In August of 2021, Daniel de Jesús was selected as AMLA’s new Director of Music Education & Outreach Relations. Daniel manages all aspects of operations for both the Esperanza Arts Center (EAC) as well as AMLA. They oversee all performances and presentations and manage production of rental events campus-wide.
What is AMLA?
AMLA at Esperanza is an abbreviation for Artístas y Músicos Latino Americanos. It is a non-profit arts and artist’s organization. AMLA’s mission is to promote and develop an understanding of Latin American music and culture in the Philadelphia region with a strong emphasis on young people. It was founded in 2006 in North Philadelphia and established as a subsidiary corporation of Esperanza, Inc. Managing an entire arts organization through AMLA and EAC is quite the tall order this young man has on his plate. But once anyone discovers the powerhouse of artistic expression Daniel has achieved in such a short amount of time, it makes sense that they were selected for a role that is meant to have an impact on the community and its Latino heritage.
Their Early Years
Daniel was born and raised in North Philadelphia. His family is from Puerto Rico. They describe their childhood as “a great childhood. I had grandparents who lived across the street, so we were a very tight knit family. My father was the person who encouraged me and my three siblings to do enrichment programs. He noticed that I had an interest in art that went beyond just a hobby. My father became a huge support of mine in my artistic life.”
Before becoming director of AMLA and EAC, Daniel managed the Youth Artist Program and Outreach Support at Taller Puertorriqueño in Philadelphia. Daniel holds a degree in fine art from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. They have held art exhibitions of their work, they play the cello, publish several books, compose music for other musicians and have nine studio recordings of their music as well. They perform with orchestras and have toured in rock bands playing their cello.
Why the Cello?
We asked Daniel why they chose the cello as their instrument of choice. They answered, “for whatever reason, I was drawn to it instinctually. When I first played it, it felt like a part of me. I remember how one summer, at 12 years old, I practiced for almost 8 hours a day, all on my own. At 16, I auditioned to play in an orchestra that would travel to Switzerland, and I was selected despite shaking like a leaf throughout the audition. It was a highlight in my life.”
The Fork in the Road
Daniel describes having experienced a very pivotal moment in their early musical life that created an impetus for how they would create music. It was when they worked with a string quartet. They share that, “I was working with a group of musicians who had a perspective of their work much like a tradesperson does. The longer I worked with them, the more I just didn’t want to anymore because I started to understand that music for me was not a trade; that playing music is like religion. I didn’t want to feel like playing my instrument was a job. What I saw was people who were playing music but not loving what they were doing. I decided to leave the quartet. It was a fork in the road that paved a way for the promise I made to myself that I would only work with people with whom music is a passion. That decision led me to writing my own songs, singing, and playing the cello, which led to me becoming a recording artist.”
Bring the Beat!
Of their role with AMLA and EAC, Daniel says, “what I’m doing here at AMLA is that I’m revamping the program but I’m not making anything new. I’m just going back into the past and bringing back things that were lost. I manage the after-school program along with the private lessons. I hire the teaching artists and I schedule the clients who come for private lessons. AMLA provides support to the teaching artists in any way that they need. Currently, I’m acting as a booking service where I connect clients with musicians that we know and work a lot with. Something else we’ve started is trying to create a program that works with an anti-violence initiative using empowerment through music. It’s called ‘Bring the beat.’ As described on the website, (www.amla.org), “Bring the Beat! is a songwriting and audio production program that explores social justice and anti-violence themes. The program seeks to engage students to create songs about the value of anti-violence, family, community, and wellness.” Daniel continues, “the idea is not about asking students to give us their trauma. It’s asking them how as citizens of the neighborhood they live in, what are their thoughts on how violence affects them and how would creating and recording music make a safer place for them through music. The deliverable for Bring the Beat are their recordings.”
“My goal is that through AMLA, we try to create a space that is mindful; one that enables kids to experience that joy of creating music and then see music professionals who look like them, give them the feeling of like, ‘I can do this too. That person looks like my Tio or my cousin.’ We want our students to take advantage of whatever free programming we have to offer,” says Daniel.
Due to word count restrictions, I am limited to how much I wish to write about all that this very accomplished, creative, amazing artist has achieved. You can get more of a glimpse from the following links https://www.celloeye.com/about www.amla.org
Finally, in speaking with Daniel, one gets the sense that what they want is to impart to their students that by working hard, with discipline, passion, and dedication, they can achieve as much of what their teacher, Mr. Daniel has achieved and more! Daniel de Jesús is making it their mission to inspire young artists who walk through the doors of AMLA to know they too can make a life for themselves of producing art and music.
On Saturday, December 3, a world premiere of music that Daniel composed for Mimi Stillman and Dolce Suono will be performed by the ensemble along with them and their AMLA students. This event will take place at 7 PM in the Teatro Esperanza on 5th & Bristol in the Hunting Park area of Philadelphia.