By Cailah Parker
Music conductor Felipe Tristan has been and still is an inspiration to many students wanting to pursue a career in any musical field. Hailing from Mexican lineage and pursuing his success through conducting, Tristan shared with The Vanguard his experience as a teacher, how his background has impacted his music, and how he defines his success as a conductor.
Before becoming a conductor at Manhattan School of Music, Tristan first found his way to Brooklyn College, performing and teaching with the Brooklyn College Symphony Orchestra. There, he found his passion for teaching while also achieving success in something he enjoyed.
“I taught orchestra and loved every minute of it. It was a wonderful opportunity to be part of Brooklyn College’s vibrant community,” said Tristan. “I want to believe that I have inspired my students, but I suppose that only time will tell us so.”
Whether his students become pros or not, Tristan teaches with an intention to make sure they learn valuable lessons as people.
“Over the years, I have had many students that take the professional route and others that don’t. However, whether they become professional musicians or not isn’t my concern, but rather if they become better persons or not,” he said.
After his time as Brooklyn College’s associate conductor, Tristan has been fortunate enough to have had many opportunities that connect his love of music with his cultural roots. His background has been an integral addition to the music he crafts. Right before the pandemic, Tristan was able to travel to his home of Mexico City with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, with who he has worked alongside for a few years.
“I am proudly Latino and often try to program orchestra pieces that have been written by Latin American composers,” said Tristan.
Speaking more on his roots, as a child, school band became an accessible way for Tristan to connect with others. He found music as something enjoyable, later flourishing into a passion that followed him into his career. His pursuit of music stems from his family, who continues to inspire him and push him to garner accomplishments as a conductor.
“Over the years, I became more serious about it [band]. My family has been very supportive. I’m the only person in my family that has gone into a career in the arts, everyone else is an engineer, accountants, etcetera,” said Tristan. “They’re proud of me, and I am very grateful for all they’ve done to support me. Oftentimes, my mom tells me she’s seen me in a newspaper or TV interview, and that makes her very proud.”
With classical music representations of people like himself still being far behind where they should be, Tristan said things seem to be moving in the right direction. Even though there are many challenges against him as a Latino conductor, Tristan still believes in music.
“There is still a lot of stigmas and elitism around classical music,” said Tristan. “While things are looking better, we still need to keep pushing for fair and more diverse music industry. Music is the ultimate universal language. [It]…always inspires us to become better citizens of our world.”
Tristan emphasized that it is not always possible to find a job that you are both passionate and successful in, but by staying humble and defining what success means to him, he has overcome the odds.
“I believe success means to accomplish whatever you have set up to do. Success can be a deceiving concept,” said Tristan. “However, more and more I have learned to appreciate and enjoy the journey while trying to have clear and ambitious goals for the long term.”