A music student stands with their instrument outside.

The Mixtape Series: Nico Valencia

By Danielle Jones & Evan Calbi

Introducing the Mixtape Series where current students in the Strings and Keyboard departments share what they’re listening to, highlighting how boundaries in music are being blurred everywhere.

Strings department faculty member Seth Parker Woods. (Photo by Ben Gibbs)

Music connects people. By sharing it, you can learn and understand others in ways words alone cannot convey.

The series was initiated by Strings department faculty member Seth Parker Woods who asked students to create Spotify playlists that best express their unique personalities.

“I saw an opportunity to showcase our students,” Woods said. “Asking students to share what they’re listening to is a way to invite the public closer to our students, to give them a better glimpse of who they are and how their interests, musical and otherwise, aren’t limited by genre.”

By sharing music, Woods hopes the project will begin a discourse between students about their interests outside of their academic and professional activities. “Maybe there are songs on there they know, or songs that they don’t know, and a mixtape allows friends or their peers to get to know them even better as well,” Woods said. “It’s like a love letter to themselves, but also the public at large.”

Violist and USC Thornton master’s student Nico Valencia discusses interdisciplinary inspirations for listening and playing music, and for communicating emotions through music.

Nico Valencia, a violist and master’s student at Thornton, believes that music, especially the act of sharing music, is a powerful way to connect with others across languages and emotions. His playlist “offers a glimpse into every corner of what I feel, and what most fulfills me musically right now.”

“I really believe in the communication that comes through music like this, so I picked songs because they are some of the most fulfilling music I know currently,” Valencia said.

Sharing music offers Valencia the opportunity to learn about other people and for other people to learn about who he is. Especially when he shares music in other languages, talking about the social and emotional contexts behind various songs enrichens the listening experience.

“Because of my training, certain songs like “Mélusine” by Cecile McLorin Salvant inspire certain things that I can connect to technically and musically that kind of transport me into a certain world or feeling that really makes my day better or helps me get in touch with what I want to feel at that time,” he said.

Valencia said that exciting and evocative genres like flamenco pop, disco and funk also help him to connectwith his emotions and reinforces the idea that listening to music by different artists can help a musician believe in their own creations.

“A lot of it has to do with me being interested in making something that I think is special, inspiring and influential to what I want, and to broaden in terms of my perspective, or hone in on how to do something,” he said.

In His Own Words

Valencia discusses a few of his selections.

Growing up, my house must have seemed like a nightclub! My family had music playing at any given time of the day, singing along and dancing with each other. Their fun-loving, sensitive, and diverse interests strongly defined my music taste and how deeply I identify with the music I listen to.

A viola student sits on the grass of a collage campus smiling and holding their instrument.

“Mélusine” – Born in Miami, Florida to a French mother and Haitian father, Cecile McLlorin Salvant has won three GRAMMYs for her vocal albums. Her singing is deeply personal, creative, and unpretentious. I always come back to her music to sink into her beautiful flow and creative sparkle as a musician. The way I would describe Mélusine, is that it is a deeply stirring poetic journey that is full of her longing in a way that keeps you in a trance the whole way through. 

“Para Olvidar Un Amor” – This song is by the Andalusian band, Siempre Asi. This is a very poetic pop song sung with many traditional Flamenco qualities that talks about a broken heart’s journey of forgetting the love it had. It’s a raw cry against the unfairness that love can have, and I like to rock out to it!!

“Talk It Up” – This is one of my favorite songs to listen to in the car with my windows down and not a care in the world. Sammy Rae is an incredibly talented singer and together with her band creates music with amazing energy, chemistry, and fireworks! Her influences include classic rock, folk, and funk and are sprinkled with soul and jazz.

“Love To Hate You” – Erasure is an English Pop duo that have been iconic since the 80’s! My Dad listened to practically every second of the day growing up, and it’s impossible to not dance to! Their song “I Love to Hate You” has such fun textures and turns of phrase that I can’t help but jam out every time.

“It’s Raining Men” – Upbeat and full of character, “It’s Raining Men” always puts a huge smile on my face when I listen to it! The way songs from this era always have somewhat of a “setting the stage” that no matter what mood I’m in, I turn the music up and enjoy the disco, gospel, and dance elements in this song!

TAGS: Strings,

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