Vision, Joy, and Empowerment through Music

Submitted on February 6, 2018

By Elizabeth Labiner

When Juan Mejia applied to the University of Arizona, Dr. Theodore Buchholz says, “we knew we had someone special, and thus we fervently nominated him as a University Fellow, which we regard as one of the most prestigious awards from the University of Arizona.”


Before coming to Tucson, Mejia studied and performed throughout the Americas. Born and raised in Medellín, Colombia, he began attending music school at age five and started playing the cello at six. When Mejia was invited to study at the world-renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, he embraced the opportunity. Several years later, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he earned both his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees. He also worked for two years with the San Francisco Symphony’s outreach program, Adventures in Music. In 2015, Mejia won the Joseph and Frances Brucia Foundation’s Avanti Award, a prize awarded to distinguished emerging musicians. Shortly thereafter, he was named a 2016 University Fellow.


During his time in the Bay Area, Mejia spent three years working with the Young Musicians Choral Orchestra, a nationally-recognized non-profit youth program that provides musical training and academic support for low-income, underprivileged students of color. When he began his doctoral studies at the University of Arizona, Mejia continued to work in musical outreach and education with the UA Fred Fox School of Music’s String Project. Buchholz says, “I’ve never met a cellist more devoted to the power of music performance and music education’s benefit on children’s lives.”


In his current position as Coordinator for the String Project, Mejia reaches out to Title 1 schools and the Latino community, connecting with students who otherwise would not be exposed to music education. Through his leadership, the program has grown to offer 80 elementary students free private lessons and orchestra ensemble experience. “It’s so important to have children exposed to music from an early age,” Mejia explains. “Beyond the joy of learning music, it helps kids learn how to work as a group and teaches them individual accountability for their part. Every single person is accountable for the group’s success.”


Mejia himself is certainly no stranger to success, as his accomplishments demonstrate. Most recently, he won the highly competitive University of Arizona Concerto Competition. As a result, he was one of four featured soloists to perform at the 45th annual President’s Concert with the Arizona Symphony Orchestra. To great acclaim, he performed the first movement of Joseph Haydn’s Concerto for Violoncello in C Major.


Mejia is looking forward to all opportunities the future might hold, and is comfortable with his potential post-degree paths. He muses, “I don’t know what I’ll end up doing. It could be a position with an orchestra, or I could be a professor. I love both teaching and performing.” Whatever he chooses, his dedication and passion are sure to make listening to him and learning from him a pleasure.