minutes read
John Santamaria
May 1, 2023

Strumming Life's Melodies: A Heartfelt Conversation with John Santamaria

In this post, you'll meet John, who came to America from the Philippines and has already made a big impact. We talk about his life and how he contributed to the Pollak Library's archives.

Strumming Life's Melodies: A Heartfelt Conversation with John Santamaria

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing John Santamaria from The Arts Development School of Music. John gives guitar lessons to children and people of all ages. From the first moment, I was impressed by John's directness and friendly tone, as if we had known each other for years. It was already evening when the interview was conducted, he had just finished his lesson after a long day but that didn't stop him. He is a very upbeat person, full of goodwill and understanding. Not only a dedicated musician and teacher, but he is an official contributor to the Pollak Library as he donated modern recordings of old Filipino music to America. Get to know this extraordinary instructor, with amazing insights combined with inexhaustible humility and empathy.

Eniko: It's nice to meet you, John! First, please tell us about yourself. What can we know about you?  

John: Of course. So, my name is John Santamaria. I'm 32 years old right now. I was born and raised in the Philippines, and after graduating from high school I moved to the US in 2009, and I started my college at a community college in Cerritos in 2010.

I started guitar as a teenager, but it was nothing serious. It was just through friends. They were just teaching me how to play. And I didn't know how to tune the guitar, actually. They would have to tune it for me because I was horrible at it.  

From 2010 until 2015, I was at Cerritos College, California learning classical guitar while playing in two rock bands. Then, I transferred to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. After that, I was supposed to move to Perugia, Italy, to finish my studies, but the pandemic happened and unfortunately, I could not make it. 

Eniko: So what happened then?

John: I was in LA at the time and looking for a university to finish my studies. I heard that California State University, Fullerton was open and that Martha Masters was teaching there. 

She's the president of the Guitar Foundation of America, and also an ICAC champion. She was the winner in 2000. And so I went to CSUF to audition for them.  

She asked, "What are you looking for in a school?" And I said, "If the school paid for me 100%, I would go to that school."  

And so they did. Fortunately. They paid for a full ride for my Master's, and I finished my Master's in May 2022.  

Eniko: Many random forks and fortunes followed your path, but from what I hear, it turned out well. So did you start teaching straight after school or how did you get into the other side of education? 

John: After my bachelor's degree from Vanguard University, I was looking for places to teach and the Arts Development School of Music was the first one to have given me the opportunity. I was actually referred to them by an old classmate of mine.  

And so I auditioned for Mr. Ardes, and he said I can teach at his school. So I did while I was looking for a place to get my master's from.  

Now I want to teach people, and I want to show them that if I can learn how to play guitar at a late age, they can do it at an early age.  

Eniko: How do you keep yourself motivated? 

John: I do smaller competitions where all ages can join, and then hopefully one day I can try my hand at the GFA ICAC competitions as my teachers did. There hasn't been a Filipino to have won the GFA competition. So if I could be the first one to win, that would be pretty awesome.  

Eniko: So smaller projects besides teaching?  

John: Yes. But I've accomplished one major project, which is to donate modern recordings of old Filipino music to the Pollak Library. Right now, we're finishing the paperwork, and I am now an official contributor to the Library's archives. I've also donated a document of a transcriber whose history was burnt into the ground so there was no record of him. Only this small piece of paper that I was given with other sheets of music. I think it is a hidden document, not available to the public at the moment, but for me, it was important to donate it in case any other Filipino artists that want to do research, can find records of this. I feel I was lucky to contribute.  

So that's one of the goals that I've achieved so far this year, right after graduation. And hopefully, I can do more. And they actually want me to do more, but I have a lot of things to worry about.  

Eniko: That sounds a really big work! Did anyone help with the recordings? 

John: Love Souls Production has given me a deal. I was actually really surprised when the main producer of this independent label, Adam Valenzuela came to my senior recital and told me that if I needed to record anything, I should go to him first.  

This guy, Adam, was the one that signed me up for the Music Department in Cerritos, because I told him I was scared of doing it at a late age. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in this situation right now. He's a really nice guy.  

Eniko: We talked about learning music at an older age. Do you think I could learn to play guitar at the age of 30? 

John: I think it's not so much of do you think you can? Or do I think you can?  It's how willing are you to go about understanding something that you think you're not capable of doing.

It's the smaller steps that open the bigger doors for you to enter.

And at first, it will be difficult.

You can't finish your first mountain in just two steps.

That's never easy. And if you take the smaller steps and you understand that there will be work involved, it's possible. I don't guarantee anything, but I do guarantee that if you have patience, things will happen, and you will learn.  

Eniko: Do you have any success stories in this field? 

John: I teach all ages, but my oldest learner was a lady in her 70s. She played violin and cello for 20 years. She was able to play guitar in just six months.  

Granted, she had prior experience in music theory and orchestra, but it's still different. It is very hard to learn how to play the guitar because the guitar is a small orchestra itself. I'm quoting Andres Segovia, but it is true. I think anybody can achieve smaller things, and the smaller things can get bigger and bigger when you put work into them.  

In the next article, we will discuss what challenges children and teachers face and how can they be overcome.

More articles from the author

By clicking “Accept All”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.