Viola Voyage: Matthew Garcia takes talent across the globe


Recent Harlingen School of Health Professions graduate Matthew Garcia spent his elementary years with his nose in a book, imaging himself in the midst of where the book was set from Scotland to England. 

Since Garcia read of beautiful and exotic locales, travel began emerging in the front of his mind with a want to visit historical monuments detailed in books. The now 18-year-old discovered a love of music while entering middle school. 

His mother suggested he take up marching band and envisioned him as a star under the Fright night lights, but Garcia had a different idea in mind – high school orchestra. 

He was captivated and mesmerized by the string instruments that filled up the performance rooms at Gutierrez Middle School. It was then he made the decision to join the orchestra. Initially wanting to play the cello, he was disappointed to hear the only instrument available for him to play was the viola – a four-string instrument similar to the violin, but larger thus producing a deeper sound.

Garcia, however, didn’t know the picking up the viola would lead him to a bright, adventure-filled future much like the books he read while a student at Rodriguez Elementary School. 

“I picked it up, and I was so excited,” Garcia said, noting he asked his teacher to take home a viola to practice at home within the first week of orchestra class. 

“I remember that I was the worst one in the class for a few weeks,” Garcia said while smiling and reminiscing about first picking up the instrument.

Garcia dedicated hours each day to practicing, improving his skill and performance at a fast pace. Within about two months, the orchestra director noticed his keen ability to play and read music and moved him into the varsity orchestra at his middle school where he sat among 8th graders. From there, he continued to prove himself as a viola player and eventually earned first chair, which denotes his ability to most accurately and exquisitely make music with the viola.

“I’m like that in a lot of things in life,” Garcia said. “I’m very slow to learn things, but once I get it, I do pretty well from then on.”

Other took note of his musical abilities, specifically after he attained first chair in regional competitions among students from districts across the lower Rio Grande Valley school. His success caught the attention of former University of Texas at Brownsville music professor Dr. Martha Placeres, the creator of the university’s orchestra.

“She heard me play, and she said, ‘This kid has to come and play with our orchestra,” Garcia said, excitedly recalling some of his most memorable times as a Harlingen CISD student. “I was like, ‘Of course!’”

He traveled to Brownsville every Wednesday to rehearse with “the college kids,” and Garcia “fell in love” with performing and rehearsing with the symphony orchestra.

When Mrs. De Leon, his director, received a packet about the Carnegie Hall program, she encouraged Garcia to try out for the highly competitive and renowned music program attended by students from high-status private schools around the country.

He was accepted and even earned a spot as second chair his first year his sophomore year. His junior year, Garcia sat in the first chair position and traveled to Carnegie Hall to perform in New York City among some of the best student viola players. It was there where he read about the National Youth Orchestra, described by Carnegie Hall musicians as being composed of the “brightest young players” from across the United States. It’s a highly competitive audition, and Garcia was selected to take part in it, allowing him to embark on a new adventure.

He was exposed to a new level of playing and people from cultures and backgrounds not commonly found in the Rio Grande Valley.

He began to attract the attention of national news outlets such as the National Public Radio. Garcia was asked, “How could this kid from South Texas be able to play at this level?” This motivated him to continue to break boundaries.

The National Youth Orchestra allowed Garcia to visit and perform in China, Korea, Ecuador, Colombia, Taiwan, and Mexico, where he spent part of his summers in between grade levels. The opportunity to play overseas led him to perform his viola in front of crowds in some of the most significant and most historic music halls in the world.

This summer, Garcia will travel to London, Amsterdam, and Hamburg where he will play in the halls of every musician’s dream. He has visited many of the places he thought he would only be able to read about and learned about cultures in Asia, South America, and soon-to-be Europe.

When he returns from Europe later this summer, Garcia will meet his parents in Cambridge to settle into the residence halls of Harvard University, the school of his dreams. Being successful remains on his mind as he desires to continue making his family and the community proud of his accomplishments and global experience.

Being accepted to the Ivy League school, he said, was “probably one of the best days of my life.”

Garcia anticipates concentrating on human developmental and regenerative biology with secondary studies in ethnicity, migration and minority rights at Harvard. 

He plans on attending New York University to pursue a career as a doctor focused on traumatic emergency surgery. 

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