Doctoral music graduate's generosity of spirit benefits future musicians

By

Lynne MacDonald

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

International student Ramon “Chino” Alfonso Soberano, who graduates this fall with a Doctor of Musical Arts in violin performance, wants all musicians to be able to achieve their goals.

Last summer in his home country of the Philippines, Soberano taught free virtual masterclasses and lectures to future generations of violinists. The virtual classes were co-taught at three institutions that were instrumental to his development as a musician — the Philippine Research for Developing Individual Soloists (PREDIS), School of Music at St. Scholastica’s College and the University of the Philippines College of Music.

At ASU, Soberano served as co-president for the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Student Committee in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre from fall 2018 through spring 2021.

“As a founding member of IDEA, the thoughtful conversations with student members and faculty, cross-disciplinary collaborations and advocacy work have taught me to serve as a compassionate and effective leader,” Soberano said. 

Soberano said his involvement with IDEA made him realize that the field of music, as other fields, has issues of equity, inclusion and diversity that disproportionately affect some people more than others.

“We should continue to strive in addressing these issues through continuous conversations with open ears, minds and hearts so that everyone has the equal opportunity to achieve their goals as a musician,” Soberano said.

Soberano was a member of the Herberger String Quartet and the ASU Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral musician in Arizona and Illinois, and with the University of the Philippines College Orchestra, the Manila Symphony Orchestra and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

He has taught for ASU’s String Project and community outreach music programs at the Manchester Music Festival and Taconic Music, Inc. in Vermont.

In his most recent lecture recital associated with his doctoral research, “The Contemporary Filipino Violin: An In-Depth Study and Performance Guide of Ramon Santos’ ‘Tanaw II’ (1984) and Conrado del Rosario’s ‘Darangun’ for Solo Violin (1985),” Soberano received high praises from both composers.

Santos said, “Thank you for playing my piece so superbly and so intelligently. I would say that this is the best interpretation of the piece.” And del Rosario said Soberano gave an “excellent performance of my composition ‘Darangun’ for solo violin.”

“Chino was a wonderful teaching assistant for my studio from 2017–19,” said Danwen Jiang, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “He is a wonderful colleague, an excellent role model to his peers and a valuable asset to our school and community at large.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: It was during a visit to my relatives in Jacksonville, Florida, when I was around 7 years old. My grandaunts knew how to play piano and taught simple tunes to me on the piano. I had so much fun that I asked my parents if I could learn piano when we got back home in the Philippines. Our house did not have much space for even an upright piano, so my mom suggested the violin since it is smaller.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The most important aspect was the teacher. I chose ASU because of how excellent Professor Danwen Jiang, my violin professor, was as a mentor and pedagogue. Her expertise and guidance have helped me further discover my potential as a professional musician. In addition, ASU values creativity and interdisciplinary collaborations, and I value these concepts as well. I firmly believe that to be a 21st century musician one has to be versatile and open to new discoveries.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor Danwen Jiang, my violin teacher, taught me an important music and non-music related lesson. The most memorable piece of advice she gave me was that being great at performing your instrument is not the only ingredient in becoming a professional musician. One has to be well-rounded and also learn other non-music performance skills such as effective teaching, networking and marketing. Being a kind, fair and respectful musician are desirable qualities that open more doors of opportunity. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Do not lose sight of what is happening inside and outside of yourself. Inside, be mindful of your health and wellness. Health is more important than squeezing one more hour of practice time at the expense of eating a healthy meal and/or getting a good night's sleep. Abusing your body can have consequences later on in life. Outside, do not be out of touch with issues happening in our world today such as climate change, racial/gender discrimination, poverty, etc. that are affecting us all. In these difficult times, we should be more compassionate to each other and advocate for people who are directly affected by these issues.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The “secret garden” in the courtyard at the Herberger Institute office. When school gets busy and crowded, this is a little oasis of quiet and serenity. I would sometimes eat my lunch in that courtyard just to unwind from the busyness of school.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Aside from searching for jobs, I am excited about taking on personal projects, including discovering and performing new and/or underperformed repertoire, finishing my website and continuing to give masterclasses and lectures at various music institutions, including the Philippines. 

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?

A: I received the Special Talent Award Scholarship, the Katherine K. Herberger Scholarship and (was) a teaching assistant. It was such an honor to receive these awards, and I am forever grateful to the donors, faculty and administration for helping me financially during my doctoral studies. Receiving these awards from such a distinguished institution helped me realize that I have potential in growing to be a better musician.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would like to address global food insecurity and hunger. So much of our waking lives is dependent on what and how much food we eat, even impacting our mental health and decision-making. I believe if the general population has easier access to healthy and natural food resources, the world can be a little bit better.