Award-Winning Lamont Clarinetist Finds Inspiration and Opportunity Daily
Lamont senior Guillermo Ramasasa did not start out his musical career by choice. "My dad put me into music by force," he says with a smile, adding that he was expected to carry on the legacy of his saxophone-playing grandfather, who shares his name.
It was not an auspicious beginning: The clarinetist wanted to play trombone, but his band director handed him a trumpet instead. It didn't go well. "The first day I took my trumpet home, I broke it," he recalls with a laugh.
Soon, Ramasasa grew attracted to the clarinet, believing that the clarinet players, sitting in the front of the band and playing all the melodies, must have been having more fun than he was. He was impatient to get started: Immediately after leaving the local music store where his parents had rented a clarinet, he says, "I was so excited, I started practicing in the car on the way home."
His enthusiasm continues unabated. Ramasasa's curiosity and gumption, combined with help from the people and resources at DU, have taken him to festivals and programs abroad and earned him multiple school-wide awards. This past year, Ramasasa spent a semester in Milan, Italy, in a program of study he crafted in part by himself. This summer, he studied with world-renowned musicians and pedagogues at the Domaine Forget Music Academy in Quebec. And in June, the Lamont faculty voted to award Ramasasa its two biggest prizes: the Presser Foundation Undergraduate Scholar Award, in the amount of $4,000, and the Mary Marr Memorial Foundation Award for Most Outstanding Junior Recital, in the amount of $2,000.
Finding opportunities has always been Ramasasa's way, even in high school in Las Vegas. His mother, from El Salvador, and his father, from the Philippines, were supportive but didn't have the resources that many music students take for granted. Private lessons were financially out of reach, and college was an unknown, since neither of his parents had attended. It wasn't until Ramasasa started his freshman year at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas — a school chosen for its convenience — that he received regular instruction on the clarinet. After a year, deciding that his performance ambitions would be better supported at the Lamont School of Music, he transferred to DU.
Ramasasa's time at Lamont has opened both his eyes and many doors. He first met Lamont clarinet professor Jeremy Reynolds when the artist went to Las Vegas on a recruiting trip. Ramasasa immediately felt a connection. "I was really attracted to the idea of being able to spend lots of individual time with this teacher, because I still hadn't really taken lessons," he says. Ramasasa was also drawn to the more intimate scale of Lamont, with its close-knit clarinet studio.
Once at Lamont, Ramasasa quickly began to flourish. Just a year into his studies, his chamber music group finished as runner-up in the school-wide Honors Chamber Music Competition, and he was one of a handful of students selected to perform for the provost. He was accepted by audition to two national summer music festivals, Eastern Music Festival in North Carolina and Marrowstone Music Festival in Washington, but both presented financial challenges. Thanks to Lamont's Joseph Docksey fund, Ramasasa was able to attend both programs. "There are so many opportunities for professional development [at Lamont]," he explains, from grants to professional recording services and more. "It's all right here."
When Ramasasa learned about DU's Cherrington Global Scholars program, he was over the moon. "I had always wanted to go to Europe, but that was never going to happen without this program," he says. Not only did he take advantage of DU's partnership with Milan’s Civica Scuola di Musica Claudio Abbado, but he went a step further. On his own, he reached out to Fabrizio Meloni, the principal clarinetist of the La Scala Opera, one of the world’s most famous opera houses. After sending a recorded audition, he was accepted into Meloni's lessons and master-class program. Being surrounded by a different culture, learning a new language and making new musician friends — "this was all very exciting for me," Ramasasa says. For his final chamber music concert, his group performed at the Casa Verdi, the venerable music hall where Giuseppe Verdi is interred.
Ramasasa's time in Milan was not without its downside. He began to feel tired and achy every day, and initially he was diagnosed with Lyme disease. After seeing a specialist in Milan, it was determined that he suffers from psoriatic arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that swells his fingers and knuckles and makes it painful to play clarinet. Ramasasa was grateful to return home to his own doctors for treatment and to his friends at Lamont for support. "What's great about the environment here is that I can talk to anyone about these issues," he says.
Ramasasa plans to use what is left of his award money, some of it already allocated to tuition for Domaine Forget and a new clarinet, to fund travel to Los Angeles for graduate school auditions at the University of Southern California and the Colburn School. "I would love to live there. That city just pulls me in. I absolutely love it," he says. As for his career plans, Ramasasa wants to play in a professional orchestra and teach privately.
His advice for young musicians is simple but important: "Everyone should keep inspiring themselves every day," he says. "Through all the stress of school, auditions and everything else, staying inspired helps to remind me why I'm doing it."