Although many students probably wish they could end their freshman year in college with fireworks and a round of applause, Ruben Garcia got to do just that. The music major at California State University, Dominguez Hills was selected to perform “The Star Spangled Banner” at the start of a Major League Soccer game at the Home Depot Center last May.
Marketing the match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City was an internship program for two business administration students, Melissa Velasco and Robert Aragon. (Click here for story in Dominguez Today.) They created a “Toro Night” event for students and alumni, with special seating and university participation in pre-game events, including a chance for students in the intramural sports program to play on one of the HDC’s training fields and President Mildred García giving the traditional coin toss at the beginning of the match.
Ruben Garcia said that it was a challenge – albeit a welcome one – to play the National Anthem at a Major League Soccer game.
“I was nervous, but once I set up and everything, I felt a little more comfortable,” he says.
“I had to tell myself: My name is already out there, it’s on Facebook, it’s been announced – I have to get through it,” he recalls. “One thing you don’t want to do is miss a note; this is the National Anthem. I have seen performers make mistakes and people put it on YouTube and constantly bring it up.”
Garcia’s performance, which echoed Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” met with applause and cheers – and was put on YouTube by a friend. Garcia says that he was first acquainted with the artist when he was very young, even before he began playing the guitar himself.
“Hendrix will always intrigue me… his style, because it was very different and very expressive,” Garcia says. “That’s when I learned what a wah-wah pedal was. The first time I found out what it was, I was like, ‘So that’s what that noise is – I want it!’”
Garcia began playing on a whim at age 12, when he asked his sister to buy him an inexpensive acoustic guitar and an instructional DVD. Before long, he began to improve and his father bought him his first real electric guitar, an Epiphone Les Paul Junior. Largely self-taught, he began to concentrate on his playing in the ninth grade. Eventually, his abilities were noticed by the faculty when Garcia was a senior at David Starr Jordan High School in Watts.
“My principal actually came up to me during vacation and said, ‘We need you to start a [guitar] program,’” he said. “Although they have a great music program and teachers, no one did guitar. I pretty much started everything from scratch. I promoted and performed so that the students would know that I could actually teach them something.”
Garcia’s program, which was administered by the EduCare Foundation, started with four students, and grew to 20 students by the time he graduated. He says that his pupils were very committed to learning, despite the school’s tight budget and lack of proper instruments and equipment.
“I was fortunate in that a lot of them owned their own instruments and brought them in,” he says. “But a year passed until I got the instruments I needed. We had seven acoustic guitars and one electric and an amp. That was not enough for 20 students.
“We had a drum set that wasn’t complete, it was missing parts. But because the kids tried so hard, they figured out, ‘If we flip the microphone stand over, we can use it for the hi- hat,’ and made it work.”
Along with continuing his education at CSU Dominguez Hills – which he says has one of the most respected guitar programs in the state – Garcia continues to give back to his community by volunteering with EduCare and teaching an afterschool guitar program at Gage Middle School in Huntington Park. He says that he enjoys teaching music to give at-risk youth a constructive option to express themselves.
“I hope they’ll actually do something productive with the music,” says Garcia. “They don’t have to be rock stars or teachers, but [I hope] that they enjoy it and they share it.
“One thing I like to do is share [my] knowledge, share the music. It’s a blessing. It’s different when you listen to a song on an iPod than when you play it. You’re actually making [the music] happen.”
For the YouTube clip of Garcia at the Home Depot Center, click here.