Raising a baton on his future: Columbus newcomer forms a chamber orchestra to pursue conducting dreams

Music always has moved Carlos Lopez — literally.

At only 3-years old sitting in mom Monica Salazar-Orr’s lap at a symphony concert in Ecuador, where he was raised, the toddler already made it a practice to regularly imitate the conductor during performances. He waved his arms in rhythm with the music.

“And he would cry when we would leave,” she said.

Lopez, now 15 and a Columbus resident since last summer, still loves music. Except his dreams have grown up with him.

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The home-schooled sophomore-to-be now is a flutist and is conducting an eight-member chamber orchestra — fittingly known as Octo Carmonia, Latin meaning harmony of eight — that he began organizing in the fall. The ensemble has played at events at locations such as Terrace Lake Church and Grace Lutheran Church.

“I have been improvising the conducting,” he said, adding that a myriad of online videos help.

Plus, he’s picked up tips from Josh Aerie, music director of the mostly volunteer Columbus Symphony Orchestra, in which Lopez plays flute. When the teen began playing in the Columbus Youth Orchestra soon after arriving here in July 2019 from Ecuador, he knew no English. So his mom attended rehearsals and interpreted for him.

“It’s easy to see how much music means to him,” said youth orchestra conductor Vanessa Edwards.

Music motivated him to learn the new language at a time when he missed home — and ideally wanted to continue his Spanish.

“Everyone spoke English there (at rehearsals),” Lopez said. “So I put forth more effort to learn to understand the conductor and my fellow musicians.”

His ensemble began simply. He attended a meeting with part of the local Japanese community that has been so supportive of him, and organizers asked him to play the flute, along with a Japanese trombone player. From there, he met more instrumental performers, and that sparked the chamber group to begin forming.

The ensemble started rehearsing in November with seven members: Jessica Kim, violin; Joana Kim, violin; Miyu Fujiwara, clarinet; Yuki Yamanaka, trumpet; Youki Murabayashi, piano; Kotaro Kaneda, trombone; and Nao Miura, euphonium. He hopes to recruit many more students to the group.

Current members are passionate enough about their music — music that has resulted in three well-rehearsed pieces currently — that they met on Zoom during the statewide quarantine period. They since have returned to in-person rehearsals at Donner Center.

A recent practice session there included a jaunty and spirited version of “Joy to the World,” since the group hopes to perform a Christmas concert at Terrace Lake Church late this year. The song seems fitting, since Lopez looked to be a picture of joy in front of his musicians. But he offered a reminder that this experience is about more than the exuberance of music.

“The best part of this,” Lopez said, “is the chance to serve the community.”

As part of that vision, he would love nothing better than to host a performance at some point on the Bartholomew County Library Plaza. Ask him about that hope, and he will answer rather matter-of-factly.

“I don’t see any other orchestra playing there right now,” he said.

The last to do so was the local symphony to kick off its 2017 season with orchestra members positioned on the Exhibit Columbus whimsical installation known as “Conversation Plinth.”

Euphonium player Miura recalled how Lopez chatted with her once about how Carl Philipp Stamitz’s “Flute Concerto” told the story of Lopez’s life and challenges. It changed Miura’s performance perspective.

“After that, I try playing the music while thinking and feeling the story (behind it),” Muira said.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is his favorite composer.

“I just like his musical style and I like his tone,” Lopez said. “It’s not heavy.”

So Lopez continues to dream of future studies at the Indiana University, where he is a member of the Flute Academy at Jacobs School of Music. And he continues to dream of conducting.

“He definitely has a vision,” Salazar-Orr said.

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Carlos Lopez, son of Tim Orr and Monica Salazar-Orr and conductor of a student chamber orchestra, is seeking more musicians to play.

Information: [email protected]