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William Rodriguez

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His profession

William Rodriguez brings music of Cuba to festival

BRATTLEBORO—The feature act at the Brattleboro Film Festival’s “Night in Havana” fundraiser is a performance by the sextet De Lomas y Sones, led by Cuban percussionist William Armando Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who lives in Brattleboro, was born in Santiago de Cuba. Although he began studying at Escuela Vocacional de Arte José María Heredia, an elementary school focusing on music, when he was 9 years old, music was not his first choice.

“I love sports,” Rodriguez said, noting his father is a coach of many sports programs at the university.

Both of his parents are “masters” in their field, Rodriguez said — his mother teaches Spanish at the university — and wanted the best opportunity for their son, including the chance to travel.

Rodriguez said his parents saw two options for him: sports or music.

Sports got ruled out because Rodriguez’s father earned “many broken bones” in his career.

“Even if you are good at sports, sports is not good for you”: that’s the message Rodriguez said he took away from his father’s injuries.

Thus, music.

It was a very close second as a life choice for Rodriguez.

“My older sister is a musician,” he said, and it was easy to simply follow what she was doing.

Rodriguez said he was also inspired by his father, who loves music.

“He put on music every day” in the house, Rodriguez said.

After completing his studies at Escuela Vocacional de Arte José María Heredia, Rodriguez continued in the Conservatorio de Musica Esteban Salas, where he graduated at the top of his class.

During the last year at the Conservatorio, he returned to his former elementary school to teach percussion as part of the practicum part of his education.

Upon graduating, he was hired there, and eventually became director of the percussion department.

For 10 years, that was Rodriguez’s “day job,” he said.

His “night job” for eight years was playing in and doing the arrangements for the band Septeto Típico Tivolí.

Here to stay

That all ended in 2010, when Rodriguez traveled to the United States with Septeto Típico Tivolí as part of a cultural exchange program. Although the other members of the band returned to Cuba, he did not.

After spending some time in Miami, Rodriguez moved to Brattleboro to start a traditional Cuban music band with Cuban-born Maricel Lucero, who is the singer for De Lomas y Sones.

“It’s a challenge here to organize a band,” Rodriguez said. “People have many jobs. Not one, like in Cuba.”

Still, Rodriguez found Lucero and four other musicians to commit to De Lomas y Sones. Wes Brown plays bass, Dan DeWalt plays piano, Julian Gerstin plays congas, and Jon Weeks plays the flute and saxophone.

In addition to playing bongos and singing, Rodriguez directs the band, which means “I make the musical arrangements, organize the gigs, and figure out what we’re playing,” he said.

Another music-related challenge Rodriguez mentioned is getting paid to do it.

“It’s hard to earn a living as a musician in the U.S.,” said Rodriguez.

“People think it’s a hobby,” he said, noting the many times people have asked him and his band to play for free, even at events where the organizers were collecting money at the door.

“But for me,” Rodriguez said, “music is my profession.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #330 (Wednesday, November 4, 2015). This story appeared on page B1.

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