Art Abounds at the Spanish Community of Wallingford

Photo courtesy of The Spanish Community of Wallingford

The Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) offers numerous musical opportunities, including a mariachi academy.

The Spanish Community of Wallingford (SCOW) introduced their  first music program in 2008, not only inspiring Hispanic and Latino children of Wallingford to discover the world of music, but also bringing a whole new art community to town. Established 42 years ago, SCOW originally provided social services such as immigration aid and tax assistance. However, in the last ten years, educational services have been added, along with a music school and a mariachi academy.

Evangeline Mendoza Bourgeois, a Mexican-American woman born and raised in a Mexican community in Arizona, founded and now directs SCOW’s music program She explained, “I did start with two students downtown in a storefront, which was given to me for 18 months, rent free. This was in 2008.” She continued, “After eighteen months, I had 25 students, and we were able to move to our present agency. We were invited to do that, because it was just a private school and it had nothing to do with SCOW.” Before becoming a teacher, Bourgeois earned a Bachelor’s degree in piano and a Master’s in harpsichord, making classical music the best  field for her to teach.

Bourgeois explained, “Eight years ago, the mariachi academy was housed in the same agency, but it grew so fast that in no time we had fifty students, which was more than could be handled by our agency. The academy was at SCOW, but as I said, I’m a classical music teacher, not a mariachi. When my kids got to the point when they were performing, I thought they really needed to have professional mariachis teach them the intricacies and the subtleties of the art. We therefore had some professional mariachis move here from Las Vegas. I taught the students violin, trumpet, and guitar. Also vihuela and guitarrón, because I learned how to play those instruments specifically for the school. However, once they got to a certain level, I really couldn’t take them beyond, and that’s when I needed someone here who knew what to do with it.”

Choate Rosemary Hall and the SCOW Music School have been allies since the very beginning of the academy. In its earliest stages, it was aided by two musically talented student volunteers and grew into the program that Choate knows as “Teach Music,” in which students help children from SCOW improve their instrumental skills. Bourgeois explained, “knowing Mr. Ventre for many years, I asked him if it was possible to have student volunteers come and help, and he was very willing and eager to help us out. He found two violin students from the orchestra who would come down every week through the winter. They’d walk down there through the ice and work with my students on violin. The students from Choate kept on volunteering, and several years later, one of the young women at Choate named Christine Liu decided that it should have a formal name. She decided on ‘Teach Music’. She immediately got about twenty volunteers to go down there every week.”

The program continued to grow, transporting students to the SCOW building. However, due to recent flooding incidents, the building that they were using became uninhabitable. This fortunately did not mark the end of the Choate-SCOW alliance. “We began bringing the kids to Choate, and it’s worked out much, much better for everybody,” says Bourgeois, explaining the new system that they’ve established. With Choate’s help, SCOW’s independent success and the Wallingford population’s numerous donations of instruments, students from the Spanish community can learn classical music, often arranged by Bourgeois. Furthermore, the school requires each student to learn to sing, leading to fantastic concerts throughout the year, which are often hosted by town organizations. The children have even performed on campus,   an event that was especially memorable for Choate students, who were able to witness the work that they had helped to produce.

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