The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Santa Cecilia Orchestra Conductor, Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega
As the Founder and Conductor of L.A.-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega has delivered unmitigated musical excellence for 20 years.
Aside from conducting the orchestra, she is the Producer and Music Director for the annual Opera Under the Stars concert in Los Angeles, Calif., and creator of the Discovering Music program, which takes orchestra members into elementary schools in underserved Latino neighborhoods to introduce children to classical music.
De Leon de Vega was the first woman in history to receive a Vatican invitation to conduct a symphony orchestra at a Papal Mass; was named Outstanding Latina of the Year in 2000 by Univision, Mervyns, and Target; and has been interviewed by NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams and NBC Latino.
Above all, De Leon de Vega is a tremendous asset to the global music community and an inspiring trailblazer for women in the industry. Learn more about De Leon de Vega and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra here.
WIMN: What are some of your responsibilities as an orchestra conductor?
SMDLDV: My responsibilities include selecting all of the music for our concerts. I have also developed our educational program that we take to schools.
WiMN: You are most closely associated with being the conductor for L.A.-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra, but you seem to do much more than conducting. Tell us about other ways you are involved with the Orchestra.
SMDLDV: I am also the director of the orchestra. I am responsible for all executive responsibilities, which are many! Fundraising for the orchestra takes up a lot of my time. I never get tired of speaking of the great work that the orchestra does.
WiMN: You were first woman in history to receive a Vatican invitation to conduct a symphony orchestra at a Papal Mass. When was this, and what was your reaction?
SMDLDV: That invitation that I received very early in my career was what helped launch my conducting career. It was a wonderful opportunity, as well as very moving and powerful.
WiMN: You grew up in a musical family. How did your parents influence your career in music?
SMDLDV: My father was a musician. He played guitar and had a beautiful voice. As far as I could remember I was studying music and I wanted to be a musician. I grew up listening to my father rehearse his trio in our living rom. I would hide behind the couch and pretend to conduct.
WiMN: Music is oftentimes not taken seriously as a career, especially in the Latino culture, and especially as a woman. Tell us about any obstacles you faced by being a Latina in music, and what you recommend to other Latinas in music.
SMDLDV: I faced many obstacles as a woman and as a Latina, and frankly I continue to face them. I think the most important advice is to follow your heart. It is important to seek your passion and then set goals. Goals aren’t anything without a plan. I am always planning the next step for the orchestra, our work and thinking of how to expand.
WiMN: You were once told there would never be a female orchestra conductor in your lifetime. How did those words impact your career?
SMDLDV: That did not impact me at all. I am a believer in the Chinese proverb that tells us, “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.”
WiMN: You founded a program called Discovering Music that takes orchestra members into elementary schools. What are some of you’re the most touching moments you’ve experienced through this program?
SMDLDV: I developed our educational program to take musicians into each and every classroom at a school. I arrived at our very first school with a small army of musicians and an armful of questionnaires. I wanted to follow the musicians into the classrooms then give the teachers and students questionnaires so I could see what comments they had and learn how effective the program was.
The first class I went to was a 4th grade class with one of my cellists. He asked the children to leave their desks and gather around him and the cello. So, 20 children and their teacher surrounded him, and he started speaking to them, told them about string instruments and how the cello works, shared anecdotes about his own life and how he discovered music, and then started playing a beautiful cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach. The children were mesmerized and you could not hear a pin drop.
That night, I started to read through all of the questionnaires to see what the children had written. I had no idea of what I was to find in those comments. One 4th grade girl in the class that heard the cello wrote “When I heard this music I felt as if everything bad in me – and there is a lot of bad in me – floated away and would never ever come back again.”
That comment changed the history of this organization. I am always inspired by the reactions and comments of the many children and families we reach. Our educational component is the heart of the orchestra.
WiMN: Any exciting plans lined up for the future that you can tell us about?
SMDLDV: In July we will post the schedule for our upcoming season. We have an exciting season of concerts to look forward to.
WiMN: Anything else you’d like to share?
SMDLDV: I invite your readers to check us out at our website – scorchestra.org.
Watch De Leon de Vega’s interview with NBC Latino below: