Art Student of the Week Paola Ramirez
May 24, 2023
Niwot High School trumpet player Paola Ramirez has found inspiration for her music in many places. She is a big fan of Colorado musician Greg Gisbert. "I love seeing him play," Ramirez said. "He brings me this wave of inspiration."
And then there is piano player Cyrus Chestnut, who composed "Soul Food" (one of her favorite pieces), and trumpet player Rafael Méndez. "He's a really good Latin trumpet player," she said. "He has a beautiful sound. And Chet Baker. Awesome. He's really great. He's just really mellow with like the cool jazz."
At home, Ramirez has a brother who plays guitar, a sister who plays tenor sax, flute and violin, and a mother who plays guitar.
"Music has always been like a part of my life," she said. "Just everywhere since my childhood. And I always saw my sister having fun, in jazz band and her concert band. So I really wanted to be part of something like that. An ensemble. I mainly did it for the connections and the experience."
Initially Ramirez started playing trumpet at Longs Peak Middle School, but it was not until she entered high school that she felt she found the satisfaction of playing with an ensemble.
Wade Hendricks, Director of Niwot High School Bands, selected Ramirez as Arts Student of the Week, and appreciates the contributions the NHS junior makes to the school's music program through her trumpet playing. "Paola is a top contributor to Mariachi Ensemble," Hendricks said, "and to Advanced Jazz Band, where she never shies away from a challenge or a solo."
The high school music program has given Ramirez much to be thankful for. "Fortunately, I was blessed with caring instructors and people who honestly just want to have fun. I feel like music is more about the experience than just precision. And I've been guided through a lot of the gray areas I had.... And I've been able to fill-in not only my own gaps but allow my instructors to guide me through a more full experience."
"She works extremely hard and is very dedicated to her musical pursuits," Hendricks said. "She is an all-around great team member!"
For Ramirez, music is about connecting with people. Not only other musicians, but also with the audience, and, she admits, to herself. "I would say it's a chain of connection of, not only emotion, but thought processes as well. Because you're able to express things that you aren't able to say with words through music, and through soloing or your compositions."
Ramirez earned All-State honors last year for her playing in the Mariachi Ensemble, and organized the Latin Culture Arts Center (LCAC). "It was really an experience," she said, looking back on the performance where the ensemble played "Cielito Lindo Huasteco" and "Cielo Rojo," which included a solo by Ramirez.
"I was able to meet a lot of MSU (Metropolitan State University of Denver) professors. and they're very nice. I feel like they are definitely not only making a change for the music scene in Denver but also for the Latin community. It was the first year we ever had an All-State Mariachi, and it's a huge step forward for the program in Colorado.
"I got to meet a lot of kids from all over Colorado. They were all very nice and we were able to have fun. It was like we have known each other for a long time, even though it was just an hour of practice together. But practice always felt like it went by so fast. Everybody was having fun and playing the music, and even if we made mistakes we'd move on and then come back and correct them. But we'd never take it too seriously and I think that's what made the experience really fun."
The Mariachi Ensemble was also the opening act for Lupita Infante, the great-granddaughter of the mariachi singer Pedro Infante. "Her voice is absolutely amazing," Ramirez said. "I love that she gave us an opportunity to open for her. She definitely cares for the youth, and musicians that are coming up in... She's definitely pushing the newer generation to care for more traditional music, like mariachi. And not lose that culture that has been with us for so long."
The Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts (CCJA) provides Ramirez with an opportunity to perform with jazz ensembles. "It's a completely different genre. It has almost the same vibe as the All-State Mariachi Ensemble. Your instructors are honestly more of your colleagues, and it's a very warm and inviting vibe, too." During the spring the students participate in a big band session, and in the fall, there are small ensembles.
The improvisation required in jazz playing is her favorite aspect of music. Ramirez has been experimenting with her musical range and rhythms. "Not necessarily trying to fill in the gaps," she said, "because I feel like sometimes musicians feel like they just need to like make a bunch of sound, and I used to think that way too, but, learning from my peers at Niwot, I was able to listen to different forms of improvisation and from there I have definitely been using my ears to learn and take inspiration and I feel like I've gotten better at expressing myself through improv now."
One memorable moment in performance came when Ramirez had a solo on a song called "Alianza."
"I had been working tirelessly over and over again," she said. "I think that's the first time I really never stopped practicing a single day. I didn't take any breaks, and I would practice during lunch and I'd practice at home after school and especially during the weekend. And I was just going over this solo over and over again, and it was finally the day of the concert and for some reason I was really doubting how I was going to sound. But I remember playing it through and feeling like I didn't even think about the notes. It was crazy. I don't think I've ever reached that level before, where I definitely felt like the fruit of my hard work during that solo. You're not thinking about the music, you're just thinking about how it feels."
Ramirez has many other interests. Growing up she played volleyball and basketball, but she transitioned into tennis this year. Recently she started working in ceramics and plans to do more during the summer.
She is also interested in film. She likes watching a director's entire filmography, to see how their style develops and learn about the different time periods in their lives. She has worked with photography, and she is passionate about making coffee.
"That's my biggest hobby right now," Ramirez said. "I really want to pursue maybe as a career, having my own coffee shop one day. I tried roasting it. And playing with the foam. I still haven't gotten the latte art yet. But it's getting there."
She is currently considering attending CU Boulder or the University of California at Irvine, with a major in business and a minor in performing arts or jazz studies. And she will continue to play music. "Whether it's mariachi, jazz or concert band," Ramirez said, "as long as it's music and I'm able to play with other people and express myself. I feel like that's good for me. I would also like to play with a local mariachi or local jazz band."