is not a private arts school, it is in a public school district - people are always surprised to hear that. I played varsity tennis for the school team too, and won a district championship! The plaque is somewhere around the house.

We are a family of four including my mother, my father, my younger sister and me. My sister and I are first generation born, as my parents immigrated here to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1989. I can say that I have 100% Dominican blood in me, as my ENTIRE family is from there; I have no roots elsewhere. I am so grateful to have a family that has stayed so unified, and has been an unyielding beacon of support for me throughout my whole life – one day I hope to show them that the thousands of miles they’ve driven me to countless rehearsals, auditions, and concerts will have been for something! I am trilingual; I am fluent in English, Spanish, and French – Yes French! Spanish was my first language growing up, as my mother speaks very limited English. I learned English of course in school and through my father. I began to learn French around the time that I started playing cello, my father also speaks it and he wanted to begin teaching me! Spanish and French are very related so it wasn’t too difficult to catch on to. I love the language and continued to study it with my father and throughout all of my school years through my undergrad, and I even became the University of Hartford’s official French tutor my junior year there! I am constantly watching/listening/conversing to French news, podcasts, masterclasses, etc. just to keep that language alive for me :)

Oddly enough, my parents don’t have a musical cell in their bodies; my mother has been a housewife most of her life and just started working a few years ago, and my father is a train car inspector for the Long Island Rail Road. My mom has never played a musical instrument, and I believe my father took a single piano lesson when he was a teenager, but promptly hated it. This is interesting because my sister is a dancer, and quite a good one too. Both children went into the arts! My journey in music is not a typical one, as I started private instruction very late compared to most people. Since my parents could never afford for me to receive private instruction, I wasn’t able to get it. It wasn’t until the Bay Shore School District gave me the funds to study with someone, my sophomore year of high school, that I was able to start seeing a private teacher. They saw something in me. I was completely self-taught up until then, I was 15 when I started seeing my first teacher.

My childhood consisted mostly of great food, lots of tennis with my mom and dad, and of course, music, music, and some more music.

Q: The age-old question, when did you start playing the cello?

A: I started playing the cello at the age of 8, as in my school district, it is mandatory that all students entering the 4th grade pick an instrument to play the following school year. They allow us to pick three instruments, and then they choose which one you are assigned based on the needs of the school, to make a balanced orchestra/band. It’s a very funny story actually, I remember 8 -year-old me heartedly picking trumpet and trombone as the instruments I wanted to play; Maybe my 4th grade ear was drawn to how loud those instruments can get? Since I didn’t have any other instrument that I wanted to play, I told our music director to just pick the third one at random for me – you can probably guess which one was picked for me. I always think, if they hadn’t picked cello for me, would I still be a musician? Would I have quit either trumpet or trombone early on and done something else? I’m so glad I don’t know the answer!

Q: What impact has music had on your life, up to this point?

A:  All of my happiest moments, greatest achievements, closest friendships, and biggest trials, I owe to my journey in music. This past February, I won my schools concerto competition. This was my 4th and last attempt at, and I was more focused on preparing well for my college auditions, and having the competition as a great way to prepare myself for it. As I progressed through the rounds, I had a feeling, “maybe I can actually do this.” After the final round when the results came out that I had won, I started to scream and run around my dorm, I even jumped up into the arms of one of my roommates who was trying to study for an exam. I don’t remember feeling such a rush of joy, excitement, (and slight terror) as I did there. I met my current girlfriend of two years at our conservatory. I’ve made so many wonderful friends and colleagues who I know will last a lifetime. Outside of that, music has nurtured my soul and life in ways I cannot put into words. Cello and Music have always been a place of solace for me, whenever I was either down or upset. Cello is also an instrument that you can truly “hug,” in the sense that I can really wrap myself around the instrument and make it an extension of me, whereas its different physically with other instruments. I can sink into my instrument with my body. It is also a calling that one is always consistently improving at, there is no end, there is no “right answer” per say. I am drawn to the fact that no matter how much I improve, no matter how many accolades one receives, there will ALWAYS be something that can continue to nurture our playing to make us not only better musicians, but better people. It became clear to me early on that I didn’t want to do anything else, I couldn’t do anything else. I hate to be cliché, but I truly don’t know where I’d be without music.

Q: What made you decide to choose the program offered at Memphis?

A: As I mentioned before, this past February I had I crazy week in which I was auditioning to 4 schools out of my 5 schools in 6 days. These were all great schools, with lovely teachers and each had great things to offer. The University of Memphis was introduced to me by our spectacular orchestral conductor, Maestro Edward Cumming. Kalena Bovell was a student of his at the Hartt School, who of course is now your wonderful assistant conductor. Kalena had reached out to him asking if there was anyone who may have been interested in a “Diversity Fellowship”, a newly instated program at the University of Memphis. At this point I had already had my heart set out on a few schools, and didn’t know anything about Memphis or what the music program was like. But, after he pulled me aside to talk to me about it and told me everything that it included, how could I not look further into it? The Cincinnati Conservatory had a similar program that I auditioned to, where they offered ALMOST the same thing; full tuition, $8,000 stipend, and several concert cycles with the CSO for two years. I was looking for a program in which the institution would able to support me the most financially, because I have already taken out a great deal of loans to cover for my undergraduate studies. Out of the 5 schools that I was offered admission to, it came down to three: Memphis, staying at Hartt, or the Cincinnati Conservatory. It became very clear to me as time passed that no one offered me as much as Memphis, or included as much as part of my masters. Hartt and Cincinnati gave me very hefty financial packages but, didn’t include anything orchestrally, culturally, or community-wise. Once I became aware of that, the choice became very easy. The program the Memphis Symphony and the University of Memphis have constructed focuses just as much culturally as it does musically. In using our platform as musicians, we will also be doing community engagement and outreach services, which to me is spectacular. It will be a big move – some 1500 miles, but I’m already feeling so welcomed and I can’t wait to be a part of it all!

Not only will I get to study and perform with world class individuals, but I will be shown and exposed to a myriad of wonderful aspects of Memphis life, through the generosity of the Circle of Friends, the philanthropy initiative of diverse community leaders who started the Musician Fellowship Program to bring intentional inclusion into the MSO.

I look forward to meeting the other musicians, the staff and the patrons.  I can’t wait to know Circle of Friends, especially Becky Wilson with whom I have spoken via Zoom.  The members will help me become more self-confidence in interacting cross culturally, inter-generationally and in social and professional experiences. After deep immersion in Memphis that the Circle mentors will give me, I will better understand the roll a symphony orchestra can give in strengthening community life.  It is essential to experience how it all fits together!

Q: Apart from cello and music, what are some of your other interests?

A:  I am a huge fan of tennis…I’ve been playing all my life and, I was actually named after one. My father’s favorite tennis player once he came to the states was the Swedish Slam Champion Stefan Edberg. He actually met him briefly and told him, “I’m going to name my son after you!” You could say it’s the family sport. I played all through high school and became varsity team captain my senior year. I continued to play while I was in college, albeit less due to increased focus on my studies. I, however, watch as much of it as I can when I’m relaxing and still play when I can! I also really enjoy basketball and baseball, and enjoy the occasional video game! This might be a chance for me to catch a Grizzlies game live, haha! I have become a movie junkie over the past year or so too, every Friday night my roommates and I would watch a movie together, kind of became our pastime. I love food, and staying up way too late, which I know will have to change very soon. See you in Memphis, my new hometown!