Gerardo Calderón has brought his love of folk music from Mexico to Oregon and, in so doing, has brought pleasure to people of all ages.
He’s performed in schools, at the Portland International Airport, in auditoriums and at elder care facilities — one of his favorites.
These days, this in-demand professional guitarist also studies music therapy at Marylhurst University, gives private guitar lessons, performs with Grupo Condor, and works in his recording studio.
His success is a combination of a love of learning, the joy of playing music, luck and diligence.
“This is what I do, this is what I love,” he says.
Calderón grew up in Mexico and was drawn to his country’s traditional sounds. He taught himself to play the guitar, then formed a band with his brothers, playing in small towns throughout Mexico.
They played in coffee houses where poetry, readings and music were combined. He played around Mexico City, then traveled to Puerta Vallarta “for fun,” playing in restaurants near the beach. After returning home, he was asked to come back to the resort city for paying gigs.
“That was when I knew that music would be my path,” Calderón says.
Eventually, he was invited to perform in Boston, “and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
In 1994, he joined Young Audiences and began performing in schools as part of music education. “I still do assemblies, workshops and residences,” he says, where he focuses on Latin American music.
His touring has included workshops in schools and libraries, universities and museums. The Oregon World Affairs Council asked him to teach teachers how to incorporate music in school curriculums. And for six years he toured the United States, Europe and Mexico, playing in concert halls 300 days a year.
Calderón has a large collection of traditional instruments that represent the many musical styles of Latin America, thus his concerts and school programs focus on a blend of Spanish, African and Native American influences. They create a truly multicultural art form.
His band, Grupo Condor, combines music and history into its shows. It’s high-energy entertainment with an educational and multicultural dimension.
Some of the instruments they use include the guitar, charango and ronroco, all stringed instruments of Spanish influence; quenas, zamponas and antaras, all flute instruments of American influence; and the bombo leguero, chaj chas, palo de lluvia and tambor de aqua, all percussions with both African and American influences.
Each musician — including Samuel Becerra and Nelda Reyes — plays different instruments and tells stories about the origin of the music. The group stresses the importance of each culture’s contribution.
“Europe introduced string instruments and we made them our own,” Calderón says. “History and real instruments go hand in hand. Audiences are amazed at all the instruments and become engaged right away.”
Each chapter of his life has led to new music because Calderón has an unquenchable appetite for learning.
He’s currently studying music therapy at Marylhurst and plans to apply music therapy into the lives of others.
“I’m going to focus on the educational system, refugees, immigrants and undocumented people,” he says, adding that he also wants to spend six months touring South America to learn about other music traditions.
He has his own recording studio, where his partner Nelda writes the script and he provides the music.
“One of my dreams is to play in my country,” Calderón says. “I have not done that in years. When I am through at Marylhurst in another year I want to travel for six months in South America, study, teach, meet with musicologists and share my music. But, if it doesn’t happen in this life, it can happen in another life.”
Calderón likes the fact that music helps with relaxation.
For the past 11 years, he has been playing in the mornings at Portland International Airport. He sits just past the security gates, alternating terminals Tuesdays to Thursdays, and Saturdays.
He likes the airport gig because it allows him afternoons to do other performances, teach or attend college.
The tips he earns from one day’s performance can provide funds for a month’s needs. Some days he earns nothing but he has also earned $1,000 in one day and one traveler bought 30 of his CDs.
“Money is not the driving force,” Calderón says. “Playing music is a personal benefit. At the airport people from all over the world buy my CDs and I don’t have to advertise. I also collaborate with other musicians, I compose music, I do documentaries and short films.”
He also does sound design for theaters, and enjoys collaborating with choirs. He’s affiliated with the Regional Arts and Culture Council and the Oregon Historical Society’s folklife program.
“I am not rich, but I am having rich experiences,” he says.
Visit grupo-condor.com for more information and upcoming concert dates.